I got a new tattoo about a week ago. This one was a particularly interesting experience because I got tattooed right smack in the middle of MegaCon, a huge Comic and etc. convention held in Orlando. Hundreds of people walking by admiring my wonderful pastiness.
As I’m lying there, on my face, having an awesome piece of art carved into the meat of my out-of-shape back, I’m doing that thing I do where I listen to just about every conversation around me at the same time, something I’ve gotten really good at over years of actively listening.
What stood out to me among the wave of voices in the crowd was the sheer amount of people who would walk through and area marked as “Tattoo Alley” and just be loudly negative about tattoos:
“You see that, son, you are NEVER getting one of those.”
“Why would someone ever mark themselves with something permanently?”
Now, I understand that some people have reasons to be anti-tattoo, namely religious ones or maybe in rare cases a bad experience with actually getting a tattoo, i.e. suffered and infection or the like. However, I feel many in society still have a DRASTIC misconception of what tattoos are or can/should be. SO many still view them as this edgy, reckless thing that people get in order to stand out or rebel against polite society. Let’s go ahead and say that that shit is just stupid. This ain’t the 1950s. This ain’t Footloose. We don’t live in a world where tattoos are strictly for sailors, biker gangs or prisoners. Sure, tattoos can be edgy. If I get the lyrics to “Gin and Juice” tattooed across my bald ass head, sure. Now if I’m a huge muscley dude and I get the cartoon version of Lizzie McGuire tattooed prominently on my neck, it has the opposite effect. Tattoos CAN be edgy, but the act of simply pushing through the pain to have an artistic expression of something on your body is no longer really an edgy process. A tattoo should be an expression of the person wearing it. If that person is already a tough-as-nails badass, then their tattoos will probably translate into that. Similarly, if that person is a total dork, like myself, then it will probably be a different story.
In the same vein that tattoos can be edgy, it’s also true that tattoos can be stupid. I’ll be the first to admit that I have had some whacky tattoo ideas that I luckily never got. It’s a common story hearing about someone who got a tattoo that they regret. Hell, it’s become so prevalent that some studios specialize in cover-ups, or even refuse cover-ups for various reasons. At the end of the day, you are marking your body with something that, though not impossible to remove, will be a very painful, only partially effective process. You need to be VERY sure that you actually want the design you intend to get. Hell, my first tattoo I designed myself and set the design by my bathroom mirror. I would look at it every morning for a month, proving to myself that I was not gonna get tired of seeing this thing, and I legitimately haven’t. However, it is VERY easy to feel really pumped and excited about something only to regret having it marked on your body forever. The easiest thing to know if you’ll still enjoy this tattoo is ask yourself: as this thing effected your life? Will you still feel the way you feel toward this thing when you’re 30? 40? 50?This typically eliminates ideas related to super ephemeral things like memes or political slogans and whatnot, and even eliminates ideas pertaining to celebrities or athletes, considering you never know what a famous person is gonna do to absolutely shotgun their career (imagine getting a Bill Cosby tattoo back in the 80s….).
In the end, I just think people need to be less judgmental toward those who decide to decorate their body in a permanent manner (it’s easy to get people to stop being judgmental on the internet, right?). Tattoos aren’t some form of rebellion or an attempt to be better than those without tattoos. They are an expression of the inner aspects of the wearer. We don’t get tattoos for you. We get them for ourselves. Banners of the things that have formed and shaped us. Things we care about. Our body becomes a gallery of experiences and memories. They are conversation pieces that help us share our love and outlook. We get them to honor people we love that are no longer with us. We get them to express our love toward a book, movie, comic, etc. that somehow shaped or directed our world. We get them as reminders to not let things hold us back, as warning flags and points of motivation. Sometimes, it’s even just a design that we really enjoy and feel is an active representation of who we are. Tattoos are our souls brought into the light through the beautiful artwork of talented individuals.
I highly recommend everyone get a tattoo, but I understand that for some that’s just not an option. My final message then is this: next time you see someone inked up, don’t judge them or scoff at them. Tell them how friggin cool they look, and if they start talking, ask them about one of their pieces. Buckle in for a cool story.
My tattoo was done by the absolutely delightful Betsy Butler out of Charleston, SC. Follow her on Instagram. I demand it.