My college-aged daughter claims she has no tattoos. Just to make sure, I sneak into her room and, while she’s sleeping, peek at all the suspect areas. So far, no tats. Daughter says she reserves the right, however, to ink up someday when I can no longer threaten bodily harm. It’s art, she claims, a personal expression voiced visually and displayed intimately on one’s skin. Besides, she continues, it’s mainstream now; everyone has a tattoo and she doesn’t see anything wrong with it.
Now, in full disclosure, three of my siblings have tattoos and no one has yet claimed regret over the damn things but I’m waiting. I have to believe that someday they’ll wake up in the old folk’s home and try to remember why they ever thought putting a scorpion that looks like a lobster or a Celtic symbol that looks like a Christmas wreath on their bodies was a good idea. Just today, I was out to lunch, and the waitress who waited on me was an adorable girl, maybe early twenties with a tattoo of Robert Indiana’s LOVE sculpture. It was bright red and a perfect replication of the art, but it had blood dripping down. Or maybe it was the red paint dripping. I didn’t have the nerve to ask her. Love bleeds? Paint bleeds? I can’t imagine, but I can imagine her trying to explain it to her sweet daughter some day.
Tattoos used to be the realm of those in the armed services or members of motorcycle gangs. They identified someone as a very tough character, not to be messed with. Inner-city gang members use them to show their allegiance, to mark their turf and to illustrate their violent lifestyle. But what does a butterfly on a teenager from the Main Line mean? Boredom? Conformity? Stupidity? And placement is getting pretty scary too. I’ve seen women with tats on their chests, necks and face. I don’t get it.
I blame Cher. She was the first Hollywood A-lister to flaunt a tat—getting it in a prominent place and showing it off proudly. But even Cher understands that getting tattooed has lost its rebel status. In an interview in USA Today she said, “When I got tattooed, only bad girls did it. Me and Janis Joplin and biker chicks. Now it doesn’t mean anything.” Cher has been having her tats removed. It’s painful and expensive but she can afford it. Not always true for the teenage idiot who goes out on her 18th birthday and gets a tramp stamp.
I counsel my daughter to never do anything permanent to her body. To prove my point, I’ve given her a picture of me from the ’70s and asked her to keep it on her at all times, just in case she weakens with peer pressure. That hair, those shoes. What if I was stuck with those decisions?