My Tattoo Manifesto
Many people who have known me for awhile know about my long standing dislike of tattoos. In 2012, that all changed. First I started stepping back from my dislike of tattoos and then, all of sudden, I actually had one! Since that momentous day when I got inked for the first time, I have been thinking about putting my thoughts down on paper about how I felt and how I changed my outlook on tattoos. This exercise serves two purposes: The first is help me develop my own understanding of how all this came to pass; the second is to share these thoughts with my friends who may or may not understand how this happened.
History of my dislike for tattoos
-.) Originally, my dislike of tattoos was just social. Growing up, they weren’t that prevalent. To my knowledge, it was primarily the sailor/biker/rebel crowd that had them. I just accepted the opinion they were bad. As I was not presented with too many people who had them so, it was easy to dislike them without really confronting the ‘how or why’.
-.) Tattoos started becoming more mainstream in the mid to late 90’s (in my estimation). This really started to take when pop stars like Britney Spears hit the scene and got tattoos. She looked like a girl next door (well, she did at the time), not hard rockers like Aerosmith, or an edge rebellious singer like Ani DiFranco. She got them early and wasn’t shy about showing them or talking about them. Other similar mainstream pop artists, like Christina Aguilera, got them soon after.
Encounters that shocked me about the spread of tattoos
-.) When I was the beach in 2004, I saw a girl who looked like your normal, preppy girl next door and she had a big horseshoe tattoo on her foot. This was the first time I had seen someone in person who did not seem like the ‘tattoo type’ that had one.
-.) A year later, while working at Dave & Busters, one of my younger co-workers had a high school girlfriend who had a tattoo on her lower back. She seemed too young to me to have one, but my co-worker said that her mom gave her permission to get as a way to ‘help her deal with her parent’s divorce’ [though he later confirmed her mom did this to piss of the father]. This not only stunned me to see someone so young with one, but it always started alerting me to the reasons people would give for getting tattoos. I did not think any reason was good enough for marking up your skin.
-.) I remained on my service fraternity’s (APO, Co-ed) email list for a few years after I graduated. One day, there was an email about a ‘tattooing and piercing’ fellowship event. Aside from the fact that it was inappropriate to post that on the main fraternity email list (regardless of how I felt about tattoos), I also was angered by public promotion of an activity like that because I could easily see socially insecure members of the fraternity deciding to tag along because it seemed like the cool thing to do and regretting it later.
Reasons against tattoos themselves
-.) In addition to my original thinking about tattoos not being socially acceptable, I started developing a stronger opposition to them.
-.) One of the main things I disliked about tattoos was the fact that they were permanent. Unless you had a lot of money and a lot of time to endure laser removal, you were stuck with what you got for life and I couldn’t conceive of their being a good reason for this
-.) The permanence of tattoos dovetailed with another aspect of why I didn’t like them: the lack of thought into the decision of getting them. The boom in the mainstream tattoo industry has indeed led to many people getting them because they are the cool and hip thing to do at that moment, the same as if they would get their hair colored or would wear outlandish clothing. Yet, hair and clothes can be changed easily. A tattoo cannot.
-.) I did not like the addictive nature of tattoos either. It always seemed like someone who got a tiny little design in an easily hidden place would soon have many many more.
-.) On the flipside, I was not bothered by another part of body modification that many people also consider socially unacceptable: piercings (other than the standard one in each ear for females). This didn’t mean I liked all piercings. It just meant that I could separate the ones I didn’t like (such as lip, eyebrow and dermals) from the ones I did (nose, tongue, belly button, varieties of additional ear piercings,). In my mind, I felt this was because I viewed piercings as being impermanent. Once a person felt they no longer wanted a piercing, they took it out, it healed up and that was that. Obviously this isn’t the same way with tattoos.
-.) The increasing prevalence of tattoos, especially on people who seemed like it didn’t fit them didn’t help me feel more tolerant. In fact, I dug in my heels more against them.
-.) Young starlets like Hilary Duff, Vanessa Hudgens, Hayden Pannetierre, and Leighton Meester are examples people who got them that just made no sense me
-.) The entire cast of Glee has tattoos, led by Lea Michelle’s more than 10. She also doesn’t ‘look the type’ and she admitted in interviews to having convinced some of the other cast members to get their first.
