Today I went to Skinny Buddha Tattoo to get the 1-1-Six on my arm touched up (it’s standard for a tattoo shop to give one free touch up, seeing as they can’t be sure what ink will fade after the initial work fully heals).
Yes, the straight-laced middle-class Christian white boy has a couple tattoos. And he’s not done (sorry Mom).
It has amazed me how dis-unified society’s view of tattoos is. Even among young people, the idea floats around that permanent ink is somehow a product of a seedy low-class society or is just a stupid thing that we’ll regret later on. Enough of the adults in our lives come from an era in which tattoos belonged only to convicts and soldiers. Yet there are many people (usually younger than about 35) who view tattoos as perfectly acceptable, even normal.
At the very least, I would say we have moved far enough along to recognize how cretaceous that article by David Whitley on Colin Kaepernick was. Of course some people surely agree with Mr. Whitley, but I think in general we can say those people are being rather obtuse. Still, it is not no-holds-barred when it comes to tattoos. They still make a lot of people at least a little uncomfortable and there are some work-places where they are just a flat-out no-go.
Let me tell you a quick story, give some encouragement, and then debunk a few myths about permanent bodily ink.
When I went to Skinny Buddha a few months ago, two of the employees, thoroughly inked on their arms and neck, walked into the shop talking about how some people nearby were giving them dirty looks. The woman at the front desk, a perfectly “normal” looking lady, who has one of the more beautiful pieces I’ve seen, shook her head and said sarcastically, “That’s right, we have tattoos which means we must beat our children.” She was aware of the way people must think of her and the people she works with, but she knew that those stereotypes were false because she, you know, actually spends time with those people.
The people at Skinny Buddha are friendly people. They’re cool people. They’re funny and polite. Same goes for the guys at the shop where I had my leg done. And the same goes for most of the other inked people I know, including two of my managers at work.
Maybe once upon a time if you saw a couple of heavily tattooed guys sitting in a parking lot smoking cigarettes you’d be right to be a little wary. But now? That’s just a total case of stereotyping. It’s unkind, really. Having tattoos does not make someone a freak. It’s a safe way of self-expression, of engraving something important, or just displaying art.
Which is why I would encourage you to think about getting one. I’m not telling you that you should, but just that you should think about it. And if after a lot of thinking you still think you want one, then go for it. Do your research of course, and be smart about it, but don’t let society’s false assumptions dissuade you if you find that it is really something you want to pursue. It’s fun. It’s meaningful. And it’s something to look forward to and something to be proud of. It’s a natural thing for humans to want to decorate their body, and tattooing (by no means a new thing) is one of many ways to do this, along with piercing, hair-styling, heck, even the way you dress.
So let’s debunk a few tattoo myths real quick:
Tattoo parlors are sketchy: Not if you choose the right one. There are a ton of artists out there. Some of them are running questionable operations out of a smoke-shop, others are working in a highly professional work space. Others are working in a clean, hip, residential office space. Yes, you could easily get a tattoo in a dingy building from an ex-junkie motorcycle gang member. But you can just as easily go to a totally chill art studio and find professional service operating under government-approved health procedures.
It’s dangerous. Again, not if you go to the right place. If you go full-janky on this, then sure someone might re-use a needle and you’ll get a disease. But if you go to a reputable establishment with paperwork on the wall, there is nothing to worry about.
It hurts. Okay this is kind of a loaded question, because it really does depend. And there are also people out there who will quickly say “no it doesn’t hurt.” Let’s get one thing straight: it can be quite uncomfortable. There’s no denying that. However, this discomfort can vary greatly depending on where you get the tattoo. Muscular areas are not a problem while bony and fatty areas hurt more. Additionally, it’s kind of an in-the-moment pain. Just a few minutes after I always feel like I could go for another session no problem. I don’t hurt just thinking about it. Then again, I have not been tattooed on the foot or on the side, which I understand can hurt quite badly. So yes, pain is a factor, but if you’re looking for something on your arm, I don’t think you should let that hold you back.
