Wednesday, August 10, 2011

To Tat or Not to Tat...That's a Big Question

I love body art!  Once the realm of sailors, soldiers and motorcycle gang members (according to Hollywood stereotype) you never, every saw a tattoo on a woman. Unless, of course, she was a...ahem...'soiled dove'. Ladies did not entertain the thought of getting tattooed, particularly good Christian ladies, because, wasn't done. Conservative Jews also eschewed tats because it was believe to defile the body which was made by God in His image, and to embellish the body with permanent ink was something the Chosen did not do ( but the Gentiles and pagans did.)For some Jews, there is also the understandably nasty reminder of the Holocaust. Tattoos are a part of numerous cultures, permanently etched in ink or through scarification of the skin, temporary by the uses of henna, or other mediums. Embellishment of the body through this form of art was to beautify it or used to commemorate an event you never wanted to forget. (Remembering a former boss of mine who had a record of his military service in the Marines tattooed on his forearms in blue and yellow. They had faded and were covered with hair and really, really ugly. But I've also seen some really touching military-service themed tats that were just stunning, so it can go either way.) Sharing a tat as a membership ritual isn't unusual, and firefighters and EMS providers ( prior to DNA testing) who were likely to get into major disaster situations were known to have their individual badge numbers inked on each arm and leg, the back of their neck, and some place on their torso for- identification purposes in a worse case scenario. (Gruesome, but practical.)

My Celtic ancestors were into tattoos and occasionally painting themselves in woad-(Isatis tinctoria) a plant of the mustard family grown specifically as a blue dye. I understand this was to scare the crap out of any perceived enemy who would encounter a group of blue-skinned creatures and perceive they  could not possibly be of this world. It might have done it for me... I still think the Blue Man Group is pretty weird, although I've never seen them come galloping over a hilltop screaming and armed with  coarse homemade weapons...The weaponry would be just as frightening as the blue faces, in my humble opinion.) I'm pretty certain the Navi People in the movie  Avatar were blue skinned for the same reason- it made them appear other worldly and god-like ( thinking of some Hindu and Buddhist gods who come to mind.) No humans have blue skin unless they're hypoxic  or suffering from acute arsenic poisoning ( Wow, the stuff you learn in paramedic training: not only makes you able to treat a smorgasbord of physical ailments, but virtually unbeatable playing Trivial Pursuit, too...).

Like I said at the opening of this blog, generally, I like tattoos. Well over half my friends have at least one, and I have my own. The artist who did mine was a big muscular guy named John who was professional, caring and kind - and who immediately talked me out of putting the tattoo just above my ankle bone because it would be excruciatingly painful: he barely touched me with the needle, and the whole design was moved up an inch and a half (avoiding a bundle of nerve endings) to where it has happily resided for the last eleven years. I'll admit I was nervous because you hear all sorts of horror stories about tattoo parlors and the hideous infections you can contract there. I'm not by any means saying this is false, because I've seen some pretty nasty skin infections due to lack of proper sterilization or bad technique. While John was making up the stencil for my design, I checked the place out for cleanliness. They had just painted and the place was immaculate; the supplies were all disposable, and when John changed needles and colors, he changed gloves. The needles were dipped in A&D ointment when he took up the pigment. He was gentle when wiping the excess away, there was little blood, and he would occasionally ask how I was doing  to check to my level of discomfort.  There were a lot of colors in the design I chose- a monarch butterfly with wings full opened and a rosebud; John was truly an artist because the design looks like it was painted on my skin. It was a two and a half hour process, and I was given some antibiotic ointment, a printed sheet of aftercare instructions, and an emergency phone number for any questions or if it looked like I was having a reaction to the dye. Most medical clinic and emergency rooms do less when they discharge patients.

My friend Joyce and I went to dinner at a fancy restaurant to celebrate my acquisition of body art. As I was leaving, John had quipped, " You should go get yourself a steak. Guys have fainted on me after being in the chair that long". I knew this was a rite of passage. It was already special because my co-workers had taken up a collection for the tat, which was my 44th birthday present from them. Joyce and I not only followed John's advise and had a marvelous prime rib dinner, we each had a whopping piece of cherry cheesecake  for desert.

