Manifestations Of Self In Ink

Every once in a while a topic comes to mind that’s likely to raise eyebrows and cause disgruntled comments to fly…or, you know, that awkward silence you get when people aren’t quite brave enough to say anything first. So heck, let’s just get straight into it then, shall we? I think it’s time we put this whole tattoo debate to rest once and for all.  I don’t write this for people who have tattoos. Chances are they don’t give a damn what anyone else thinks anyway. I write this in the hopes that maybe someone challenges or adjusts their own perspective just a bit after reading it.

Now, more than ever before, people from all circles, races, ages, education levels and social backgrounds are getting inked. It’s no longer confined to old sailors who get anchors on their forearms or Hell’s Angels with long beards, leather overcoats and beer bellies. So why then, is this something that still gets so much disapproval and criticism from greater society? I’ll admit it. When I was a teen, seeing someone with a tattoo implied they were probably a rebellious trouble-causer with a penchant for alcohol and nicotine. In the same breath, I must say that I grew up in a conservative little Afrikaans town where even wearing red shoes would have you branded a whore in five seconds flat. And it was a very different time to now, tattoos weren’t nearly as commonplace. So my judgment was really not much to go by. And aside from the negative connotations I was raised to have with tattoos, I must admit I was curious about them. What made someone want to get anything permanently embedded in their skin? I only came to really understand later on, when I really wanted one of my own and got it, and now, a few years later when I still look at it with endearment. This tattoo has lasted longer than 75% of my relationships and I definitely have more affinity for it than half of my former boyfriends (of which there were 4).

Let’s cut down to the bare bones reality here. Thirty, forty years from now, we’re going to have an entire generation of senile octogenarians and retirees mowing their lawns with full sleeves and neck tattoos peeking out from their button-up cotton shirts and somewhat faded koi fish and skulls protruding from their baggy shorts. Kind of like something out of a Blink-182 video. It’s not a possibility, it’s fact. Today, highly educated and respectable individuals bear ink on their skin, even if it’s not in sight. Your doctor, who you so desperately rely on when illness strikes, might be hiding a full back tattoo for all you know. Your lawyer, who you only ever see in a full suit and tie, might just be carrying the equivalent of the Sistine Chapel across his chest and down his arms. Does it make them any less capable of doing their jobs? Of course not, that’s ridiculous. This whole thing reminds me of how school was always so strict about hairstyles. As if boys growing their hair below the nape of their neck would just be inciting all kinds of behaviour worthy of junior penitentiary. As if girls who tinted their hair color slightly were straight on the road to the nearest stripper pole. Yes, I entirely understand the desire to raise children who understand the value of respecting rules, but I look at it and can’t help but wonder if it’s not just conformity enforcement, more than anything. True nurturing of a person’s character means giving them the freedom to be who they are and laying the foundation of absolute acceptance in them by showing them that you accept them for all they are, not for how well they manage to fit into the mould of what they’re expected to be like. We teach by example, not by enforcement. But I’m going off on a tangent here so I’ll digress.

Tattoos allow us to tell stories that we may never have a chance to tell verbally. It gives others a glimpse of your inner self, even if they can’t interpret the meaning of what they see because the symbolism is far more intricate to you. Not everyone is a writer or an artist. Not everyone can express themselves in ways that make others appreciate it. In spite of this, everyone has lifelong truths and lessons they carry with them, and many choose to immortalize these by marking the milestone in their skin. Of course there are those who get the most random things tattooed on themselves and I am not going to speak for them, because quite honestly I’ve got no idea what makes you choose to get a decomposing zombie or an alien popping out your chest inked into you. Just as how I don’t understand why people go overboard and cover themselves from head to toe in tattoos. I’m pretty liberal but even I have my limits. But this is like anything else in life. It’s a completely free-reigned option, you either choose to have tattoos or you don’t, and within that scope of having it there are no margins for limitation or style, for that matter. My concern isn’t with those people. It’s with those who are remarkably intelligent and talented, yet struggle to find work, simply because they were honest enough to express their love of an artistry that they carry with them instead of hanging it on a wall in their house. If you’re not a self-made entrepreneurial genius or in the creative industry, you’re likely to experience a few less than pleasant situations with finding a job. In spite of all our liberties in this world, where you no longer get shot or arrested for being gay or dating someone of another ethnicity, there are still some overarching boundaries that tie right back to fifty years ago. Something which is ridiculous, considering that now, more than ever, looks can be so deceiving.

Stigmas are terrible things that steal the joy from both the ones judged and the ones who dish out the judgment, because they never get to understand the freedom of acceptance, including that of self-acceptance. A lot of people who frown so greatly on tattoos or say they would never get one, are people who consider having a tattoo a “brave” or “stupid” thing to do. They are people who generally fear judgment and crave acceptance, people who steer away from getting attention – and, as we know, few things will get you attention like a tattoo. The rest simply don’t like tattoos, which is also perfectly fine.

Look, I just can’t stand gross generalization. Something about it makes me wish humanity could think less like a hive mind. Perhaps that’s part of the allure of tattoos for me. It’s a blatant and fearless expression of individualism (yes, I know tattoos in themselves have become a trend now though – I raise and acknowledge this fact before that one inevitably present smart ass raises their hand and tries to contradict everything being said), even in the face of potential judgment and rejection. Wearing your heart on your sleeve, in a sense. Even the shyest person gets the chance to scream out loud without so much as uttering a whisper, and the funny thing is the misconception that all tattooed people are loud mouths – this helps quieter people feel less caught up in their own world thanks to this little boost in outside perception. I can’t wait for the day people transcend their shallow perceptions and preconceived notions and don’t even begin to think about judging based on the ink on each other’s skin or their skin colour for that matter.

I’ve always maintained that your looks don’t matter nearly as much as your character and that we’re all just going to end up wrinkly and senile in the end anyway. Which is why I picked this image above all the other self-validating tattoo memes out there:


Old inked people


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