-.) Then, there are those who angrily defend tattoos (basically, they were my exact counterpart on the other side of the issue). They are so defensive of them that even if someone were to neutrally ask about a tattoo (not in a critical or condescending way), they would react angrily as ‘how dare you ask me about my tattoo’. The vitriol spewed between angry defenders of tattoos and those angrily against them isn’t too far away from what you would see between the Tea Party and the Far Left. That sure wasn’t going to help change my thinking.
Mitigating Opinions about Tattoos
-.) Even when my opposition was at its strongest, there were still instances that broke through my intractable opinion. I had a couple friends who have tattoos that having them didn’t seem wrong at all. They fit the tattoos they have, and I don’t mean that they seemed like part of the sailor/biker/rebel crowd. My friend, Emily, has a lot of ink work done and they are not small tattoos, either. A large dragon on her back and phoenix on her back and side (currently in progress) are among her many tattoos. Now, while she does ride a bike and she’s pretty badass, she didn’t fit any stereotype of one who should or should not have tattoos. However, even if I didn’t like tattoos in general, I always had a respect for hers. Part of this is probably because I understood her reasons for getting them and they seemed to fit her. The designs she got seemed to fit her and she also never treated them like they were something to be argued about. They were ‘her’ and you could choose to accept them or not. I always did. This was part of what played a role in my recent evolution.
-.) One summer at the beach, when I was sitting with my mother and godmother while waiting to be seated at Grotto pizza, I was complaining again about all these females I saw with tattoos. My godmother, who agreed with my dislike of tattoos, also made a point of saying, “You know one day you are going to meet a girl you really like who has one, and you will find it doesn’t make one bit of difference to you”. At the time, I just blustered “No. Never. I’ll know.. and I won’t ever date a girl with a tattoo”. (That would change)
-.) I also did not look forward to one day having to fight with my children over tattoos. I had seen enough parents battle with their children over it and then have the children go out and get them anyway, either through lying about their age or having another adult pose as a guardian (an act which I consider an extremely violation of parental authority). For something that would not endanger the health or wellbeing of my children (and would be even MORE socially acceptable by the time they were old enough to want them), this seemed like a fruitless issue to be hardline about. So, I resolved that I would give them knowledge about tattoos and about my disapproval of them. If they still wanted to get them, I had only two conditions: They had to be at least 18 and they had to be able to pay for it themselves.
Evolution of my Opinion
-.) The peak of my dislike of tattoos was probably in early 2010, when I refused to even consider going on a date with a girl a friend was trying to set me up with because she had a tattoo (I have since discussed this with her and made peace … and we would not have been a good match for a relationship anyway, but it was still a petty reason to not even consider the opportunity). I even joined a Facebook group called “I Hate Tattoos”.
-.) I still had some people needling me about it, but it also seemed like most of my friends decided to not engage me on the issue. They would not antagonize me about my dislike. Yet, they would also not give me a forum to vent like I had been.
-.) Over the next year and a half, there may have been the tiniest of regressions from my immovable stance on tattoos, but I still carried my overly negative opinion of them.
-.) Then, something changed. And, though it may sound clichéd, it was because of a girl, though not in the way you would think. The day my godmother warned me about came to pass. I started seeing a girl that I liked and, after a few weeks of dating, I discovered she did have a small tattoo. Now, this should have kicked my “I’ll never date a girl with a tattoo” reaction and that would be the end of it. Yet, I really liked this girl, and surprisingly, my reaction became “meh, whatever. I guess I can deal” rather than my more vitriolic attitude. Nothing ever really took off with this girl (and she never knew my opinion of tattoos and a role she had in changing it). However, it did cause me to re-evaluate things. I took for granted that I would probably date more girls that may have one or two tattoos and, my opposition rapidly started to melt way.
How I ended up with a tattoo
-.) Not long after Christmas 2011, I was at my friend, Mike’s, place relaxing and having some Scotch and shooting the breeze. Because I had won a $500 gift card at my company’s office party I purchased some items I said I would NEVER have. One was an Amazon Kindle (because I never thought I would want to try digital books). The other was “Super Mario Kart” for the Nintendo Wii (because Mike used to play for hours on end when I was his roommate and it drove me crazy).