Then the endorphins wore off and my leg began to feel like I had a four inch second degree burn on it. I'd removed the bandage, cleansed it and applied the ointment as per the instructions, and it looked good- just slightly swollen and red, but the sheet against it felt like someone was scraping it with a pitted knife blade, so I slept with my leg outside of the covers in bed that night. The next morning I awoke to a slight throbbing, and a sense of weight and warmth on my foot-furry, purring warmth- and then the sensation of  scrubbing the wound with a Brillo pad.

Tinker the Cat rested firmly on my foot, dutifully cleaning my boo-boo with her sandpaper tongue. She licked it hard, in every direction, then looking up at me as if it say, " It's okay. I'm gonna keep this up until I get this damn bug off your leg. No worries, I'm gonna make it all better." Then she went back to her  ministrations.

Ungrateful human that I am, my first fleeting thought was about the germs from whatever Tinker had been licking prior to my leg, I mean, it could have know where I'm thinking. There was a slight aroma of fishy cat food in the air when she burped. I momentarily felt like Lucy from the Peanuts cartoon being kissed by a feline version of Snoopy," Ugh, I have cat germs!" This necessitated a call to the tattoo parlor and John's partner yelling over to him, " Cat's licking her leg". There was a pause and I heard a muffled, " Tell her it's probably good for it, but she should wash it off, put on some A&D.... and keep the cat off of it." I like these guys. I'd let them do my next tattoo, but I've moved and they're 600 miles away.

Did I just say, my next tattoo? Why, yes I did. I went in thinking this was the only one I'd ever get and was planning what I wanted to add to it before I left the building. I now 'get' a lot of the reasons why people have multiple pieces of body art. I also get why they are addictive, and I'm not saying that like it's a bad thing, because it isn't. But I understand the physical, endorphin-driven high you get from being worked on, and my Jungian-trained mind likens it to someone who cuts them self  for relief. I totally understand where that cones from it now that I've been living with clinical depression for the last nine years, because I went through a period of wanting to hurt myself because I hurt so bad. There is a psychological mechanism at work in the pleasure/pain center of your brain when you're getting the piece done...and those chemicals kick in again when you look at the results and relive the experience. It's an out-of body oddness  that's totally liberating with just an edge of fear...definitely an element of pleasure/pain (maybe with just a vague hint of S&M thrown in the mix.) Some people describe hitting the level of endorphin max-out as spiritual, and in the case of scarification, that's exactly what I believe  it is...rapture and orgasm in one.

Although becoming more acceptable in the mainstream, tattoos are still taboo and frowned upon generally in the workplace because they still don't fit the corporate image. They have just a hint of rebellion and 'bad-boy' in them that seem to be better suited for Rock Stars that Corporate VPs. Most employers take note of the type and number of tattoos on a prospective hire-along with number and locations of piercings. Don't kid yourself into thinking that they don't do this. Adopting an 'it's their problem' attitude will do nothing other than keep you unemployed and hungry in most places. I'm not talking about the cute little daisy chain around your ankle, I mean the full battle armored dragon on your arm, or the tribal tat encircling your body. And if you have a tat on your face other than something applied by an cosmetician, you will be filed away by the state employment board as only suitable to work for as a bouncer and recommend you join Ringling Brothers Circus. Nurses have it especially hard because the majority of elderly patients have  a preconceived notion of what caliber of person has tattoos, and won't permit you to administer a sponge bath much less treat a serious illness.  No, it's not fair and judgements shouldn't be made based on your body art...maybe.

