Thursday, August 14, 2014

Of Sailors and Strippers, Friends and Loved Ones

What I have written here may get me into trouble with some of my family members and dear friends. It's a topic on which I've had an opinion for several years but one that I have spoken about with only a few in my closest circle.

Picture this: a brand-new, state-of-the-art structure, steel and glass glimmering in a sun-soaked sky. A thing of beauty, from which one can hardly look away.

And on its unveiling, it's opening day, the architect takes several cans of multi-coloured spray paint, and adds a heart to its unblemished side. Or a Celtic cross. Or an inspirational quote from a popular piece of literature.

The vandalism seems out of place with the clean lines, the perfect curves of this structure, has nothing to do with the architecture. But there it is, in plain sight, for all to see.

I don't like tattoos.

I have never understood the thinking behind the desire to take ink and inject it under the skin, to have something so permanent take up such a valuable space.


The first tattoo I ever saw adorned the bicep of a neighbour. He was mowing his lawn, dressed in shorts and a white, sleeveless undershirt. It was a monotone blue, the ink no different looking than if the person had drawn it on with a Bic pen and it had only started to fade. A ship's anchor, unremarkable except for a mermaid coiled around the shank, her arms spread wide, supporting herself by the stock, as though she was on a crucifix. Her gravity-defying breasts and blue nipples revealed for all to see. (When he was without a proper shirt, that is.)

My neighbour was retired but had served in the Navy. The tattoo seemed a rite of passage, was probably applied as some sort of hazing ritual or on a drunken furlough in some seaside port.

For me, being so young at the time, knowing my neighbour, it seemed natural. And although it took up a considerable amount of fleshy real estate, it didn't draw attention to itself. It was simply there.

I'm not going to lie: I've been to peeler pubs. I have gathered with my male friends, either for a stag night, for a guy's night out, or even because a strip club was the only bar in a friend's neighbourhood and the beer was really cheap.

A lot of dancers have tattoos that seem to spread over their bodies like vines (and there are lots of those inked on their skin). Roses and Asian letters, emblems on the small of their backs--the so-called tramp stamp.

While I can watch the stripper dance on stage and admire her body, I can't help but look at the tattoos and think: Ick.

Last year, in my photography group, I attended a nude model shoot. We used a simple set, a white backdrop and then a black one. The model was pretty and nice to work with, but she had the outline of a vine tattoo that wrapped around her legs and torso. The work was unfinished and I had no idea where it was going to stop, as though she were Daphne, pursued by Apollo, transforming into a tree.

I wished I had known in advance that she was a tattooed model. Had I known, I would not have signed up for the event. In post production, I took the time to remove the ink from her skin. Where the effort to remove the mark was too great, I moved the photo to a folder of so-called rejected images: ones I would keep but never use.

I would never tell someone what to do with his or her body, never berate someone for getting a tattoo. It's his or her body to do with as he or she pleases.

But I can't help but wonder at what that flower is going to look like over time, how fierce that tiger will be when the flesh loses its firmness, when it starts to wrinkle and sag. When the colours fade with the memory of why that patterned was etched in such a permanent way.

To me, a body is a beautiful structure that carries a person's being. It's like that shining, new skyscraper, there for all to behold. A tattoo is that bit of graffiti that is painted on, that detracts from the natural beauty.

But, unlike spray paint on a building, a tattoo can't easily be cleaned off. It can be masked with more ink or it might even be removed by lasers, but not without leaving a permanent scar. Removing graffiti from architecture is a simpler task that removing a tattoo from a body.

If that adage that your body is a temple is true, then why would you want to deface it? Wouldn't that be a form of sacrilege?

The other week, my youngest daughter came home with a tattoo. It was a henna tattoo, on her hand. The detail and pattern were beautiful, and I was eased in the knowledge that in two or three weeks, those marks would be gone.

I never have to worry about my eldest daughter: the thought of a vaccination shot puts her into a state of distress. The notion of countless injections from an ink gun would give her nightmares.

I don't like tattoos. Seeing young folks with their entire arms covered in these ink sleeves is a turnoff. When I attend a special occasion, like a formal dinner or a wedding, and I see beautiful women in stunning dresses with tattoos, I think, what a way to ruin the look.

I know: it's my problem. I have no right to judge a person's decision to do what he or she does. But I never want to hear that person complain when they have tired with the pattern or how that eagle has sagged to a pathetic pigeon.

When the "art" they have placed on themselves looks as worn and dated as that sailor's tattoo that I first saw.

I love my friends and family, and will support them, no matter what. But when I see a tattoo on their beautiful bodies, I can't help but think...

... ick.


  1. You are correct a body is supposed to be a beautiful thing. However some of us grew up hating our bodies and getting a beautiful tattoo meant that there was finally something beautiful to look at.

  2. What I write here may get me into trouble with some of my family members. And like yours, my dear brother, it's a topic on which I've had an opinion for several years as well, but one that I have spoken about with only a few in my own very closest circle.

    Generally, I don’t like bloggers.

    I have never understood the thinking behind the idea to take up Internet space – something ANYONE can do, by the way – and write about whatever drivel crosses one’s mind as if she or he is speaking from a position of authority or with some sort of profound insight gained from years of academic research. Oh, by the way, I wrote my Master’s research paper on the topic of tattoos and the performance of identity for which I received the equivalent of an A+ from Dr. Zhenyi Li, who happens to be Chinese. Why is this last point relevant? Because the vast majority of Chinese people really think “Ick!” about tattoos. (I got pointed at A LOT while I was in China, but I digress.)

    This last entry of yours is exactly why I don’t regularly read your blog: it tends to annoy more often than amuse me. When you wrote (in places fictitiously; talk about “ick!”) about Dad not very long ago, I wanted to fire off a reply like this, but after cooling off thought, “I love my friends and family, and will support them, no matter what….” It was just your opinion.

    This one really takes the cake. My question is this: you can dish it out, but can you eat it?

    But that’s just my opinion; however, unlike most bloggers, I know what my opinion is worth, so I’ll sign off.

    Enjoy the rest of your trip! ☺

    Your loving sister,