Standing in line at Starbucks the other day I overheard a conversation between two 20-somethings discussing their respective schedules.
One girl was debating at what time she should take a valium because she had an appointment with her tattoo artist to complete another section of her artwork, but immediately after that she had to attend class to prepare for her GMATs, and was worried that she would be too groggy to glean any valuable information that could impact her scores (and one might suggest, her future).
Intrigued by such a scheduling conundrum, I tried to discreetly crane my neck to view the artwork in question, wondering if it was the size, or location, or both, that would necessitate a trip down the pharmaceutical path. It was in fact, both.
A large and colorful garland emerged from the collar of her shirt, tangled its way across her breast and collar bones, and then meandered its way down her shoulder, leaving glimpses of buds and flora peeking above her elbow. I immediately envisioned her GMAT scores, and wondered if she would regret the not-so-discreet tattoo when she was competing for an enviable job on Wall Street.
I’m not exactly sure how I feel about tattoos. I have one…three actually, if you want to get specific. But each one is positioned in a location that is either easily camouflaged with a watch strap or bracelet, or never sees the light of day.
When I got them several years ago I was in a different emotional (and physical) space than I am now. They are representative of my self at that point in time, and continue to be a part of who I am today. That being said, if I had virgin skin, I don’t know if I would get inked.
I like my body art, but at the ripe age of 50, I fully understand that there are certain times and places when flaunting or flashing a tattoo is just not appropriate. And I also have a first hand working knowledge of gravity and decreased collagen. Let’s be honest, a blooming rose on the perky and nubile breast of a young woman who has yet to experience a full term pregnancy will look significantly different once two or more children have nursed their way to toddlerhood and Newton’s Law has had its way with her decolletage.
Just as we categorize people for how they dress, I fully believe we make on the spot judgements of people based on their choice of body art. Does a discreet design on the ankle suggest someone who is a trendy or willing to take a bit of a risk? Is a sleeve of artwork indicative of someone who is in touch with their inner artist, or someone who is trying to make a bold statement to conventional society?
Speaking generally, tattoos distract from the presentation of a person. Take the uber talented Lena Dunham, for example. Her random and bold tattoos are clearly part of the package that is Lena Dunham, but they are so obvious that it is the first thing that one sees. The classic beauty of Angelina Jolie is so embellished with body art that at times she ends up looking like a hot mess.
Fully respecting each individual’s right to express themselves with or without the use of permanent ink, I often feel that body art allows little room for the changes that individuals will experience as they go through life. I have a different outlook on life and a different personal agenda now than I did 5 or 10 years ago…will (or should) my tattoo speak to my goals and values of who I was, rather than who I am?
The rule in my house for my children is this: if you choose to get inked, it must be in a discreet place that can easily be concealed if necessary. I want them to have the freedom to change as their outlooks and experiences change. I can’t help but wonder if the young woman in Starbucks be constrained in her life choices because her body art speaks louder than her accomplishments?