I stopped at our local Chipotle on the way home from coffee with a friend yesterday afternoon to pick up a few tacos. It seems as if there is always a line there, in spite of the how quickly the staff works to keep things moving. Standing in front of me was a young mother with copper-red hair, a baby girl in her arms and another, perhaps five years old standing beside her, hanging on to her skirt. Her entire right shoulder was decorated with leopard-spots, inked in her skin in black and brown. Her left arm from shoulder to wrist was surrealistic, an incongruous combination of odd symbols, death skulls, a pink cupcake and a large Hello Kitty. A turquoise ribbon encircled the length of her arm, carefully drawn not to obscure any of the other tattoos and tied in a large bow at her elbow. I briefly wondered, What does the little girl think of her mother’s decorations? but, of course, she’s just Mommy to her and Mommy has tattoos. I wonder, Does Mommy actually like the way they look? But of course she does, otherwise she wouldn’t have them. Has Mommy considered that by the time she’s fifty, the ink may blur into something that resembles a watercolor wash? Or that the fad will have passed, leaving her now-grown girls faintly embarrassed by their Mom’s colorful arms? Probably not. When I wore shoulder-length hair in the sixties, I wasn’t considering how odd it might look in my fifties … but, of course, I could just cut it.
The popularity of tattoos … or Body Art, which makes it sound a bit more elegant that it is … astonishes me. Don’t they realize that it is a fad? I say to myself. Why would you want to go through painful process to have a fad permanently applied to your body, at least in the sense that you’d have to endure another painful process to have it removed? Even though I’m 70, I don’t like to be completely out of it (as we used to say), so I’ve come to accept that my orthopedic surgeon has barbed wire inked around his forearm and our friend Sue has a butterfly on her ankle. It’s in memory of her husband so I cut her some slack. But when I find myself in close proximity to someone whose appendages are like Body Art murals, I find myself repulsed, particularly if it’s a woman. If the art was on paper or canvas, I might say, Interesting graphics, but on a person? Yuck. I don’t like feeling that way and I certainly don’t show it. Being that out of it makes me feel old.
My son has a few tattoos, one his name in Japanese characters. It turns out that I designed that particular beauty when he asked me to find the appropriate characters online without explaining why. It says Karma on his wrist, something I wish he’d consider more often. My son tells me that getting tattoos is addictive, which could explain why so many people seem determined to look like circus freaks. Yes, that’s not exactly PC but in my day (another phrase that makes me feel old when I use it) that’s the only place you’d see the kind of Body Art I can now partake of in Chipotle. Addiction is a pretty strong word … I don’t use it lightly … but I also know that psychological addictions do exist when substances aren’t involved. According to addictionrehab.com, Tattoos in and of themselves are not addictive although they can be abused through compulsive behaviors. More to the point, they are not included in the DSM-5, psychiatry’s official listing of psychological ailments. On the other hand, there is a Twelve Step program for tattoo addiction, so I’d say the jury is out.
An interesting aspect of growing old is watching the world you knew change. I will never reach the point where I look at someone covered with Body Art without a bit of revulsion. When a pretty young woman walks by covered with leopard spots, Hello Kitties and skulls, it is likely I will be saying, Does she know where those tattoos will be when she’s my age? rather than, Wow, she’s hot. Then again, she’d be totally grossed out if she knew the old goat sitting outside Chipotle thought she was hot. I try to attribute the more colorful comments that flash through my brain to my Inner Curmudgeon (and maybe as post-fodder) but I keep them to myself and treat people as if they don’t look like circus freaks. I get to choose whether I see the world as evolving or going to hell in a handbasket. And in seventy years on this planet, I’ve learned a thing or two about fads. Fads always start out as acts of nonconformity but if they are to become fads, conformity is required. Eventually, the conformists take over and the fad isn’t cool any more. Already publications like the Washington Post are reporting that Body Art is mainstream and now that tattoos are big business, counter culture publications are saying tattoos are passe. So senior karma tells me that someday, a grandmother with leopard, skull and Hello Kitty tattoos on her arms may be wondering why her lovely granddaughter is getting those awful Ionian ear implants and having that hideous telepathic communication antenna installed right in the middle of her forehead, where it ruins her pretty face. And if I’m still around, hanging out in the spirit world, I’ll laugh and say, So it goes.