Recently I read a question online from a man who was asking whether he was too old to get a tattoo – at age 40! Every comment I saw reassured him that he wasn’t too old at all. (And that it both costs less and hurts less than he had imagined.)
I found this discussion particularly interesting because my husband and I both waited until we were over 60 to get tattoos. I started getting mine (I have three) approximately seven years ago. Dan got his first one just this month. My tattoos are two punctuation tattoos that are linked to mental health issues and one that represents my lifelong love of books. Dan’s is a bear paw, which represents his “spirit guide.”
(I know that non-native people who say they have spirit guides is problematic, as they are part of Native Americans’ spiritual beliefs and religious practices, which shouldn’t be appropriated by outsiders. I discussed this with my husband, and he said that he considers the bear his spirit guide because of a dream he had in which a bear literally led him out of danger. But I digress.)
Both of us are considering at least one more tattoo – a peace sign with doves for him and a compass rose or a yellow rose for me. Tattoos are sort of addictive. I never expected to get another tattoo after my first one, but here I am.
I’ve heard various theories about why people get tattoos. Some say it’s a form of self-mutilation that flouts God’s law of respect for the human body. Some see it as one point in a spectrum of “body modifications” that include piercings and whatever those things that stretch earlobes are called. Others say tattooing is a practice that indicates membership in a “tribe” – bikers or chefs, for instance. Still others see tattoos as a sign of rebellion – a statement of defiance against social mores. (This claim is particularly often voiced when the tattoo-ee is a young person.) Then there are those who believe that a tattoo is an outward sign of an interior belief – love for God or for one’s mother, for example.
What’s the motivation for me? Aside from the punctuation tattoos, which have a specific meaning related to mental health, I consider my book tattoo purely decorative (although I guess it also proclaims my membership in the tribe of bibliophiles and writers). Dan’s is more of the interior-belief sort, a reminder of an experience that was deeply meaningful to him.
Some people scoff at tattoos because of aging. They say that tattoos acquired in the heedlessness of youth will be regretted when the skin becomes distorted by age, and elastic and crepey skin. But I don’t mind. The aging of my skin is a fact of life, one that I am not fighting off with expensive creams and lotions. That the tattoos will change too is a given. Neither of these facts is something to be mourned, however, at least not by me. In fact, the reality of change is a part of every life and I would be foolish to think it wouldn’t affect my skin art. Since I got my tattoos late in life, that also means that they have less time to fade than ones acquired at a younger age would.
But so what if my tattoos age? My stack of books will crinkle like the pages of an old book. That’s appropriate. And not enough reason not to get tattoos.