I Didn't Get These Tattoos For You (sorry, I know that sounds selfish)

02 Mar

You’re on a crowded subway car - people crammed into every conceivable nook and cranny – and you can feel all the eyes on you.

Not just looking at you. Scrutinizing you, staring at your tattoos.

There are differences in the way people look at you  - kids look at you with curiosity, marveling at the intricate works of art you have on display.

Other people are looking at you as if every decision you've made in life has been the wrong one, that you're probably on the run for war crimes or something equally heinous.

And then there are those who have a look on their faces that I’ve begun to interpret as a 3 stage emotional journey of confusion, consideration and then appreciation (often with a hint of jealousy from a few of the guys).

I get it: tattoos aren't for everyone –and that’s OK.  We are all entitled to our opinion and personal choices.

I’ve often thought about this question: What is it about my tattoos that concern you so?
We don't stare at your un-inked skin wondering what made you so conservative in your approach to life.

The only answer I can settle on – not understanding the reason and motivation.

Why do I get tattoos?

Each piece of skin art means something to me.
True, some of the meanings are easier to share than others – some may be more personal, but that doesn’t detract from their significance at all. In fact, it adds to it – I’ve left it there as a permanent reminder.

Maybe you’d like to know what the Latin phrase is I have on the right side of my head, or the Roman numerals I have over my knuckles, or why all the clocks tattooed on me show the time as 11:11?

If you asked, I would be happy to answer all these questions for you.

By the way, the Latin means: "Understand before seeking to be understood."

My tattoos are for me: and only me.

This external representation of my individuality, the works of art by very talented skin artists from all corners of the globe,  is for me and me alone.  Yes, you can argue that you can see them too - but where do we draw that line? How far down the path of encouraging stigma and prejudices based on appearances or choice of lifestyle, do we allow ourselves to wander? Haven’t we only just started to backtrack and begin repairing that shameful chapter of human history?

It doesn’t mean you can’t ask why I didn’t choose a more reserved way of expressing myself – sure, but we can say the same thing about Van Gogh. For the record, I still have both my ears.

It takes courage to show your inner world to the outside world. Ask any artist.

I’m not concerned about anyone else’s opinion when I’m “in-the-zone” and achieving a meditative mind-over-body state (you try getting your stomach tattooed and tell me you don’t need some out-of-body experience to make it through the next 4 hours).

Some people go to the bar to drink; some people do drugs, some people do yoga, some people paint or draw or sculpt or dance - I choose a piece of art and a design that represents my inner world and I honor it, and it’s personal meaning to me, on my person.  For some people, their tattoos represent personal achievements, overcoming challenges, memorializing someone they loved - the list of reasons why is endless and each significant in its uniqueness.

I like the way it looks: on other people and me.

This is how I want to look.  Simple as that.
Maybe you like a dark exotic look, or you might prefer porcelain white – both equally beautiful in their own right. Perhaps you identify with the corporate look and tie your sweater around your shoulders or have a crunchier, wholesome, nature-loving hippie vibe. Personally, I love a massive fro paired with large-framed glasses and big hoop earrings – that’s another story (and a whole different blog come to think of it – possibly about 80’s afro-chic-disco-glam making a comeback).

You get to look at my tattoos for a few minutes a day – at best a few hours if we spend a lot of time together – I see them every waking moment of my life. Careful thought has gone into every one of them. When I look down or pick up my mug, or tie my shoelace – I see them. Believe me when I say I didn't get any of them in a drunken moment of impulsive decision-making. My impulsive decision making is always done entirely sober.

I would also stress at this point that any tattoo artist who isn’t ethical enough to refuse to tattoo someone who is intoxicated would never get the chance to work on my skin.  It may shock you to hear this, but I do this responsibly and with careful consideration.

SPOILER ALERT:  Kids don’t care about tattoos.

I’m going just to say it: l like small people a lot more than I like big people, most of the time.
Kids are a lot more authentic than adults - in their views, opinions, feelings, and expressions. I’ve never met a child that felt unsafe with me or thought of me as anything less than someone they wanted to engage with.

It usually starts with a stop-dead-in-their-tracks-stand-and-stare. This is where a smile and a “Hi” typically break the ice. From there comes the questions, the curiosity, and a game of identifying all the different things they find. A bird here, a star there…

They think you’re tough (I mean who am I kidding it is pretty hardcore look), but along with tough comes a feeling that they are safe and protected and can maybe even learn to be tough and confident like you.

Something about that toughness, that resolve of character, that confidence in yourself, seems to draw kids to you.

They think you’re exciting (tattoos are a great fallback when the conversation gets a little low) and they think you’re going to treat them differently.  I’m not 100% sure of that as a fact – but it does seem to be the case from my personal experience working with early learners for the past decade.

Think about the message you are sending.

Parents express concerns that their kids will be influenced by getting tattoos later in life and I acknowledge that children are affected by people in their lives and their environment. While there is no question parents need to protect their children and should always want the best for their child (something I wish every parent on the planet will do for their child – the world would be a better place for it), I do feel the message we are sending needs to be more carefully considered.

Would teaching your child to be accepting of diversity be a more valuable lesson? By restricting their worldview and their exposure to variety, we are possibly teaching painful lessons like judging people based on appearances, race, social status, etc.?

The world is a diverse and dynamic place.  There's no escaping it.

New York isn’t the only melting pot of culture these days – the world is at our fingertips with technology and the ability to travel the world and experience other cultures is only a few hours journey away.

Diversity includes all people – irrespective of gender, race, religion or choice of lifestyle.

For 1000s of years, tattoos marked tribal status, a message to the world that you are a warrior, a spiritual leader or have transitioned into adulthood.  They signify a journey - sometimes physical, often religious.  An adventure and story you might never know if read a book by its cover.

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