Remember when tattoos were only worn by the fearsome? If you think about the concept of tattoos abstractly, don’t you just picture bikers and prisoners? I do. Now everyone has one. There are people who’s every inch of skin is covered by some kind of ink (if I were to judge those people based on their skin, would that make me a racist?), and there are people with only a tiny symbolic marking that serves to remind them of some concept or memory. Plus there are all those “Hottie” tattoos that instantly invoke the phrase, “But you’re not, though.” Either way, that shit is there forever! People get tattoos cavalierly, it seems, without considering how these symbols or messages will be interpreted in the ensuing years, and whether their lower back will maintain its integrity (it won’t). Research suggests that as many as forty percent of North Americans under forty have tattoos. And my hypothesis is that thirty-nine percent of North Americans will live to regret such a decision. Unless they pick the most perfect tattoo in the world.
Dream: To obtain the most perfect tattoo in the world.
Goal: Achievable. Literally any image or words can be artistically rendered on my person. There must be some words or images perfect applicable to me, and I am a person. Ergo, tat me up.
Plan: Research exhaustively. Luckily, I have many case studies of tattooed friends, acquaintances, and show-offy strangers to help build a strong foundation. Here are some of my findings:
1) Tattoos are permanent, their inspiration is temporary. Remember those godawful barbed wire tattoos that people used to get on their arms? How fucking lame is that now! Right? But there are definitely some folks out there, whose biceps have probably diminished since 1994 when that was a thing, who now have what looks like intertwined spaghetti on their upper arm. And that was a broad social trend, it’s much worse when it’s personal. Think of the progressive, edgy, bad-ass couple (Tracey and Scott, will say) who decide the most effective way to prove their love is to get matching tats? A bold statement at the time, but what happens when Scott decides to quit his pottery and get a job at an office and Tracey’s like, “You’ve changed!” and Scott’s all “I didn’t change, Trace, I grew up!” And they part ways? Or Tracey’s Dad has a brush with testicular cancer, which is Tracey’s phrasing, although a biopsy proved it was benign and the tumour was easily removed and Scott suggests that Tracey labelling that a “brush with cancer” a little dramatic and Tracey flips out and says, “When it’s your Dad’s testicles, we’ll see how you feel?” And Scott can’t help but laugh at that, which makes Tracey even madder and they part ways? What then becomes of the half-hearts they each have tattooed on their forearms? Even though they’ve parted bitter and angry, they’ll always have one thing in common: people saying, “What’s that on your arm, a half moon?” I couldn’t do something like that. If Jon and I were to get a couple-y tattoo, it would have to be a prevalent theme in our relationship. His tattoo would be like, “Did James do the dishes?” and mine would be like, “Well, did Jon do the laundry?” Check mate, life partner. It wouldn’t be cute, it would just be annoying. Which brings me to my second point:
2) Something incredibly meaningful to you can be stupid fodder for everyone. I’m going to take religious iconography off the table here. Crosses, Stars of David, whatever Muslims use for a symbol (sorry Muslims, don’t know enough about ya), that certainly holds significance deeper than I can poke a hole in. But Garfield? The comedy/tragedy faces? Chinese characters when you’re not Chinese? Let’s just settle down. If you were to have one of those types of tattoos and be brutally attacked (no correlation, but let’s face it, likelihood might be higher) and doctors found your tattoos while you were in a coma and they were checking out your junk, what might they infer? “Well, he has a treble clef on his calf, so he must be a musician.” And after pursuing that lead exhaustively, they find out you were in high school band several years ago. You sent the entire force on a bad lead! And some of these symbols are so personal as to have absolutely no effect on the viewer whatsoever. This isn’t a tattoo story, but it’ll do in a pinch. I saw a guy on the streetcar yesterday with a patch on his jean jacket. This patch was a swastika with a line through it! Like a no-smoking line through it, I mean. A line through a swastika, what could that possibly mean? You’re against the Nazis? Most of us are! Why broadcast that? It’s like telling someone you like good movies, but you don’t like bad ones. Thanks for the heads-up. And the Chinese lettering, what is up with that? I know a guy who has “I Am Ready” in Chinese tattooed on his neck. Unless you’re waiting for your order at a Chinese takeout place where the cooks can see your neck, how is that useful? I wonder if the reverse is true. If there are people in China walking around with poorly translated English phrases all over themselves. “Give Love, Shouldn’t You?” or “Rather Then Be Weakened by Ailments, I Am Not Dead.” Perhaps my symbol tattoo would be a chair because I’ve always loved sitting down. Or a straw because, given the choice, I like my beverages through a straw. And my Chinese lettering would translate to, “I know what this says.” But, lest you think I’m pooh-poohing tattooing, there are some intriguing arguments for them as well.
3) Private space needn’t be public knowledge. I remember seeing this documentary about a porn star once (or maybe it was just a really thought-provoking porno movie), but this director was very angry with our busty protagonist because she got some tattoos in intimate areas, and he was concerned she would never work again. “My girls should never get tattoos,” he said, “It ruins the illusion.” Of what, exactly? It’s not like someone is watching Ass Derby, noticing a tattoo and thinking, “Goodness! This implies she is a woman of ill morals! I’ll never look at Roxy Vagtasia in the same light!” My (very limited) experience of “intimate” tattoos is that they’re somehow more special, unique and hot. I once took someone’s pants off and found a small picture of the planet Saturn. Just appearing out of the blue. It was like an 18-plus Highlights magazine. I never asked what it meant (I had more pressing matters to attend to at the time), but something about it being revealed to a select few (or maybe hundreds, who am I to judge?) made it pretty sexified. And I know someone with an actual piece of art that crosses their lower midsection. A famous painting was recreated across their hipbones, and whether it was the private location, or the truly brilliant artistry of the image, I didn’t have my usual tattoo reaction of forced enthusiasm and masked disdain. I don’t know what my intimate tattoo could be. Perhaps a tattoo of my penis somewhere on my ass. Just in case someone forgot what the front of me looked like when I walked away from them nakedly.
Maybe there is no perfect tattoo for me. Not to belabour a tired point, but tattoos are fucking permanent. That’s what stops me from even really entertaining the notion of getting one. There is nothing in my life I strongly believe in, identify with, or live by enough to warrant bruising it into my flesh. There’s stuff I like fine, like my boyfriend, television, James Taylor, Doritos, and while I’m pretty sure I’ll be into those things for the long haul, I was also pretty sure that Eagle Eye Cherry would have a second hit, or that Ally McBeal was the best show, or that I would never tire of Archie’s Double Godamn Digests. So really, when it comes down to it, I don’t believe in anything strongly enough to warrant making it a literal part of me. I don’t think that’s a good thing, mind you. I probably should have stronger convictions. Stronger convictions and a far more attractive canvas. If I was as fit, thin, gorgeous and muscle-y as some of the people I’ve described, I’d probably want to cover my hot real estate with all kinds of ad space. And anyone who’d scoff at my tattoos or snarkily decry them in their blogs could go to hell. I’d be impervious to criticism. None of their sharp words would make it past my barbed wire. Look out for this Hottie. I Am Ready.