-.) I also mentioned about how my opposition to tattoos had faded (he already knew this because I had discussed it with him before). He decided to suggest “Why not get make it a trifecta and get three things you never said you get”. He was meaning a tattoo. I was like “nah, man. Never gonna happen”. He then said, “I bet if I were to get people to contribute a total of $500, we could bribe you get one”. I said he was welcome to try but I wouldn’t do it.
-.) Two days later, I started thinking about it some more and decided “Ok, if he could raise $750, plus the cost of the tattoo by August”, I’d get a stupid little LMFAO shuffle design on my hip. I figured that if he couldn’t raise the money, then nothing changes. If he can, then I would have something tiny that I could hide and I’d be $750 richer.
-.) This proved to be THE crucial turning point. The mere fact that I had allowed myself to even entertain the thought of getting one, regardless of the circumstances, changed everything.
-.) All of a sudden, I started checking out shops to go to in the area. After some research, I figured that, if I were ever to get one, Pop’s in Wheaton Plaza was a good place to go (because I had seen good work from there, plus I was told avoid Ambroto’s in Silver Spring. Research on Yelp also supported this).
-.) I then started thinking about any other designs I might want after I ‘won’ this bet, and I started thinking about ones that related more closely to my heritage
The Day of the Tattoo
-.) On January 11th, I made my 24th lifetime blood donation
-.) On January 12th, I got my tattoo.
-.) While I had already investigated studios and got a good idea on pricing, I did not have any design in mind (other than the one that was part of the ‘bet’ which most people were telling me was a bad idea and I quickly agreed).
-.) Then, while at work on January 12th, I decided to Google Irish and Scottish flags, since a flag design seemed like a good idea as my mom’s side of the family is Irish and my dad’s is Scottish.
-.) The first image to come up in the results struck me like thunder. I was a simply lapel pin with the Irish and Scottish flags with their flagpoles crossed. If ever there was a “That’s It!” moment, this was it. After work, I drove up to Pop’s Tattoo to get a price estimate. The initial guy I spoke with was not the friendliest, but he gave me a reasonable price. I thanked him and then walked around the mall for the next 30 minutes deciding on whether to give the quote to Mike as part of the ‘bet’ or to jump right in.
-.) I went back and forth on this for awhile. Then, finally, I said “I’m doing it!”
-.) I went back to Pop’s and there was different artist available for the work. His name was Danny and he was much friendlier to deal with. He stayed with the same quote and, while he was drawing up the design stencil, he gave me tips about how handle the first tattoo, such as making sure I had food, especially with high sugar content, in my system. So, I went and got a donut and milk shake while he was getting ready.
-.) Then, came the moment of truth. He applied the stencil to my upper arm to show me how it would look and also showed how he was going to adhere to the color scheme of the flags. Then stencil looked spot-on and I said “Let’s do this”. Just like when you jump out of a plane when skydiving, once the needle was in, I was committed and I embraced it.
-.) Interestingly, getting the tattoo was not that painful. Granted, there was a lot of soft tissue on my upper arm, making it one of the least painful areas to get tattooed. The outline of the design was the least comfortable part. I felt pretty flushed during that portion. Once the lines were done, the coloring began and that was a breeze. After about an hour and a half, it was done. I had my tattoo, along with the Saran Wrap cover and instructions on how to care for it (I bought Aquaphor skin treatment).
-.) Then, I went to Eggspectations to have a beer to celebrate
-.) So, what type of reactions did I face? Shock. Plain and simple, there was shock. Even the friends who knew I was serious about getting a tattoo were still stunned that I actually went through with it.
-.) Some people didn’t believe it was a real tattoo because it was healing so well that there was none of that excess goop you see for a few days after.
-.) Some people got on my case for having changed my stance on tattoos so abruptly.
-.) A couple people gave me grief because they don’t like tattoos (I can sure tell you that my mom wasn’t thrilled about this. I expected that, though. Over time, it will become less of an issue).
