Friday, January 29, 2010

Wearing a Typo for Life

I would loathe having a tattoo. No matter how much thought I put into choosing a location, size, artist, and design, I know I would change my mind about it before the ink was dry (or the scab had healed, whatever).

If I was told I had to wear a particular bracelet or pair of earrings every day for the rest of my life, I'd hate that. So why would I want something poked into my very own skin that's indelible? My tastes and inclinations change from year to year, week to week, sometimes hour to hour. I pursue some object of desire — a scarf, a coat, a necklace — and can't wait to own it. Then, later, when I do, I will suddenly wonder what on earth I was thinking. Even if the tattoo were in a place I couldn't easily see — say, the back of my neck — I know I couldn't bear knowing it was there.

I'm not only a bad candidate for tattoos myself, I worry a lot about people I see who are covered in ink. We all have different philosophies and ways of expressing ourselves, and I know I'm simply too old to get, let alone embrace, the tattoo trend. I know it's supposed to be a unique, deeply personal means of self-expression. But how individual is it if practically everyone in your generation has them?

In my generation, we all had Earth Shoes. But then we got over it and threw them out.

Tattoos are just another trend of the time — except it they are annoyingly permanent, get worse-looking over the decades, and can cause autoimmune problems. And no matter how different each generation is from preceding ones, there are still a few immutable similarities. For example: we all get tired of our stuff. We all grow up (even the hippies and the Gen Xers). We all keep changing. Are you wearing the exact same hairstyle, clothes, or shoes you wore 10, 20, or 30 years ago? If you are, you are either very broke, very cheap, very unconcerned with appearances, or well beyond middle age.  Maybe there are people out there who will still be madly in love at 50 with the tattoos they got at 20. But I doubt it.

I know there are tattoo artists who create beautiful, subtle, original work, but I've never seen such a tattoo on anyone in Boston. I've only seen them in online stories about exceptional tattoos. Every tattoo I've seen in person looked pedestrian. If more of them were amazing, it would be easier for me to understand. If it's permanent adornment, it should be a masterpiece, not a piece of clip art. Clip art is what I see.

All of this is leading up to this photo story about misspelled tattoos on the Huffington Post. Check this out and cringe: If there's anything that would make me happily take an electric sander to my own skin, it would be finding a typo written there!


  1. That link wouldn't work for me, sadly - just said 'Bad Gateway!' in a cross voice.

    My son, repenting his misspent youth, is having his tattoos removed by laser. It's hugely expensive and hideously painful, but he says it's worth it and the following fortnight of weeping blisters. His mother is keeping her mouth tightly shut in case words like "You should have listened to me" fall out of it accidentally....

  2. Rachel, please try the new link I just found. I'm sorry your poor son is going through that, but I hope it all ends well!

  3. My mom passed away (a year ago today, actually) and I got her initials tattooed on the inside of my left wrist. At first glance, the font resembles music notes and clefs, a perfect tribute to the most important woman in my life. Never will I regret being able to look down and be continuously reminded that I lost her too soon. Never.

    Yes, I have other tattoos and perhaps as the years go by they may not hold the important significance that they once did, but so what? Ok, I can get it removed but really, so what if I can't? Some people argue "why would you want to permanently mark your body?" Big deal, I say. If its causing health issues, that's one thing, but otherwise? It's a mark on your body, whether it's letters, artwork, or some unknown tribal design. It's just a mark on your body. We all have birthmarks, don't we?

  4. I can completely understand getting a tattoo as a remembrance of someone you loved. I can't understand getting one for the purpose of following a trend or making a misspelled declaration to the world.

    I think that getting a tattoo for your mother was an amazing, beautiful thing to do. In fact, I think it's fine to make a tattoo "album" of memorable events on your body if that works for you. It just doesn't work for me; call me fickle.

    But now I almost wish I had tattoos to commemorate each of my lost loved ones. It's a magnificent thing to do. When we're marked permanently by a loss, there's a logic in becoming marked physically, too. On the other hand, I don't need any more prompting to remember my people; I'm remembering all the time. And they've marked me in so many other ways.


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