It’s expensive. This also depends on the shop. You don’t want to be a cheapskate here, because every single bad tattoo ever done came at a cheap price. However, you can definitely overpay. The first place I went to, which is an award-winning shop that regularly tattoos Green Bay Packers, was overkill for the lettering I wanted done. You can find perfectly good artists for reasonable prices. Also, it’s for life. So if you think about it that way, it’s not that expensive, especially in comparison to the 10 bucks you spend on dinner or lunch that lasts you twenty minutes and is probably no good for you. Or the hundreds you spent on that dress you’ll only wear a couple of times. This is a very strange thing to accuse of being too expensive. Speaking of which, even though they don’t need to be so expensive, I’m not sure why people think it’s a waste of money to buy video games. I have never quite understood why a video game someone might spend 60 hours playing is considered over-priced if he buys it for $60 bucks. In the words of Napoleon Dynamite, “That’s like a dollar an hour!” (Granted, there are better things to do besides play video games. I’m just saying it’s unfair to call buying them a waste of money).
What if it doesn’t turn out well? No big deal. Tattoo artists are exactly that: artists. They see things we don’t see. They can turn a disaster from someone else into a new piece of art. I mean, a complex back-piece might be tough to fix up, but if that hummingbird on your shoulder doesn’t look so good, another artist can turn it into something else beautiful no problem.
You’ll regret it later in life. Blah blah. Consider these reasons:
- The art has advanced. They age better than they used to. And, like I just said, cover-ups are usually a cinch. And you can always pay a few dollars for a touch-up.
- Won’t you look awful anyway? No offense, old people. But I think it just comes with the territory. It’s not like you’re out trying to attract mates. Usually.
- How much skin are you going to be showing? Old people, particularly old men, have such an amazing selection of swagging wardrobe choices. And most of the time they involve long pants and long sleeves. So now and then you might have shorts and a t-shirt, but, again, how often? And if you do, it’ll probably be in a setting in which no one will care if you have some old ink.
- That will probably be the least of your problems. Your friends/spouse will be dying, you might be getting diseases, children and grandchildren will be off in the world, and all manner of other old person things will be happening in your beautiful later stages of life. A faded tattoo won’t be worth worrying about. And, actually, seeing it might be an encouraging reminder to you of something from your youth.
- Your choices are limitless. You can tattoo just about anything on your body. So if you don’t pick something stupid, you won’t regret it. It’s really pretty simple: don’t but something stupid on your body. If you can see yourself being proud to wear whatever it is for the rest of your life, then don’t worry about whether or not it will look brand-new in fifty years.
- Your current self gets cheated. I generally tend to think that our older, wiser selves know best. But, is that always true? For example, do old people really understand love, or do young people in the throes of infatuation? I don’t know. Think about it. Anyway, why should the 50-75 version of you rob the 20-40 version that will enjoy having some tattoos?
Well there you have it. There are a lot of myths floating around there about tattoos. Get informed. Oh, here’s one last thing. I have to complain about something real quick. There are plenty of things having to do with people who get tattoos and the way people react to people who get tattoos, but let me just throw out one of them right now: stop calling it a leg-tattoo. I don’t get this. The only body parts this works with are leg and neck, and in neither instance does it make sense. You don’t say arm-tattoo or chest-tattoo. What is so significant or strange about having a tattoo on my leg that makes you label it not “a tattoo on your leg” but a “leg-tattoo” like it’s the same sort of thing as a “neck-tattoo?” So please don’t call it that.
And one more thing: I’m not in anyway saying that there are not stupid tattoos, seedy shops, or sketchy artists. There are. So you can’t just jump into this haphazardly. But there are enough of us sensible people out there that there’s plenty of opportunity to do this in a totally cool way.
Soli Deo Gloria