On Tattoos: Getting Inked


By Dave Hood

Web MD, a popular medical website, estimates that 25% of Americans wear tattoos, but the fascinating statistic is that 50% of these people will have their tattoos removed in the future.

Traditionally, the tattoo is associated with gangs, bikers, and military personal who wore tattoos as a badge of honour. In the past decade, many young people have embraced the tattoo. It’s become mainstream like wearing a pair of blue jeans.

We see all types of tattoos as we stroll the urban streets, such as geometrical shapes, tribal symbols, ancient artifacts, a compass, various types of animals, countless types of birds, butterflies, mythological Gods, lyrics of a song, names of a lover or friend, hand writing or doodles, mystical figures, inspirational quotes, Japanese cherry blossoms, Koi fish, various types of ancient dragons, and much more.

Once a person decides to get inked, he or she makes their way to the tattoo parlor, selects a design and various hues of ink, tells the tattoo artist where to make the tattoo. After paying for the tattoo, the person sits or lies down. Then the tattoo artist inks the person by pricking their skin with a needle of indelible ink, which changes the pigmentation of the skin.

People get inked any place you can imagine, such as the back, legs, feet, hands, arms, chest, neck, and face. Some people get tattooed from head to toe, transforming themselves into something odd, strange, bizarre, as if an alien from some far off planet in the unknown cosmos.

What inspires someone take get inked? There are countless reasons why people get tattoos. For many people, the tattoo is a form of self expression. The person desires to be unique. For others, the tattoo is a form of body art, like a fashion accessory. Many view the tattoo as a status symbol. Their self-concept is “I am cool, hip, trendy, part of the crowd.” Some people get a tattoo as a memorial of a loved one. Some get tattooed to commemorate or celebrate a significant event or occasion. For some, the tattoo is a rite of passage. Some see it as a pledge of love. Others view it as an act of bravery. Some believe their tattoos are a talisman or good luck charm. Many get tattooed for spiritual, mystical, religious reasons.

Despite the popularity of tattoos, the vast majority of people refuse to get inked. First, many judge the tattoo as something ugly, like a scar. It’s unnatural. Others judge the tattoo as a cheap form of body art, like kitsch, which is cheap and showy. Better to purchase some quality jewelry or fashionable clothing. Getting tattooed from a good tattoo artist can be expensive, and removal of the tattoo is even more costly. If you decide to have your tattoo removed, it will be costly, inconvenient, and painful. Since most tattoo removal procedures are considered cosmetic surgery, they are not covered by medical insurance.

There are several methods of tattoo removal, including Cryosurgery, in which the tattoo is frozen and then burned off with liquid nitrogen; Laser removal surgery, where the cosmetic surgeon removes the tattoo with several treatments over several visits with a laser. Skin grafting is another method of removal. It is a painful, and time consuming, and inconvenient. You’ll have to make more than one visit to the cosmetic surgeon. There is always the risk of infection.

Others refuse to get tattooed because of the health risks. Despite what many people believe, a person who gets a tattoo faces several health risks. According to the Mayo Clinic, people who get tattoos can be infected by a bloodborne disease, such as hepatitis. They can experience a skin infection or an allergic reaction, such as itchy skin. Two decades ago, some people acquired HIV from unsterilized needles. This is still a risk.

The Woman’s Health Website states: “It is possible to get HIV from tattoo and piercing tools that are not sterilized properly between clients. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that tools that cut the skin should be used once, then thrown away or sterilized between uses. Before you get a tattoo or have your body pierced, ask the right questions. Find out what steps the staff takes to prevent HIV and other infections, like hepatitis B and hepatitis C. You also can call your local health department to ask how tattoo shops should sterilize their tools. A new needle should be used for each person.”

The best way to reduce the health risks is to not get a tattoo. But if you must, take precautions. Get a tattoo from a trained and licensed tattoo artist who wears gloves, who sterilizes non-disposable equipment, who uses needles and tubes from sealed packages.

Tattoos tend to fade over time, losing their colour and significance. Ted Kooser, a popular American poet, describes how the tattoo can lose its meaning as a person ages:

What once was meant to be a statement—
a dripping dagger held in the fist
of a shuddering heart—is now just a bruise
on a bony old shoulder, the spot
where vanity once punched him hard
and the ache lingered on. He looks like
someone you had to reckon with,
strong as a stallion, fast and ornery,
but on this chilly morning, as he walks
between the tables at a yard sale
with the sleeves of his tight black T-shirt
rolled up to show us who he was,
he is only another old man, picking up
broken tools and putting them back,
his heart gone soft and blue with stories.

There is also the social stigma of a tattoo. Many still associate tattoos with the underclass and counterculture. You’ll rarely see a tattoo on a corporate CEO, business executive, doctor, lawyer, nurse, teacher—anyone who is a professional. If you have a desire to make a favorable impression, don’t get a tattoo on your face or arms or legs, or some other place that is visible to the human eye, unless, of course, you wish to be judged. Not everyone will judge you favorably.

Tattoos in the wrong places, such as the face, arms, legs can be obstacle to finding employment. Young people have a difficult time finding their first job and getting established in the workforce. Few employers want to hire a walking collage of tattoos, especially if they’re on a person’s face. If you desire a career or job with a corporation, healthcare, education, police, or most other mainstream employers, don’t get tattooed on your face. I certainly wouldn’t hire someone for any position who had tattoos marking their face, like a freak of humanity.

You will never see me wearing a tattoo. I’ve never gazed at a tattoo that I liked or been inspired to mutter:” I should get one. I should become like one of the crowd.” I’ve learned that as a person matures and ages, his/her tastes will change. Imagine a person who gets inked at 18 years old with the name of their first love. How will the person feel ten, twenty, thirty years later? I expect that most will desire to rid themselves of the body art.

Tattoos are like designer clothing. They are fashionable for a short time, and then lose their appeal. Eventually, most people will want to wear something else. If you are compelled to get inked, be sure to have the tattoo located in a place that is not visible to the eye. Wear it like underwear.

Never get inked on your face. Anyone who does has “issues.” I often think these people are mentally ill or self-destructive. It’s certainly unsettling to see a person tattooed from head to toe. I have only seen it once, and thought the person was strange. The person who gets tattooed on their face has a strong need for attention—bordering on a personality disorder or mental instability.

Getting tattooed is an unnatural act, like intentionally cutting the body, which reduces the attractiveness or physical beauty of a person. For me, all tattoos are like scars on the body. On more than one occasion, I have witnessed a beautiful young woman pass me on the street—and then noticed ugly tattoos on their arms.

In fact, the tattoo has become so popular that it is now passé. So, if you have a strong desire to express your creative spirit, forget about getting inked. Instead, make art. Write memorable music or poetry. Play your piano, take inspirational photographs, write a bestselling novel, become a great painter with a unique style like Peter Doig. Contribute something original, something unique, something creative to our popular culture.

As I see it, getting tattooed is short sighted, a stupid decision, that most people will regret as they mature into adulthood and old age. Unfortunately, many young people who get tattooed never believe they’ll grow old or die. They are blinded by their naiveté.


About Dave Hood

Lover of poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction. Professional photographer and writer. Without the arts, life would be rather mundane, like a walk down the same old path on a dull day.
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