I was just catching up on some blog posts by Mano Singham when I ran across his entry on tattoos. Tattoos are--to me, at least--an interesting contemporary cultural feature. I know a great many people who sport tattoos, and not all of these people have been tattooed in their younger years. Mostly tattoos seem to make a specific statement, although the casual observer may not understand the point. Tattoos are both personal and public--personal in their meaning to the wearer, yet public in that the expression of meaning is visible to all. Actually, that's not true, is it? Because some tattoos are never made visible to other people. Instead, they are private and seen only by the wearer, or perhaps someone with whom she is intimate. In that case I think the tattoo has a symbolic function for the person, whether as a reminder, a private feeling or knowledge, or the like.
I think I understand some of the reasons for people wanting tattoos. My general feeling is hey, it's their choice, and I am not one of those who finds tattoos repellent (in general, although I've seen some individual ones that made me cringe). I have seen some downright beautiful, artistic tattoos using a range of colors and imaginative use of figures. Others, while being black or that dull blue-black color, have been designed by the wearer to signify or mark an event, belief, or some symbol iconic to that person.
At times I've considered getting one where it would be visible only to my mate. But I never do it, because I have a thing about getting my skin marked. I can't even stand it when I get ball-point pen ink on myself--I have to wash it off immediately. Face-painting is another thing that gives me the fantods for some reason. (I don't really know why--is it all that different from wearing, say, glittery eye shadow?) I don't know the psychology behind that, but I can see pretty clearly that if I can't stand washable ink/paint on myself, how would I deal with a tattoo?
The permanence of a tattoo is one of the points of getting one, I'm sure, but it's that very permanence that is a sticking point for me. How can you say that in ten years you'll still feel the same way about something or someone? Perhaps for some people it's a statement of faith, in a way, a proclamation that yes, this is who I am and will always be. At my age, I tend to see how things and people change over time. I'm still married to the same guy after 47 years, but I can't honestly say that neither we nor our relationship has remained static over that period.
On the other hand, I suppose a series of tattoos over the years could read rather like a history of one's life, with all its changes for better and for worse.
All of this is not even getting into issues like class, rebellion, social pressures, and so on. Tattoos can be powerful signifiers, yet as they become more and more common, I wonder if they still carry that power. Sometimes I think people's tattoos are just another physical feature, like one's height or eye color. I don't think they pack the punch they used to have.
But again, that's not what all (maybe these days, not even most) tattoo-getters are going for.
I've read some amusing, yet unsettling, screeds from those in the manosphere against young women getting tattoos. If I were young, that sort of thing might just tip the balance in favor of my getting a tattoo. Some men just can't stand the idea of women asserting their own identities. Women are "supposed to" look this way or that way, with some in the manosphere even going into long rants against short hair on women. Being told that I "should" be or look one way or another is a sure-fire way to get me to consider doing the very opposite. As a woman, I don't need men telling me how to behave or what my appearance should be like. If they don't like me for me, to hell with them. This is what the men's-rightsers can't stand, so yeah, go for the tattoos, ladies, if that's your thing!
In the long run, I guess I'm pretty much in favor of self-expression. You want purple hair? Fine by me--that's up to you. (I've flirted with the idea of wild hair colors myself.) If you wear a tattoo of the Nazi symbol, you're doing me a favor by letting me know I need to steer clear of you. If you have a tattoo of a cat over your appendix scar, that tells me a lot, too. If you have a flower on your butt cheek where only you know it's there, well, it's none of my business to begin with, but if you told me about it, I'd assume it holds meaning for you.
Whereas tattoos were once a sign of either military service or rebellion, or perhaps a class signifier, now they're everywhere. As long as they're undertaken voluntarily, why should anyone object?