The tattoo – merely an artistic expression or a desperate call for attention by way of defacing perfectly good skin? Despite your view or mine, they are here in overwhelming fashion and can tell us a lot about the people who showcase them and about those who merely view them.
The earliest forms of tattoos were thought to trace back to ancient Egypt, 2000 BC, but with the discovery of the ‘Ice Man’ in the area of the Italian-Austrian border in 1991, it could go back another 1000 years. According to Smithsonian.com, tattoos found on the ‘Ice Man’ present a possible therapeutic connection; placement consistent with treatment of joint, spine, and limb pain.
Regardless of their origin, the tattoo has enjoyed a prestigious place in history – adorning every part of the body; its canvas of choice. Tattoos “have served as amulets, status symbols, declarations of love, signs of religious belief, adornments and even forms of punishment (Smithsonian.com).”
In the early years, everyone from Christians and slaves to convicts and monks dotted their bodies with these enduring designs. Though some still consider the tattoo to be a pagan practice, the modern day tattoo reaches beyond its primitive beginnings, focusing on an individuals need for dramatic expression of their true self.
From my vantage point, most of the tattoos I see grace the bodies of restaurant wait staff. It’s almost as if a tattoo is a prerequisite at one restaurant I frequent. The thought that runs through my mind most often, aside from initial appreciation for the artwork itself, is – ‘what if when they’re sixty they regret getting that tattoo’- (I’ve heard that laser tattoo removal is more painful than getting the actual tattoo) – but then I realize it’s their choice and maybe at sixty they’ll still love it.
Although I do not have tattoos and probably will never get one (ear piercing was traumatic enough), I can appreciate the beauty and comprehend the significance of tattoos for those who choose to go under the needle.
A few weeks ago my husband and I met Sandy, a waitress, probably in her late twenties, who had numerous tattoos – an hourglass on her right forearm and a rosary cascading down her left, as well as chest and back tattoos poking out just around the neckline of her shirt. As she poured us a second cup of coffee I decided to voice my opinion about her tattoos; how beautiful they were and asked her where she had them done. She stood at the table for a bit, conversing with us about her tattoo experience and the significance they held – the rosary and hourglass placed specifically in honor of a close friend who had passed away.
She was a pleasure to talk to, personable and extremely open; very willing to share the personal meaning behind her tattoos with us – complete strangers. It was an interesting encounter and we truly benefitted from those short few minutes of conversation.
My opinion of the tattoo has certainly changed over the years. There was a time when I was not so open to their message; labeling those who chose this art form as needing attention, being tough, or possibly having destructive motives (depending on the tattoo).
But now I have ‘seen the light’, understanding that tattooing is really no different from the choices any of us make in a day; what we choose to wear or how we apply makeup, what we choose to say, to eat or political party affiliation (other than the fact that they are permanent).
All of our choices are expressions of our inner selves, which is exactly why our founding fathers came to North America – to declare freedom to choose ‘our right’, and if you’re a faith based person, our God given right.
In this day and age, the acceptance of our differences is what will make us more united in the end. We know that being the same is not only boring but uninspiring. It’s freedom that makes us who we are and freedom that binds us together. It is judgment that divides us.
The tattoo – an expression of self on a canvas of skin. The tattooed – no more troubled than the rest of us, just trying to express themselves in a way that fits them personally because they can, because they need to, and because it matters to them.
(Note: before getting a tattoo, do your research. Take your time to decide on a meaningful design, get referrals, schedule a consultation, check out the cleanliness of the shop, and make sure the artist has completed necessary safety courses and has state licensure if required.)