Monday, January 04, 2010

Things I Don't Get - Tattoos

This is an ongoing, occasional series of comments on things I don't understand. It's just me thinking aloud, not passing judgement. I encourage people to help me understand.

This may get some of my favorite people a little riled. I know a LOT of people who have tattoos. Every time I see someone getting one I ask the same question. "Why?"

I don't mean the question in any judgemental or derogatory sense. I really don't understand why someone would do that. I don't understand any of it.

The pain - I've heard some people claim it doesn't hurt much. They're in the minority. Simple understanding of physiology tells me it will hurt. Repeatedly jabbing a pen into the skin and injecting a foreign body. It's going to hurt. I'm not into pain. In fact I'm a self confessed weenie about needles. So I would have to really, REALLY want a tattoo to go through the pain. I don't understand wanting it that much.

Choosing a permanent mark - You're going to live with this for the rest of your life. (There are some processes for removing tattoos. They only work to a certain degree and I hear they hurt, maybe more than getting the tattoo to begin with. So there's really no going back). There are very few things I like enough to want to have around for years, let alone decades. Virtually all of them are people (I don't count things like music or movies because I can put them away for as long as I like), virtually none of them are "fashion" items. Even my taste in religious icons have changed over the years. How much consideration goes into being a 60 year old woman with a "tramp stamp" when you're a 20 year old? I just think there are going to be a whole lot of embarassed middle aged and senior citizen folks coming down the pike.

Marking your body - Gotta be honest, I don't like getting a tiny spot of pen ink on my hands. While I'm not compulsively clean I don't much like having "stuff" on my body. So the idea of permanently putting a mark on it (Confession time - when I first started to type this item I was going to type "Disfiguring your body". It seemed a bit judgemental so I didn't but it IS how I feel. At least in regards to my own body.) I only get this one body. I was raised to believe that you keep your stuff clean and tidy.

Clearly I'm not a candidate to get a tattoo. Reasons number 1 and 3 are also the reason why it's unlikely that I'll ever get a piercing. I'm not asking this question to try and find a reason to change my mind. I'm comfortable being pictorially bland and unadorned.

Please be clear, I don't think any less of people simply because they get a tattoo. Certain tattoos make me wonder about some folks and what they're thinking. My hunch is that they're not thinking much at all when they do it. But then I'm fairly certain that a percentage of the population doesn't think much about most things. My opinion on the size of that percentage varies with how grumpy I am that day with my fellow humans.

In the end it comes down to just this. I don't get it.



Joan Lucia-Treese said...

I'm with you. I don't get it either!! Getting my ears pierced centuries ago was enough pain for me!

Anne said...

Hey Jay! It's Anne Lodick (long time, no see!)First off, I hope you are doing well and had a great Christmas and New Year. One of my New Year's resolutions this year is to actually comment on some of the blogs I read, so here it goes :)
I have a tattoo of a tree on the back of my leg/ ankle. I got it a little over 2 years ago, just after returning from 3 months of travel in Eastern Europe and the Middle East. Part of my reasons for getting a tattoo was that I wanted to mark the moment I was at in my life and my understanding of myself- I had recently graduated college, had spent three months outside my comfort zone doing quite a lot of reflecting on my life and had my whole life in front of me. The tattoo is a permanent reminder of those thoughts and feelings and who I was right then. The tree design was taken from many of the images of the tree of life which is found through out the iconography of the region in which I was traveling, and shows both the roots and the branches of the tree, which is an image that really resonated with me. I put it close to my foot because I wanted to have it with me as I walked forward. Currently I am still very happy with my tattoo (of course it hasn't been long) and I hope it will age well (I did not want a tattoo that would stretch if I get pregnant). I may get another tattoo someday, but only when I feel like I am at another significant moment in my life that I want to carry with me.
I also have some friends (far more tattooed than I) who talk about using their body as a canvas and their tattoos and piercings as an expression of their understanding of their body as a piece of art. I don't necessarily agree, but I think it's an interesting perspective.
In terms of the pain: it definitely hurt, although it was not unbearable. But upon reflection, I would not want getting a tattoo not to hurt. I think making a permanent change to your body is a big deal, and should require some pain.
Of course, there are plenty of people who seem to put no thought into their tattoos, and I would bet will feel quite silly in a few years. Personally I doubt it will be the tramp stamps that look most silly in the nursing homes in 50 years, I think the 70 year-olds with their earlobes stretched down to their shoulders will have them beat :)

DaYouthGuy said...

Great to hear from you. And thank you for that clear and perfectly reasonable explanation. It's the best I've ever heard in answer to my question.

Hadn't thought about the earlobe thing. You may be right about that! The 70 year old with the tramp stamp can just keep it covered.

Lamont said...

A very thoughtful and fair post I think and I now better understand your feelings on tattoos. As for tattoos, I do have an aesthetic appreciation for the beautiful ones. All of which is totally subjective.

The few tattoos I do have, however all came into my life (much like Anne stated), in times of great transition or meaning. (ie. Sparrow= creativity, spirituality and freedom, Celtic trinity= Connection with roots and faith, Beloved= An affirmation and challenge in my life.)

While I did mark my skin in a permanent way, I'm thankful that tattoos did not come into my life at a much earlier age - I might have ended up with a big hair band tattoo. Yikes!

Tattoos are permanent, and should be thought of (if desired) in a forever kind of mind-set. Also if your parent or grand parent would be embarrassed by a possible image you are considering, you probably don't want to put it on your body and alienate not only them but their peers. Don't get a tattoo out of spite - I don't feel that is the purpose. Expression, marking time or goals, creativity and beauty - go for it, but keep in mind it will be with you all your days.

Kaitlin said...

Hey Jay!

Great questions, and some that I'm currently thinking of as both my sisters have tattoos. Up until now I haven't found anything I 'must' have on my body, and the idea that it's going to be there for the rest of my life has held me off getting something that isn't exactly what I want.

I was going to comment more on this, but Anne's reply was excellently written and so well thought out that, well, she's got your pro-tattoo argument covered. If you want to see a bit more of other people's stories, I would suggest you watch a bit of Miami Ink. At first this series seems a bit rough around the edges, as all the artists featured in the show are tattooed from head to foot and look like guys you wouldn't want to cross, but after awhile you will realize that they are really passionate about what they do and consider their work to be art. Each episode also follows the stories of the clients getting tattooed and shows many different points of view and reasons for being tattooed.

Hope you're well!

DaYouthGuy said...

Thanks Tara and Kait! You both give me more to think about.

I have watched an episode of on of the Tattoo shows on TV. One of them packed everything on a bus and were rolling from town to town across the country. It does make interesting (if somewhat squirm inducing) viewing.