Origins of My Ink
Wednesday, July 23, 2008 | Author: Mad Typist
In the Washington Post, there is an insane op-ed from Richard Cohen, entitled Ink-Stained Wretchedness. It reads like an old man's "You kids git off my lawn!" diatribe against people who choose to sport tattoos. Here's the first two paragraphs (emphasis mine):
Tattoos are the emblems of our age. They bristle from the biceps of men in summer shirts, from the lower backs of women as they ascend stairs, from the shoulders of basketball players as they drive toward the basket, and from every inch of certain celebrities. The tattoo is the battle flag of today in its war with tomorrow. It is carried by sure losers.

About 40 percent of younger Americans (26 to 40) have tattoos. About 100 percent of these have clothes they once loved but now hate. How can anyone who knows how fickle fashion is, how times change, how their own tastes have "improved," decorate their body in a way that's nearly permanent? I don't get it.
He then in the middle section attempts to link a so-called myth of the permanence of the moment to the recent economic problems. Finally, he returns to his list of why tattoos are ugly, tacky and foolish.

As a person who currently has two tattoos and plans at least one more, allow me to offer my point of view here. First of all, let's get this point out of the way: yes, there are people who have frivilous tattoos, yes, there are people who regret their tattoos to the point where they pay a ton of money to have them removed. My problem is the way he lumps all people who have tattoos into that category.

Let me tell you the story of my tattoos, and then you judge whether I'm being foolish.

I grew up in Western NY, in a county where there are more cows than people. And when I was young, I thought that tattoos were horrible. My only exposure to tattoos were those found on the skin of the dregs hanging out at the corner store. A tattoo was something stupid people got when they drank too much at the county fair in the summer time. They were stupid little pictures of things like confederate flags, or Marvin the Martian. Dumb blonde girls got crap like butterflies or roses tattooed on their ankles. In short, I was very anti-tattoo.

Then, when I was 12, I was in Hawaii on vacation with my family. We went to the Polynesian Cultural Center, and while there we watched a traditional dance performance by a group of Tahitian women. All the women were sporting traditional tribal armbands, which had been painted on. Well, all the women save one - one woman had an actual armband tattoo. And at that moment (which I remember so vividly, even to this day), I was struck at how beautiful she was, and how the tattoo, rather than being tacky or silly, was something beautiful too. I saw how a tattoo, in the right circumstance, could be more than just a picture. It could be an expression of one's culture, a symbol that meant more than its surface interpretation. And I knew at that moment that I wanted a tattoo like that, an armband of my very own.

I spent the next 13 years of my life looking for that tattoo. I saw lots of different designs, but none felt right. In the meantime, when I was 22 I got my first tattoo, a Chinese character at the base of my neck (lest I be accused of co-opting another culture, let me disclose that I'm 50% Chinese). Translated, the character means "knowledge". Finally, when I was 25, I found the tattoo I had been searching for, at Electric Ladyland Tattoo in New Orleans. I ended up meshing together two different designs that I liked, so my tattoo is one of a kind.

I love both my tattoos and have never regretted getting them. In his op-ed, Mr. Cohen would have you believe that tattoos are to be lumped into the same category as hipster clothing or jewelry - fleeting fashion symbols that will fade from style eventually. But my tattoos are more than that. My armband symbolizes for me not only 2 specific times and places in my personal history, it symbolizes the day I realized that beauty comes in many forms, that art can be found in the most unexpected places. It symbolizes a day when the world got a little bigger for me, when I was able to see outside the narrow view of where I came from and got a taste of where I might someday go.

As Mr. Cohen says in his op-ed, tastes can be fickle and times do change. But I choose to look at my tattoos as a celebration of art and truth. And there's nothing more constant and permanent about who I am than that.
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