Friday, April 8, 2011

The Ink Debate

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Ell-Leigh Says

I think that tattoos can be pretty awesome. Just the other day I was sitting in Dominos checking out a cute curly haired guy with some sweet ink on his leg. Girls can look gorgeous with tattoos, and sometimes when I see a pretty chick with an arty tat I get a little jealous. Because I know that I will never get a tattoo.

No, it isn’t a terrifying freak ink/needle/glove/other-tattoo-equipment allergy. It’s definitely not the old “What happens when you get old and you have a wrinkly old tattoo on your arm? How do you explain that to your grandchildren?” which seems to be the reason my Mum has never gotten a tattoo. It isn’t even the whole pain thing, which is the other reason my Mum hasn’t gotten a tattoo. It is a complex web of reasons, a few of which I will discuss here.

Tattoos go in and out of fashion
Note here the “barcode” tattoo, which was so freaking cool around the time The Matrix came out. I’m just another clone, it said, like all of you, ruled by the man – or am I? I have a cool tattoo that says otherwise. Not so cool anymore. Or the “tramp stamp”, as it’s colloquially known, a pattern of swirly lines and/or waterlilies or some-such prettiness on the base of a girl’s back, just above her arse. Once upon a time these were the height of sexiness and trendiness. Now they aren’t very cool. Aren’t very cool at all.

Similarly, will the next ten years bring with them a disdain on hipster-iffic sleeve tattoos of retro pin up girls and air balloons and bows and whatever other cute kitschy fun you might have printed on your arm? Will those bows you got needled onto the back of your thigh (like permanent stockings, so awesome) become the next “tramp stamp”? Surely if you loved a picture of something enough to put it permanently in your skin you’ll love it enough to not be embarrassed when they’re incredibly uncool, right?

There isn’t a part of my body that I think I could ink.
This may make it look as though I have terrible body image, but I don’t think that there is any part of me that I would deem “nice enough” to get a tattoo put there. Or I just don’t want a tattoo there. My arms are bumpy, freckly and pink. My ankles are too thick and an ankle tattoo might be a little Bogan. I don’t want a tat on my belly in case of pregnancy or weight gain that might cause it to stretch out of shape. My back is the most likely place I’d get one, but it’s too hard for me to see back there, so I don’t know if I’d get one there either. This pretty much leaves me feet and my face, and since apparently your feet is one of the most painful places to get a tattoo and my face is perfectly fine the way it is thank-you-very-much, I really can’t see myself getting a tattoo.

I wouldn’t be able to choose what to put on there, even if I could find somewhere to put it.
I’m a very visual person, and I think if I were to ink (rhymey rhymey) the image I chose would have to be utterly perfect. Where would I get it? What would I get it of? All I know is that it would have to be one of a kind and totally mind-blowing-ly brilliant. Perhaps I could commission an artist to design one for me? They would have to guarantee that it was not only timeless and clever, but also beautiful and deeply powerful in terms of meaning, without being wanky at all. It would also have to help express my bright bubbly personality. Yeah. Good luck, artist I barely know that I found on Etsy. Draw that.

This being said, perhaps when I fall madly in love with someone we might get incredibly-tacky-on-purpose tattoos of each other’s names on our shoulder blades, which if we were to break up we could tackily change a few letters of to make them “mean something else”. Or maybe if I lost someone close to me I might get a small tattoo in his or her memory.

Or maybe if I was attacked by a plague of Bogan zombies I might get a southern cross tattooed on my back or arm. Who knows? All I know is that it doesn’t seem to be something I’m rushing out to do any time soon.

Lauren Says:
A couple of years ago I worked with a boy who had the most amazingly beautiful tattoos you could ever imagine. Particularly stunning was the tattoo on one arm, which boasted a nearly full sleeve piece of work for which he had travelled to Japan to get inked. It was a Koi fish, quite like the tattoo in the picture to the right, and had been done by a traditional Japanese tattoo artist whose family had been in the inking business for generations. For the first time I saw a tattoo and thought of it as a work of art and, understanding the care, value and financial commitment my friend had put into having it done, a justifiable personal choice. 

During my childhood, tattoos had something of a stigma attached to them. Tattoos were the way criminals were identified on the news, they were a sign of something a little bit dangerous, perhaps a bit seedy and underground. I can’t remember knowing anybody with an actual tattoo until I was in high school at least, and so tattoos became the markings of people ‘different from me’. Men with tattoos were burly, tough and rough and maybe a little hot headed, girls with tattoos were…wait…there were girls with tattoos?!

My upbringing in this respect was not atypical and I was surrounded by, and still am, people who saw a tattoo and didn’t think twice about the automatic negative connotations that sprung to mind. There have been conversations about a friend’s new love interest where talk has stopped short when she’s added, “He has a few tattoos, though…”, and everybody has silently tossed up whether to tell her to run to the hills or to tolerate them and date him anyway. There is an automatic assumption that tattoos say something about a person’s character, something negative, and it’s an association so strong that it makes tattooed people almost seem of a lower class than those not inked.

It is true that as humans we naturally judge people and situations by what we can immediately see, but it’s our chosen and learnt beliefs and values that shape the way we draw conclusions from this visual information. For years it didn’t occur to me that the connection between somebody having a tattoo and their being a ‘bad’ person might not be true, it was I how I was taught to think by my sector of society. As people we hold so many of these beliefs that serve only to limit what we can appreciate in the world around us. It’s a judgment just as paltry as looking down on people for wearing a certain type of clothing or liking a certain type of music, the petty kind of criticisms we like make about the very inconsequential choices and actions of others in order to justify our own choices and make ourselves feel superior.

For those of us who have no intentions of getting tattoos (I deal very poorly with needles, pain and making permanent decisions), it can be hard to understand the thought process that goes into tattooing for most people, but just because we don’t understand it doesn’t make it wrong, or doesn’t mean that there was no thought process going on at all. For my work friend, who saved money for years while he waited on a list to get in with the particular artist that he wanted, whilst pouring over trial pictures and prints until he and the artist decided on an image that was created uniquely for him, his tattoo was an emblem of his personality, his independence and individuality, his values and his preferences. Some people, of course, don’t invest as much time in creating their tattoo, but I highly doubt that there’s a large percentage of the inked population who didn’t give at least some prior thought to the choice they were making before heading to the parlour. 

Over the past few years things have changed for me and my views on tattoos, mainly because I’ve had the opportunity to meet more people with ink and because tattooed bodies have become more prevalent in the media I watch. It’s hard for the belief that tattoos are somehow ‘bad’ to last when so many people you admire have them. Some of my favourite bloggers (Rebecca of The Clothes Horse, Danielle of Sometimes Sweet, Gala Darling) celebrate rad tattoos and I have friends and colleagues who are proud to be inked. Even though I don’t sport one myself, I hope to be able to say that I am a celebrator of tattoo culture and play a part in all the silly prejudice coming to a halt. After all, don’t we have more important things to worry about? PETA seem to think so.

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