Friday, July 29, 2005


Existential Friday: the tattoo as existential crisis

Should Magdalena get a tattoo?

Magdalena at Perpetually Clueless, in her mid 20s and recently divorced, asks whether she should get a tattoo. She asked this about ten days ago. I hope this intervention is not too late.

Here's what I said in a comment to her tattoo post:
The tattoo thing has peaked. By the time you are 56, there will be all these old people with wrinkled skin and horrible discolored patches where they got tattooed.
Think about it. Once all the first wave of still-attractive young people with their tattoos cross the line to old farthood -- when they're fat, bald, wrinkled, outdated in their attitudes, out of touch with newer music, and terminally uncool in the opinion of their kids -- they'll still have their stinky old tattoos. Who will want tattoos then?

Tattoos are a way of saying:
"I exist!... (don't I??)"


My remarks in this post are not intended to apply to the traditional constituencies of tattoos in our culture: marginal iconoclasts, prison inmates, merchant mariners, bikers and self-destructive lovers. Like jogging, tennis, bicycling in recent years, yoga now, today's tattoo thing is a large scale fad that washes over a pre-existing practice. The kinds of people who got tattoos before will continue to get tattoos after the fad passes.

It's everyone else. It occurs to me that the tattoo is an existential cry for help, an early and less conscious form of what will later emerge as the mid-life crisis. It's a way of saying: "I exist! ... (don't I??)."

But the problem with tattoos is that there's no way you'll like the tattoo when you're a wrinkled old fart. Either you'll get tired of the design, or one day you'll wake up and just go, "you know, this really does look like some sort of skin disease."

Tattoo getters ignore that plain fact because of the existential crisis built into their thinking. They think one of the following:
1) I'll never be that old. I'm Peter Pan!
2) I will be that old, but I will be the exceptionally cool old person. I'm .... I don't know... Picasso!
3) When I get close to being that old, I'll simply kill myself. Suicide is cool. Like tattoos.
Plainly, none of these is the correct answer to life's great question: "why do we get old and slide inexorably toward death just as it seems like we're getting the hang of all this?"

So to Magdalena, I say: Why don't you get in on the ground floor of the next new thing -- clear skin. Or get one of those washable henna tattoos?


I've seen tattoos on old people and they don't look completely ridiculous. They remind us young whippersnappers that they, too, had a youth, and were probably pretty uppity during those days as well.

I don't think that people get tattoos for attention (or not all people). And I'm not just saying this because I have 2 tattoos, either. A lot of tattoos are there for a specific rememberance purpose. Others are there becuase that person wants to decorate their body, or because of cultural imperatives (OK, I don't know many Maori personally, but still). Still others dig the endorphin high that comes from sitting and letting someone stick a needle into their body a few thousand times.

I suppose there are people who get it as a "fashion statement" and they may regret their decision later in life, as their fashion tastes change.

I would caution any woman to be consious of where on her body she chooses to get a tattoo, and to remember that certain body parts tend to sag as the body ages. For instance, what was once a circle at age 18 is very likely to be an uneven oval at 50. (Don't tattoo your belly if you ever plan to bring a baby to term later on, unless you want your body art to look like it's been put on silly putty.)

And despite what all those laser surgeons tell you, you can't remove a tattoo. There will always be some remnant.

I also suggest getting a temporary tattoo, painted on with body paint using brushes or an airbrush and stencils, to "try out" your potential permanent body art for a few days. I do body painting on occasion, and I've had many people get a temporary tattoo to try out the location or object without making a commitment to the art. Professional body paints can last up to 10 days.

Actually, I have 3 tattoos. I forgot the black mark on my knee, created when a piece of asphalt was lodged there after a bloody tricycle accident at the age of 4 or 5.
wow, oscar - i feel honored that you would blog about me. ;-) and, no, you're not too late. And, thanks to Wendy for her insights. I've wanted to get a tat for a few years, but haven't found a design that I:
1. like
2. is small enough to endure the pain of actually sitting through a thousand needle pokings
3. will still look OK when I'm 40, 50, 60 years old (as you pointed out)

So... until such a time that a design fits all those requirements, I will continue using Proactiv and keep my "clear skin" :)
I am actually writing a speech on the good aspects of tattoo permanence, so I have plenty of feedback.

As a 23 year old with 6 tattoos and no urge to stop, I am here to explain my stance. My opinion on aging with a tattoo does not correspond with the blogger's opinion on tattoos at all. I realize that I will grow up and that the lines and colors will blur as my skin thins and wrinkles; this does not bother me. I am not Peter Pan, I do not plan on living hard and dying young and I don't really expect anyone to consider me "cool" at any age.

I look at tattoos as artistic expression and look at it as: "This is who I was when I got this tattoo".

I don't think "My god, what if I hate myself at 60?!?" because the truth of the matter is, most seniors couldn't give a flying f**k about what their style or appearance is saying to the world; They are done with societal approval.

I have seen several documentaries in which seniors are proud of their tattoos, using them as timelines for their lives and tangible memories which capture their persona far better than any camera could ever hope to.

In this world, so few things can boast the permanence of a tattoo. The marketing permanence promise: "A diamond is forever" has left 1/2 of this country in divorce court.

Alzheimers is a growing problem, don't you think a senior with failing memory could take solace in seeing the name or portraits of loved ones on their skin as a tangible and beautiful sign of a love that transcends mental failure?

As others have commented, yes, if getting a tattoo is simply a response to a societal trend or because you think something is "cute", you may indeed have regrets. But we've all done things that years later we've been embarassed by, a tattoo is far from a life-altering decision unless YOU deem it so.
Skin is a very sensetive parts of our body .n We should keep it clear. I think it is a helpful website where you find many suggestion about keep clear skin. You also find and know about many kind of skin care product.
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