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Thursday, January 26, 2012

A Word About Tattoos

There is an epidemic in Sydney which seems to be part of a wider pandemic to tattoo your body. I was standing at a bar the other evening with a nice crowd of reasonably well behaved people. There were a group of men standing close to the bar, 5 of them, they looked like they suffered from that newly described disease which is called Body Dysmorphic Disorder or BDD. Thuggish, one had tattoo flames licking his neck. It was not only intimidating but when I walked past, one of the other twits in this entourage knocked the champagne off my tray because he did not look. Subsequently he turned around and said 'it was bound to happen', suggesting that if I counter argued him I might as well expect a punch in the head. 

It saddened me that society had cultivated this look. I thought about why I did not like tattoos, let alone inflammation of the physique and I recalled a passage from St. Paul's First Letter To The Corinthians on the topic of love. It is somewhat over-used as a passage read when Catholics and Protestants get married. In it, Paul refers to love, but it is something he says in the latter part of the passage that struck a chord with me.

"When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I felt as a child, I thought as a child. Now that I have become a man, I have put away childish things. 13:12 For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I will know fully, even as I was also fully known."

I feel the same way about tattoos. When I was a child, I thought like a child, so the symbols of my youth resembled my thoughts. One such symbol was the head of snoopy on my favourite backpack. I dressed as I was told to by my mother. As a teenager these things changed, and I started to love symbols such as the ying and the yang, I wore MC Hammer styled Stussy pants. I read books on Taoism and I loved symbols which were related to the period. When I was at University this changed again. Needless to say, I evolved and with it, the symbols of yesteryear became irrelevant to me. I have never got so attached to these symbols that I would want to permanently stamp one on my body, because my long term view is that I am always evolving and that those symbols, or that piece of art, that body of text, may not hold the same weight in my mind in the future. 

I take umbrage at those that tattoo themselves with a self-delusional myopia that body art will somehow transform their lives. I have never begrudged anyone who tattoos themselves because of a cultural tradition or out of some deep reverence for their God, or perhaps a passage of text which has had a deep impact on their lives. But this is not that. It is an epidemic related closely to BDD and I hope that people start to take note before it is too late.

I recently met a Swede, a lovely gentle man with a family. He had been out several years ago for a big night on the drink and that night he got an arm band tattooed to his left bicep. Now that he had had children he felt absolutely no connection to the tattoo of that wild evening and he has spent many thousands of dollars trying to remove that tattoo. What is more, it bore no connection with the personality of the man in front of me. That Swede was no different to my friend in Paris who always wore a t-shirt to cover his tattoos because he no longer saw them as relevant to his life. When I saw them one day he said 'Oh, I didn't want you to see them. They were from my youth, when I lived in Australia'. I think he was essentially saying 'I grew up, I changed, but the tattoos are unfortunately still here'.

The difference between clothes and tattoos is that clothes, unlike tattoos, can be removed at the day's end. Style changes, style evolves - with each passing year, with a change in where we live, what we think, what we see, what we read, who we befriend. But a tattoo, despite the idea that laser surgery works (it is dangerous and is not an easy remedy), which it doesn't if you ask me - remains for life. And life is a moving feast, full of change, full of evolution. Please, if you are considering getting a tattoo, all I ask is that you think twice. 


  1. Hello Papillon,

    I just read your blog entry on tattoos, and I have to say that I agree. I'll spare you a long rant, but suffice to say they're not for everybody, and I find it kind of alarming that people don't often seem to put much thought into them. I'm reminded of a time I was near the beach and I saw a man walking down the street with a tattoo of a hammerhead shark covering his entire upper arm... in bright, bright electric blue. I wonder what compelled him to get a tattoo of one of the ugliest animals on earth in such a lurid colour -- even though the upper portion was covered by a white T-shirt, it was still clearly visible through the fabric.

    The same goes for neck and hand tattoos. Unless you're a real fan and you've run out of space, I don't know why people do this. At least you can wear clothes to cover most tattoos, but that bright green character from Space Invaders on your neck is there for all to see all the time.

    Now, all that being said, I came to the conclusion years ago that you can't live peoples' lives for them. People are free to make their own choices, even if they're terrible choices, at least in my eyes.


  2. Yes, people are free to get AIDS too, but we try to educate them don't we?

  3. It is going to be so much fun to spot those wrinkled grandpas and grandmas !!

  4. maybe we should all take a step back and think that maybe these seemingly pointless tattoos may have much deeper meaning to the people they are on than meets the eye i for one have a sea turtle tattooed on my upper arm surrounded by coral and fish
    many would say that it is completely random and pointless but too me it is a message that even the permanent is impermanent. what i mean is that i am studying to become a marine biologist and that prompted the tattoo because the sea turtle being what i want to work with and do my phd on is becoming extinct, think about that a species about as constant as you can get is dying away so i have aimed to preserve it which is also what i am aiming for with my life to capture this life (on camera) when we see it and to preserve it when we can

    sorry for the poor punctuation, wording and spelling its 4 in the morning where i am and im tired

  5. Some people get there tats at such a young age they don’t think to the future. Others get what I call fad tattoos my son has a few 2 years later he is already regretting. THINK BEFOR YOU INK!