I suppose, in a world where everything seems fragile, temporary, fleeting, I should be singing the praises of the forever-art of tattooing. I understand that among the tattooed, message and motivation vary: There is the body beautification camp and the don’t mess-with-me camp. I just wish a friend of mine hadn’t told me about the New Yorker cartoon by Eric Lewis that shows a naked woman reclining tastefully with streamers above and below her that say, “Ask me about my parents’ divorce.” The caption reads “Subtext of All Tattoos.”
Here is whom I think about when I see the body murals that seem to sprawl and cover: The tattooed person’s mother. Was she told in advance? Does she mind? She who bathed and swaddled and kissed those little limbs? How is she taking it? As someone with journalistic tendencies, tattoos make me curious. The fuddy-duddy questions that I suppress are not in the when/where/how category, but more the why of the decision. I understand this much: that those who want to be the canvasses for these butterflies and barbed wires, for anchors and angels, bats, eagles, hearts, crosses, text like Angelina’s, are not interested in pleasing the likes of me. Just the opposite.
Here’s what I worry about on their behalf: possible regret down the line, due to my own short attention span regarding personal decorative habits. I change my accessories every day and sometimes more often than that. Clothing, ditto. I get sick of things; sweaters I once considered favorites went to the Goodwill or Salvation Army or my friend’s rummage sale due to owner boredom. Are you saying that I am comparing the deep and lasting to the superficial, such as a sweater, a necklace, a tie or a winter coat? I probably am.
But what if tattooing is just this decade’s frosted lipstick or leisure suit or pierced tongue? It may be too Emily Post of me to inquire if that bad-ass dragon that starts on your shoulder and covers your scapula and expresses your individuality may not be the ideal statement on your wedding day in the strapless gown that is just as in vogue as the scarification?
I am a devotee of Project Runway, where in every episode Heidi Klum reminds the contestants, “One day you’re in and the next day you’re out.” So it’s all the more puzzling to me how graduates of famous fashion institutes commit their arms and legs and necks to bold, permanent designs that cannot change with mood or palette or season or fashion.
Having never visited a tattoo parlor, I can’t attest to whether there is a warning, the kind you hear from the anesthesiologist before surgery: You will have this skull and crossbones forever. Could I interest you in a henna substitute, or a nice stencil that you can wash off tomorrow for that job interview, or first date, or Thanksgiving? Maybe a t-shirt proclaiming the same sentiment? Perhaps a set of Miranda Rights could be introduced: Anything inked can be used against you in a court of law.
And would you want to call your mother?