Trap of the Day: Tattoos

I swear I once read a quote from Nicole Kidman (whom I only really follow when my sister and I are playing a game we call Freckle Arms, in which we send each other pictures of redheaded celebrities with un-photoshopped skin in order to feel more normal in this largely non-freckle-armed world) about how absurd it is to be represented by a physical body that doesn’t accurately reflect who you feel you are. I can’t find the quote now–and I’m not sure it even sounds like something Kidman would say–but the sentiment is still a powerful one. In an existence where so much of who you are judged to be and how you are treated is based on physicality, it can be frustrating to come to terms with just how limited your power over your own body really is. Enter my interest in tattoos.

Often, tattoos make the personal quite public. I got my first tattoo in remembrance of my deceased bulldog, Dingus, and while there’s still something vulnerable about explaining it to strangers, it’s also a pleasantly open experience. For me, my tattoo is a visible admission of something I value in life (which means I am also fully against the vanity tattooing of pets. What the hell, people?). And while the reasons for getting tattooed may be as diverse as the people getting them–from decorative to defiant to deeply symbolic–I see them all as sharing a common desire to change the outer- to better reflect the inner-self.

Fortunately, tattoos aren’t the scandal they used to be, with even Disney Channel names like Selena Gomez, Miley Cyrus, and Zac Efron getting publicly inked. Recent statistics suggest that 20% of American adults have at least one tattoo, and even some of those in the older generations are starting to come around to the artform (my parents are still not in this camp, though I appreciate that they only sounded slightly disappointed when I broke the news to them that I got a new tattoo in celebration of my upcoming birthday). Tattoos are even finding a very practical following within the medical community, as people have begun using them to convey allergies and end-of-life wishes, and diabetics may soon get the chance to use them to monitor glucose levels (seriously cool!).

Not everyone’s a fan, though, and those who were initially certain of the permanence of their desires sometimes change their minds. Notably, actress Megan Fox recently began the process of removing all of her nine (or so) tattoos by laser, a procedure that is far more expensive and painful than the initial application of the image. And the appearance and meaning of tattoos can still create some serious public backlash, a fact Erykah Badu has been recently reminded of as Malaysian officials cancelled her concert in outrage over one of her tattoos. But it’s impossible to control for the reactions of others, even the others we might someday become ourselves. Our interior is just as changeable as our exterior, but this doesn’t mean either, in any of their incarnations, is invalid. I see tattoos as one way to make the disconnect between the internal and the physical slightly less wide. And regardless of what a bunch of old white men may want us to believe, our bodies are our own, to understand, modify and come to terms with as we see fit. As a freckle-armed female, there are far worse things people have said to me about my appearance than simply “what’s that tattoo?”


PS My new tattoo is an image from the cover of Catch-22, the first book to suggest to me that life is absurd and inherently without meaning, but that it can still be actively and meaningfully lived. Feel free to share your tattoo thoughts, stories, and stances as well, even (especially!) if they differ from mine.

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