Why Do We Really Get Tattoos?
(Left) David Beckham of the L.A. Galaxy. (Right) Twany Beckham #10 of the Kentucky Wildcats in the champsionship game of the 2012 NCAA men's basketball tournament.
Photographs by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images; Jeff Gross/Getty Images.
It is the first morning of our vacation. I wake up bright and early and trot down to the ocean where I make a shocking and bone-chilling discovery: I am the only personage on the beach whose epidermis is unadorned with tattoos. Everyone is inked up except moi. According to the FDA, more than 45 million Americans are now tatted up. This past weekend, they all hit the Florida beaches and pointed jeering tattooed fingers at yours truly. To these folks I am a combo of loser and nemesis, a rebellious nonparticipant in their sick and twisted cult.
I see myself rather differently. From my untattooed point of view, I am the last heroic holdout. I’m like Charlton Heston in The Omega Man, that movie where he plays the one remaining normal person on Earth, and everyone else has gone all ghoulish and ghastly.
The trend for tattoos is not exactly breaking news. But in the last few months, it seems to me that tats have gone from fad to raging unstoppable pandemic. David Beckham, for example, used to have a bit here and a bit there, but now the majority of his upper body is inked. Those of us who follow the annual March Madness NCAA basketball tournament—my husband is a devotee—will have noted this year’s staggering proliferation of tats.
But the new extreme inking is by no means confined to the sporting set. Everywhere I look in Florida, I clock old geezers with hammocks and the word “Margaritaville” emblazoned across their burly sun-blasted torsos. Chicks, too: Today I saw a superannuated South Beach swinger boasting a tarantula on her right shoulder. Every time she hoisted her sippy cup to her lips the spider jiggled. And it’s no longer just a class thingy: I even saw tats at the legendarily WASP-y Bath and Tennis Club in Palm Beach. OK, so they were on the leg of the car-park valet, but just you wait. Next year, the old broads in the canasta salon will be sporting radical ink. Mark my words.
In the past there was one reason, and one reason only, to ink up: A tattoo confirmed your status as a scary outsider rebel carny outlaw sociopath. “Don’t mess with me because I am insane,” was the intended message. And it worked. Remember Robert Mitchum in Night of The Hunter? When he cuts Shelley Winters’ throat we are hardly surprised: We knew trouble was on the horizon as soon as we saw the words LOVE and HATE inked across his knuckles. Tattoos meant mayhem.
Cut to today: Having a tattoo has lost its original meaning. Having a tattoo now has no meaning. Having a tattoo means that you have a tattoo.
While there is no longer any compelling reason to get a tattoo, there are several reasons not to:
Tempus fugit. Sitting around for hours while some dude enlivens your back with lotus blossoms, ghouls, and moonbeams is a colossal waste of time. You could be learning to tap dance or play the accordion.
Money fugit, too. Most tat artists charge about $150 per hour. A full sleeve can take 40 hours. Bingo! $6,000, plus another $6,000 for laser removal when you hit late middle age and it’s gone all crepey and is no longer recognizable as a dragon but looks more like a squashed squirrel. You went from being the girl with the dragon tattoo to the old hag with the squashed-squirrel tattoo, and it only cost you $12K and hours of agony.
Wilkommen, bienvenue Hep C. There seems to be no limit to the horrid medical conditions which are associated with tats. Aside from all the usual blood-born suspects, new research suggests that certain inks do horrid things to your lymph nodes.
Simon Doonan is an author, fashion commentator, and creative ambassador for Barneys New York.(Photo by Roxanne Lowit.)