There’s a girl with her legs crossed
Got an ankle tattoo
It’s an ugly reminder
In four shades of blue
And the bad boys, the rude boys
They’re into the game
And they keep their eyes open
For the halt and the lame ANKLE TATTOO – DAVID FRANCY
Jimmy Buffett – Margaritaville Don’t know the reason that I stayed here all season,
With nothing to show but this brand new tattoo,
But it’s a real beauty, a Mexican cutie,
How it got here I haven’t a clue.
I don’t understand it myself. This urge to be “stapled” and “inked” like a piece of foolscap paper I really find odd. I know it is some sort of fashion statement and as such it has been around for a while. Platform shoes and long hair were fashion statements and they have faded into obscurity. Of course the shoes could be discarded and one could get a haircut. But tattoos, in particular, are way more permanent. I remember the tattoos on old merchant seamen in the 1960’s. They were not only ugly they were almost indecipherable images in one shade of blue. Of course the “art” has advanced since then and the colors are more vibrant and the designs more dramatic. What hasn’t changed is the medium – human skin. Skin is still skin and as such undergoes constant change. That once alabaster canvas of perfection ages, stretches, wrinkles, mottles and become sun damaged and in the end all tattoos start resembling the faded, nondescript patterns of yester-years and they can make you look so, so old. The fad has been around for more years than I can count and I thought as a fashion statement it would right up there with platform shoes – gone by now and almost forgotten. But not so, In fact tattoos are more popular than ever. It is almost to the point where it seems to be the only growth industry in this area.
But it has not always been about fashion. In tribal societies the tattoo has more than a passing cosmetic significance. In the pacific islands tattoos are ingrained in the culture. Some designs are considered sacred and their appropriation for trivial purposes is frowned upon. The early visitors to the islands must have had their minds severely blown by what must have appeared to be paradise. Great weather, plenty of food, dusky maidens and tattooed warriors. It was a far cry from dingy pre-industrial Europe of the time. But, westerners, being what they are could not leave well enough alone. They just had to change things and, of course, naked breasts and tattoos just had to go – but not forgotten. From the 1980s on the traditional Maori Ta Moko (facial tattoo) has under gone a re-birth. At that time urbanized Maori youth started to rediscovered their language and culture. Strictly speaking the Ta Moko is not a tattoo – it is more a ritual scaring. The designs are actually incised into the face with a knife and dye is added. It must be incredibly painful and a somewhat different experience from a visit to the local tattoo parlor in a suburban mall. It is not a trivial undertaking.
A recent survey indicated that 45 million Americans have tattoos and of that number there are around nine million who wish they didn’t. “The reasons for the regret were many but included “too young when I got the tattoo” (20%), “it’s permanent” and “I’m marked for life” (19%), and “I just don’t like it” (18%). An earlier poll showed that 19% of Britons with tattoos suffered regret, as did 11% of Italians with tattoos. Surveys of tattoo removal patients were done in 1996 and 2006 and provided more insight. Of those polled, the patients who regretted their tattoos typically obtained their tattoos in their late teens or early twenties, and were evenly distributed by gender. Among those seeking removals, more than half reported that they “suffered embarrassment”. A new job, problems with clothes, and a significant life event were also commonly cited as motivations. The choice to get a tattoo that is later regretted is related to the end of history illusion, in which teenagers and adults of all ages know that their tastes have changed regularly over the years before the current moment, but believe that their tastes will somehow not continue to grow and mature in the future. As a result, they wrongly believe that any tattoo that appeals to them today will always appeal to them in the future. Society often shuns the tatted. Fall prey to body art and you can find it all but impossible to land a job. And while the condition is reversible, it typically involves undergoing numerous treatments that can easily run north of $4,000.The price is too much for many. Getting a tattoo is painful but getting it removed is another whole level of pain. Tattoo regret seems to take about 10 years to set in and, since tattoos were widely popular in the early 2000s and still are today, my suspicion is that we are only seeing the tip of the iceberg. The option at the moment is Q-switched lasers that deliver heat to targeted areas in nanoseconds. The lasers destroy the ink particles and allows the body to remove them from the skin. But they often leave residual particles behind that are too big for the body to eliminate and they don’t always work on certain pigments. So there you have it. It is expensive, painful and doesn’t always work. But there is hope. The FDA has just approved new laser technology for acne scar removal that is also applicable for tattoo removal. The company who holds the patent is gearing up for an explosive growth in sales and treatments. Is this an opportunity for a new industry? Perhaps, perhaps not. Medical Professionals are the gate keepers on most cosmetic procedures so it stands to reason they will be the big winners. I don’t think your average tattoo parlor will be offering tattoo removals as part of their services anytime in the future.
As a film on a related subject check out ONCE WERE WARRIORS – probably one of the best films of that era depicting the re-tribalization of Maori youth. This is not a pretty movie but it is an incredibly powerful movie. The full length feature is also available on YouTube. Here is the trailer.