Shelley Bridgeman: Are tattoos beautiful or beastly?

Shelley Bridgeman: Are tattoos beautiful or beastly?

A lively online debate was triggered by The Guardian piece Just one little tattoo in which a pseudonymous mother describes the horror of discovering her 21-year-old son has a tattoo.

It would be fair to say she flipped out over it. When she could finally bring herself to talk to him, she said: “All those years of looking after your body – taking you to the dentist and making you drink milk and worrying about green leafy vegetables and sunscreen and cancer from mobile phones. And then you let some stranger inject ink under your skin.”

Her emotional and dramatic piece of writing was dubbed an overreaction by the majority of people who left comments – many of them vitriolic and critical of her relationship with and possessiveness of her adult son. The piece was described as “mawkishly self-obsessive” and “bats**t mental”. But there were also those who consider tattoos to be “ugly desecrations resonant of self-loathing, aggression and crudity” akin to “having a Banksy mural put on the White Cliffs of Dover”.

Tattoos may mark significant occasions such as births, marriages or the death of a loved one. Sometimes, of course, there is cultural significance attached to tattoos but often they’re chosen simply for their decorative qualities. It seems they can be addictive too, with un-tattooed flesh being viewed as a blank canvas for more ink-work.

David Beckham’s tattoos represent his children, special dates and the number on his football shirt while Angelina Jolie is said to have a total of 13 meaningful tattoos.

But, despite the high profile role models, getting a tattoo is not a risk-free business. Aside from the pain, the possibility of spelling mistakes, lopsided creations and infections are ever present. So too is the danger of making misguided choices of subject matter such as the name of a fleeting lover or one of these interesting creations.

Laser removal is an expensive and laborious process as the Christchurch man who regretted having “skinhead” tattooed across his forehead discovered.

Once largely the preserve of sailors, truck-drivers and members of motorcycle gangs, tattoos have gained widespread acceptance. They’re now a mainstream accessory, coveted by teenagers and middle-aged women alike. In a world in which suburban housewives are having dainty daisy chains inked around their belly-buttons or cute strawberries tattooed on their lower back and the elegant Samantha Cameron is sporting a dolphin near her ankle, surely tattoos have lost whatever edgy allure and badass attitude they once possessed.

The sheer popularity of tattooing at the moment is possibly the strongest argument for resisting getting inked. Perversely, in some quarters this ubiquitous form of body-art is considered to be a symbol of individuality and nonconformity. Tattoos are in fashion – and fashions, by definition, change. When tattoos fall out of favour – as they inevitably will do – there’ll be a whole lot of people wishing they’d expressed their quirkiness with a crazy handbag, pair of shoes or even zany hair colour. Choosing a permanent tattoo in response to a passing trend or an ephemeral idea is not a wise move.

What’s your attitude to tattoos? Do you love them or loathe them? Do you have a tattoo? And, if so, what is the story behind it or significance of it? How would you feel if your son or daughter got a tattoo?

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