Tattoo Culture Magazine

By Sali Hughes

Re-blogged from: http://www.neverunderdressed.com

“Tattooing is gross and just another form of self harm” wrote a female journalist I followed briefly on Twitter, and who was culled almost as soon as I’d typed my flamer in response. As a tattooed woman with a reasonably healthy self esteem and zero desire to hurt myself, I was partly furious at her ignorance about tattooing and mental health, but mainly baffled as to why she even gave a toss what anyone did to their own body.

Her tweet came as a comment on some recent and somewhat nebulous survey results showing that French men had less respect for women with a lower back tattoo (known to Daily Mail readers as the appallingly sexist ‘tramp stamps’) and assumed those women would be ‘easier’ (a term I thought had been retired in around 1976).

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"A TATTOO BECOMES SO QUICKLY A PART OF YOU THAT IT WOULD FEEL AS ABSTRACT AS REGRETTING THE NOSE ON YOUR FACE."

I take the stats with a pinch of salt, but these sorts of judgements of tattooed women - usually acting as a smokescreen for old fashioned sexism - are real, blindly accepted and pretty common. My love of good tattoos is such (I have a large swallow on my back, some script on my wrist, and a waist piece planned for the autumn) that I’m always going to challenge them.

It’s not that I want everyone to get tattoos - I mostly don’t care what people choose for their own lives (though I’ll reluctantly admit that I do quite like being a ‘member’ of a club that millions of people find mysterious, appalling and scary). But what I do hope is that people at least base their tattooing prejudices on something real.

The problem with tattooing (an ancient art form that has existed for many thousands of years and one that was banned for women in several countries until a few hundred years ago, just in time for Queen Victoria to get hers) is that many remember only the bad tattoos that were once commonplace.

"WE GET THE TATTOOS THAT MAKE EACH OF US HAPPY. THE EXTREMELY PERSONAL NATURE OF THEM IS THEIR GREATEST FEATURE"

I remember hearing of kids at my school paying three quid to a fifth-former with a pot of Quink and a Helix compass for a crap inside lip tattoo of their favourite band name. I can only imagine the agony if you were a fan of U2, never mind if you were into Carter The Unstoppable Sex Machine. But in 2013, the standard of tattooing can be mindblowing. Most towns now have a seriously good artist and their techniques make for extraordinary detail, richer colouring, pin-sharp definition and increased longevity.

The main reluctance in getting inked is around the potential regret. I understand this - any tattoo has to be considered extremely carefully before committing - but most tattooed people will tell you that’s not really how it works. A tattoo becomes so quickly a part of you that it would feel as abstract as regretting the nose on your face. Of course, potential regret is minimised with good planning.

"EVEN MORE THAN CLOTHES, MAKE UP, ART OR INTERIORS, TATTOOS ARE AN EXPRESSION OF YOUR PERSONAL CREATIVITY AND STYLE, A PERMANENT DECLARATION OF IDENTITY TO THE WORLD"

Like any shoddy workmanship, bad tattoos are grim. I’m extremely fussy about artists and spent months researching the right one, poring over different fonts and text styles online, printing out my favourites and talking through options. A tattoo is forever and you have to set yourself up for success. And yes, it hurts. But I’ve had two babies and many bikini waxes. My tattoos were tea in the park by comparison.

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The important thing is that you really love your tattoo. It is simply impossible to please society (and that, frankly, is part of tattooing’s appeal). In the eyes of the media, female tattoos have been cool (Cara Delevigne’s index finger lion), naff (Kym Marsh’s Chinese symbols), a cry for help (Jodie Marsh’s Michael Jackson sleeve), common (anyone in TOWIE) and tragic (Amy Winehouse), but to classify them like this is to completely miss the point of body art (not to mention the worst sort of cultural snobbery).

Tattoos are not a trend, or even a look - each one is personal and inextricably linked to its wearer and artist. What is naff to me (not at all keen on tribal and celtic, despite being proudly Welsh) is beautiful to another who may find my traditional sailor tats to be far from her cup of tea. It doesn’t matter. We get the tattoos that make each of us happy. The extremely personal nature of them is their greatest feature. To be beholden to fashion or external approval is to entirely miss out.

"THEY LOOK INCREDIBLE ALONGSIDE BLACK EYELINER TO MIRROR THEIR OUTLINE, OR WITH RED LIPSTICK, THEIR SPIRITUAL COMPANION"

Which is certainly not to say that tattooing has no place in fashion. Kristen Stewart decided to debut her new tattoos at Chanel’s Couture show this week, and Alexander Wang’s latest show awarded Frow VIP status to several high profile tattoo artists. Body art is the ultimate accessory, albeit of the most indelible kind. It’s also one that, in my experience, goes with everything. Teamed with a black dress, my tattoos are irreverent and cheeky, against jeans and Ts they look cool, they toughen up girlie florals and complement biker jackets and skinnies.

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They look incredible alongside black eyeliner to mirror their outline, or with red lipstick, their spiritual companion. Tattoo colourfulness means every outfit matches them. I can either cover them demurely or have them poking cheekily from my cuffs and necklines. They’re like waking up every morning with a great pair of shoes already on your feet.

I’m not at all surprised to find that as of 2012, more American women were tattooed than American men. Because even more than clothes, make up, art or interiors, tattoos are an expression of your personal creativity and style, a permanent declaration of identity to the world.

"MAYBE, LIKE ME, MY TATTOOS WILL BE A BIT WORSE FOR WEAR BY THEN - LIVED IN, WEATHERED AND A LITTLE WOBBLY ROUND THE EDGES. I’M HONESTLY LOOKING FORWARD TO IT"

What the tattooed will most often hear from haters is “You like ‘em now but they’ll look terrible when you’re old!”. Le sigh. People forget that tattoos are now so commonplace (40% of British people have one), that by the time I’m old nursing homes will be awash with grannies covered in swallows and mermaids, all swooning over an 80 year old version of David Beckham’s guardian angel.

And maybe, like me, my tattoos will be a bit worse for wear by then - lived in, weathered and a little wobbly round the edges. I’m honestly looking forward to it. Because I’ll remember when I got them and why, how I chose the designs, the high I felt as I left the shop. I am certain I’ll look at them with pride and absolutely no regrets. They’ll also remind me that however advanced my years, and however weary my bones, I can still be a complete and utter badass.

Written by nkasper — July 12, 2013

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