The Great Tattoo Debate

Once the sole purview of unsavories like ex-cons and radical counterculturists, tattoos have quickly taken over the mainstream. As early as 2006, it was estimated that 1 in 4 Americans between 18 and 50 were tattooed. This 2009 article claims that 1 in 5 Americans are tattooed. Whatever the real numbers are, the fact of the matter is that more and more people are opting for self-expression through body art. The other night, in preparing for this post, I was trying to think of all the people I know who sport tattoos. Every time I thought I’d reached the end of the list, someone else would pop into my head. It was pretty mixed company too, including people from their teens to their 50s, in professions as varied as musician, teacher, banker, insurance broker, lawyer, engineer, soldier, and stay at home parent. I have one. Bryan has one. My dad wants one.

In short, tattoos are everywhere.

This is always a bad idea.

This does not mean that they are universally accepted, however. As with everything, there are people who do not hold with decorating the body. Apparently, 2 in 5 people without tattoos view those with tattoos as less attractive (I feel like we should poll them all and see if they find David Beckham and/or Megan Fox attractive, both of whom have multiple tattoos). Like it or not, there is still a subsection of the population – whether it’s 40% of the population is up for debate – that sees a tattoo and thinks, “No good hooligan!” For reals. Do some casual Googling of phrases such as “tattoos and employment” and you’ll find a treasure trove of ignorant, hateful, and sometimes hilarious thoughts about people with tattoos. It makes for great hate-reading. Though CBS News reported three years ago that tattoos were becoming more acceptable in the workplace, I found many comments that read like this: “I would never hire anyone with a tattoo, and I would fire someone if I found out they had one. People with tattoos are trouble.” I just love a sweeping generalization, don’t you? And never mind the flagrant discrimination of firing someone because they have a tattoo.

Thankfully, I have seen evidence that tattoos have become much more acceptable in the workplace. The last three jobs that I’ve had have all featured employees with big, visible tattoos: a bank, a staffing agency, and an engineering firm. I was in the YWCA the other day, and both women I spoke with had multiple, colorful, visible tattoos. This increasing tolerance for people’s personal choices gives me hope.

Another of my favorite comments:  “I tip wait staff less if they have tattoos, as is my right, because looking at those hideous things impedes my enjoyment of my meal.”

It’s not that I think everyone has to love tattoos, nor that everyone has to enjoy looking at tattoos. But frankly, unless your server is standing directly in your line of vision, thrusting his or her tattoo in your face and blatantly mocking you, what difference does the existence of a tattoo make in your life? Unless it is a penis, or a crude naked person or a gruesome murder scene, what difference does it make to you at all, besides some temporary visual stimulation? That is what baffles me. How people try to make someone else’s body art about them. It’s like gay marriage: how does it affect your life AT ALL?

I’m a huge proponent of people having full control of their own bodies. I am pro-choice. I am pro-marriage equality. I have always believed that I should be able to do as I pleased with my body, regardless of the opinions, ethics, or morals of anybody else, including my parents. (This did not go over so well when I secretly got my bellybutton pierced at 16, but that’s a different story. And yes, that was the height of my teenage rebellion. Yes, I’m deathly dull.) If I want to cover my body with tattoos, that’s my business, not yours. Tattoos are just another area where people seek to control, through their contempt and derision, that which they do not understand.

Of course, tattoos are pretty permanent. Unlike other “permanent” things in our society (like marriage), if you change your mind about the purple elephant on your ankle, it can only be removed through a long, painful process that will hit you where it hurts: your wallet. Oh wait, that’s exactly like marriage. Anyway, the point is that there are considerations to be made before getting a tattoo. Where is it going to go? When will it be visible? Who do you want to see it? What type of career are you considering? Why do you want a tattoo? Personally, I don’t think that “all of my friends are getting them!” is a good reason to permanently alter your body. If it is something that you want, that is important for you for reasons other than fitting in or impressing your friends, then great. But if you want to do it just to impress that cute tattooed guy in your anthropology 101 class, maybe you should think again.

Lastly, why do you want the tattoo that you are considering? If it’s going on my body for the rest of my life, it has to mean something pretty special to me, that will always have an important place in my life. There’s a woman who plays om my mom’s ball team who has her daughter’s baby footprint tattooed on her calf. Angelina Jolie has the coordinates of her children’s birthplaces on her shoulder. These are special things that will always be special, though of course, there are things that are special besides just your kids. Especially if you don’t have any.

I am considering another tattoo. I change my mind about it often, which is why I haven’t done it yet. I currently have four pen drawings on my body, in consideration of where the next ink will go. If I ever get it at all. I want to be sure, you see, and the way I am waffling indicates to me that I’m not sure, that I’m not doing it for the right reasons. Not yet. The permanence scares me a bit, though I have this idea that sometime in the next 30 years they’ll invent a tattoo eraser machine: one swipe and it’s gone, no scar, no pain. Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to erase regrets so easily?

Interestingly, though, I did an informal poll on my Facebook page and face to face with friends who have tattoos, about whether any of them regretted their ink.

Not one of them said yes.

I don’t always love my tattoo. Sometimes I forget about it, sometimes I wish it was smaller, and yah, sometimes I almost wish I didn’t have it, but never enough to actually consider removing it. Or stop considering more. Regardless of how I feel about it in the moment, it always means something to me, and serves as a reminder of why I got it in the first place: hope anchors the soul. It reminds me to be hopeful, to stay grounded, to float and dream but not to drift away.

What are your thoughts on tattoos? Do you love ’em, hate ’em? Have some, had some removed? Weigh in in the comments, and let’s remember to keep it civil, people!

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Jessica

Jessica

Jessica can most often be found with her nose in a book, or writing her newest short story/screenplay/novel, but she also has a passion for travel, child-care & development, psychology, feminism (and other forms of equality), and making the world a better place in general. Email Me