When I was growing up, having a tattoo was a sign of membership to the underbelly of society: the hoodlums and nasties that frequented jails and motorcycle gangs. I knew people with prison-style self-done tattoos of blue ink (spelling L O V E and H A T E across the fingers of each hand, as well as other square or shaky designs); also people who sported coloured tattoos such as the mariner’s tradition of the girl on the upper arm which could dance when its wearer flexed his upper arm muscles, showing boldly from under the rolled-up T-shirt in which a packet of fags was tucked. I also knew people who had had tattoos cut out of their arms (well before any laser-removal) so, instead of showing a blue anchor with ‘MUM’ scrolled across it in a red banner with black letters, they showed the scar of an anchor and the outline of a banner: a look I found even less attractive.
Somewhere along the line having a tattoo became more mainstream, to the extent that is nowadays almost mandatory to have one, to belong. Styles have broadened along with their popularity, which is a natural evolution of an art form.
It used to be that landlords and employers could discriminate against people with visible tattoos; these days, if that were to occur, there would be lots of empty houses (and more people sleeping on the street) and workplaces would not be adequately staffed!
A good friend of mine mentioned that having a tattoo these days is “just another sign of conformity” – so I concluded that, through no effort on my part, I am again resisting conformity by not wearing body art. (And I was oblivious to my even making such a statement!)
Like every piece of art, tattoos tell stories by placing the wearer at a time and place in their life, their frame of mind at the time of purchasing an outer show of inner thought. I find the shows where people tell the stories of their tattoos fascinating … as I do the what-seems-to-me-extremes to which some people will go to adorn their bodies with their chosen designs. A discreet tattoo which can be covered by clothing when out in public is one thing, but these styles really make a statement:
*the Japanese who wear filled-in, coloured, head-to-toe body art full of symbolism and meaning
*the Maoris whose black and white, patterned facial tattoos incorporate ancestral stories (which differ depending on the tribe) as well as personal stories relevant to the individual wearer.
While not lining up at a tattoo parlour myself, I recognise the beauty and cultural legacy that such public display of one’s personality or being can be.