The last few years has seen a significant resurgence in the popularity of tattoos in western society. It's not uncommon to see complex line work or photorealistic portraits covering the biceps, forearms, hands or necks of entrepreneurs, Sunday School teachers, and moms in the queue at the checkout till. People who seem completely conventional now have ornate body art that used to be restricted to gang members and sailors.
Despite tattoos being more popular, it doesn't mean that most body modifications aren't met with some sidelong glances, and sneers and snickers. The more tattooed someone is, the more likely it is that conservative people will ask them "Why did you do that?" or remind them that when they're eighty "those tattoos will look horrible on your wrinkly skin". The same looks, and incredulous questioning are levelled at people with facial piercings and ear stretchers.
Different societies deal with body modifications differently. New Zealand is thought to be the most tattooed country in the world, because of the traditional tattoo culture of the Maori people, and has a fairly liberal relationship with the tattooed. In Japan, however, tattoos are considered taboo, with one of the reasons for the stigma being that they are associated with organised crime. In western society, old stigmas still exist. A facial tattoo of a roaring lion is probably going to get some negative press during an interview or in the boardroom, but a discrete forearm tattoo or nose ring will barely be given a second glance.
When is it okay to get a tattoo? As more celebrities are seen with body art, more younger fans will want to emulate their heroes. What's the best strategy to employ when faced with a 16-year-old who wants a tattoo?
Frighteningly, South Africa is one of the few countries with no age limit governing tattoos. Most reputable tattoo parlours won't tattoo anyone younger than 18. When faced with your dreamy eyed teenager with delusions of inky grandeur, it's best to have a discussion while focusing on the following points:
Tattoos are permanent. Tattoo removal is expensive, and very painful. Considerably more painful than getting a tattoo even. Think long and hard before making the commitment to getting something that you may regret in a few years, months, weeks, or tomorrow!
Tattoos hurt. Tattoos are made by cutting into the top layer of skin (the epidermis), and placing pigment onto the dermis. The healing process involves the damaged upper layer healing, and the dermis heals around the ink. In simpler terms, a thick needle is hammered into your skin multiple times per second injecting ink as it moves. Tattoos often bleed, swell and sometimes scar.
Bad tattoos suck. The celebrity with the beautiful copy of the Sistine Chapel on his back probably paid thousands of dollars for it from a celebrity Ink Master or pin up styled tattoo goddess. The dude doing tattoos after work in his kitchen using a modified Bic ballpoint pen is probably not going to be able to emulate it. Go to a reputable artist, and be willing to pay for good work.
People will talk. Tattoos often start conversations whether you want to or not. Some people will grab your arm and ask about your tattoo while you're standing at the doctor's office waiting to get that rash checked out. Some people have no skaam. Be ready for that conversation. And develop ninja like skills at dodging arm grabbers.
The best thing to do would be to take your time before committing to it. And remember that it's never too late to change your mind about it. After all, it is a lifelong commitment.
Date Published: 25 October 2017