If you're a regular reader of this blog, you've heard me talk about caution and discernment before, usually in a religious context. I'm going to caution you to think and consider what you're doing when you go in for that first tat...let's face it, it's going to be a part of you forever and at least a few days after you die until the skin slouches off your bones, so for the Love of Mike (or whoever) think about what you're doing, then give it a few days and think about it all over from the beginning. No matter what you've heard, having a tat lasered off is no easy feat and it does leave some disfigurement no matter how skilled the operator is...don't be fooled. It's not simply erasing the ink, it's burning through layers of  YOUR skin, it's expensive, and usually it takes more than one trip to the dermatologist. It's not  like removing a nose stud and hoping it heals over. My friend Anna had her boyfriend's name emblazoned across her upper arm in a wild array of flowers, stars and  ribbons, and after three treatments to the tune of $5000 the shadow of the heavy ink still showed and her arm was a texture of patchwork scar tissue that was going to require shaving  and more laser treatment to totally remove her ex's name and repair the damaged skin. Not. Much. Fun. The other thing you seriously need to consider is location. Just like real estate- because it is real estate in a way- location is everything. Getting that apple tat low off to the side of your left breast might seem like a great idea until gravity turns it into a Picaso version of an apple that is stretched out of proportion and your lover says something innocent like, " I like your pear. Why did you color it red?"

The other day a friend and fellow Rick Springfield fan was pee-her-pants excited over the fact that she'd gotten to meet Rick at a sound check and asked him to sign her arm so she could have the signature inked over into a tattoo. Good guy that he is, Rick will happily autograph any body part of your choice in BIG letters so you get your money's worth. ( Rick has his own tats, and has developed the philosophy of " Why get a tattoo nobody will see unless you have sex with them?") She had him stretch the signature all the way up the inside of her forearm, and then she dutifully went off to the local tattoo parlor to have it inked in purple with little pink hearts and all of the Rick faithful Oohed and Ahhed and told her how positively cool it looked as some of them compared their own 'Rick' tattoos.I'm pretty certain that angels sang at the sight of Girlfriend's very cool and totally unique Rick tat. A week later Girlfriend and life-long Rick fan was bemoaning the fact that she was turned down by the first employer who nibbled at her resume in two years...because, she is pretty sure, of her 'Rick tat'. The interview went swimmingly until the HR guy notice the purple cruciform on Girlfriend's arm, and when he asked about, she happily rattled off all the giddy details...where upon the temperature of the interview became frosty.  ( Okay, folks, I love him, too, and I considered a 'Rick tat' of my own until reality reared it's ugly head, reminding me that many employers are suspicious of the sanity and maturity of individuals (especially a 50+ year old woman) who would ask a Rock Star to autograph their body so they could   permanently be reminded of their admiration and obsession for said celebrity every time they gazed lovingly upon the sacred memorabilia. Sorry, folks, but the thought also occurred to me that in a not too distant future and in a state of advanced dementia I could be scratching idly at my 'Rick tat' and wondering who the hell Rick Springfield even was when I'm 90, LOL. I'd much rather be pointing at my self and toothlessly mumbling, "Flowers, pretty flowers...") tat or not to's a big question with no easy answers. Your body is your canvas and ink is forever.


  1. Agreed! I have three small tattoos and though long and hard about them!!

    I have a triple goddess/celtic knot on my foot, a tiny pink hear with my husband's initals in it hidden on my hip where no one can see it (not even in a bathing suit) and a flower on my ankle. I love mine but deinitely think everyone should think a loooooong time about them before rushing out!!

    fun post!
    Happy Wednesday! :)

  2. This is so very right on the head! As every one of my tattoos has meanings, whether a faith piece (as the majority of them are) or memorial pieces and I dont regret getting any of them. Each one tells a story, and is part of me. you, I caution where to put them. As having a complete chest plate which is exceedingly hard to cover up, and the small one on my finger (found that was totally impossible) the employers I have met with so far....well it aint Cali.

  3. It took me years to finally decide and commit to my first tattoo. I'm so glad this entry came after my first ink last month! I'd have probably chickened out! I love mine and will be going back for another. Those endorphins are a treat (I relate to the depression mention) however I find this decision's biggest influence was honoring my Celtic ancestry


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