-.) I must say that I did enjoy revealing it to people. One friend didn’t know until we went to play racquetball one day and he caught a glimpse of it.
-.) Mike, the instigator of this ‘bet’, also didn’t believe it was real. He was convinced it would take raising the money of the ‘bet’ to get me to do it. He assumed I was just wearing a temporary one to see if I liked the design. Once he realized it was the real deal, he said he was impressed I went through with it and he referred to it as “The Spanish Inquisition”, because he didn’t expect it ;-). (And , still looking to be good on the ‘bet’, but knowing raising all that money was not going to happen, he still covered the cost of the tattoo, itself. That’s pretty cool).
-.) Overall, the consensus opinion from others on my tattoo is that it is definitely a good one and it fits me and my interests perfectly (I’ve said that I will always be Irish and Scottish unless, one day, I get told I’m adopted. After learning I got the tattoo, I think that’s exactly what my mom wanted to tell me).
-.) However, the most important thing is how I feel about it. Going in, I knew what I was getting into. I knew the design and place I wanted it. I knew the potential reactions I would get. The bottom line is I got this tattoo for me and there hasn’t even been one second of regret since I got it.
My Evolved Opinion
-.) People have regularly told me that once you get one tattoo, you will want to get more since they are so addictive. Now that I have my first one, I understand that sentiment. I really like having mine and I have started thinking about additional ones I want. However, this does not mean I’m going to go completely the other way and eventually look like Travis Barker.
-.) My personal philosophy on tattoos that works for me (and this only applies to my preference) is that I want something that relates to family or heritage (hence the flag tattoo). Since those are so important to me, tattoos that represent that will fit me and I seriously doubt I will have second thoughts about them.
-.) In addition to preference in designs, I also have a policy on where I will get tattoos placed. I won’t get anything that cannot be easily covered by your typical polo shirt and a pair of long pants. From a professional standpoint, it makes the most sense for me and, from a social standpoint, it still allows me to show my ink in relaxed setting with friends. This means places like upper arms, the back and legs are areas that I would consider.
-.) I still think, with any tattoo, there should always be a lot of thought that goes into getting it. Just walking into a parlor and picking one out of a book just because you ‘felt like it’ is not a good reason to get one. The permanence of them is why I feel people need to put some thought into design and placement.
-.) You should have a plan, not just for the individual tattoo, but also the larger picture of how you want all your tattoos to look. Random designs and random placement do not look good, in my opinion. Singer Demi Lovato is a good example of that.
-.) Overall, my feelings have dramatically changed. I definitely do like tattoos now, but that does not mean I like all of them. I still see many that I think don’t look good, or I think are a type that just is not my style, or they look like someone put about 30 seconds thought into the decision to get one (another day and another time would be a good place for discussing that subject)
-.) However, everyone has right to decide what ink they want on their body. They just need to also understand that other people may disagree with it. Getting a tattoo is a decision and, as with any decision, there are consequences. As long as you understand and accept that, then there is no reason not to go ahead with your tattoo.
-.) Since I have been on both sides of the fence regarding tattoos, I fully understand the reasons why people do not like them and the types of attitudes that come with that. That means that I also understand when people don’t like that I have a tattoo.
-.) I know some people won’t like it, and that’s ok. I got my tattoo for me. This means I don’t need people to like it (although, it is always nice when I do get compliments). It also means I will not get defensive when people express their disapproval. My philosophy is “If you like my tattoo (or tattoos), that’s great. If not, I understand. They aren’t for everyone.” I won’t try to browbeat people into liking them. If they ever eventually choose to like tattoos, it will happen in its own time (as with me). If they choose never to like them, then giving them grief about just causes unnecessary strife.
-.) I will also freely admit to have been against tattoos. That was part of how I used to feel and the evolution of my feelings is a story in itself.
-.) In the end, I am definitely a fan of tattoos, and I will continue to talk about them on Facebook and in other settings. I do plan to get more, but they will adhere to what I think is a good plan. Finally, I just like that I have been able to lift that unnecessary weight of dislike off my shoulders and just enjoy tattoos. This includes what I have; the ones others have; and the stories behind why they have them. It’s been an interesting journey to get to this point, but this is a better place for me to be.