I'm a pack rat by nature. I save newspaper clippings I might someday need ... photos of haircuts I might someday try ... and doodles of things I draw in the margins of forms and meeting notes that I one day might try to turn into paintings or other artwork. One particular doodle, a kind of graphic pattern of curling lines and geometric shapes, really caught my attention so I kept it tucked safely in a pocket of my wallet ... I had a "feeling" I would definitely turn this into something. I never dreamed it would involve a series of tiny needles propelling ink into my skin at high velocity.
For millennia (that's right, millions of years), tattoos have been part of human culture. Earliest man used inks and dyes made from natural substances to "mark" individuals for decorative purposes; religious beliefs; rites of passage such as marriage, fertility, and manhood; demonstration of tribal and familial relationships; acknowledgement of craftspeople and artisans; protection from disease, magic, and evil spirits; and to delineate people of noble bloodlines. This body art, like today, took many forms and appeared on arms, legs, necks, backs, faces, hips, knees, and shoulders.
Most notable of the ancient "inked" are Egyptian nobles, the indigenous Ainu of Japan who favored elaborate facial markings, and the Maori aborigines of New Zealand. In fact, it was Joseph Banks, a naturalist studying the Maori in 1769, who brought the idea of tattooing and body art to the attention of the Europe of his time. Soon sailors were embracing the concept and adorning their bodies with images copied from natives glimpsed on their travels. In fact, I had an uncle who was in the Navy and he had a small tropical fish tattoo on his left bicep. I was always fascinated as a kid by the way it would sometimes "peek" out of his workshirt. And when he told the story of getting it done in Fiji with a few other buddies while pretty wasted on rum and beer chasers, you could tell he was reliving a significant life event. I thought that was cool!
Well, I was never a big student of history or a total worshipper of my uncle ... my reasons were much more personal. I'd had a crisis in my life and, upon working through it, I decided to get crazy and put that little design I'd been saving to good use.
And I'm not alone. According to a 2008 survey, 14 percent of adults in the United States have a tattoo ... 25 percent in my age group. My little "gift" to myself took about 2.5 hours and cost me about $180. I just walked in and this girl looked over my sketch, enlarged it a little in a copier, traced some of the design on my skin, and then went at it. When it was over, I felt powerful and sexy and naughty and hip and decisive and adult ... about an hour later I felt incredibly sore.
I don't regret my decision ... but I don't think I'll be going under that particular type of needle any time soon. Actually, ever. Tattoos and body art are such personal and subjective choices, and more power to those who embrace the practice as a form of self expression. The "covered in tats" thing just isn't a look I can rock. But I can pull of wearing yellow, so there!
POINT OF RANT: "Personal" is a nice way of saying "none of your business."