On tattoos

Tattoos (and piercings and other similar body modifications, alluded to in this post collectively under the term “tattoos”) are by now far too popular for me to say that people who get them are bad or indecent in any way, even in terms of those people’s general ability to make choices about their bodies. There are simply too many people who are smarter, healthier, more moral, more attractive, etc. than me–and covered in tattoos–to make such a claim.

So it definitely is without judgment of people who have tattoos when I say I don’t want my kids to grow up thinking of tattoos as OK for themselves. Yes, this makes me a stodgy hold-out from an earlier time, opposed to and out of touch with the direction of my generation. What else is new?

The skin my kids–and really, all kids–were born with is as good and as beautiful as it can possibly be. Markings on the skin can be expressive and fun, but that’s what temporary tattoos or skin paint is for. Tattoos are a permanent alteration and they can only leave the skin in a worse condition aesthetically and potentially otherwise.

No sane, loving parents have ever held their newborn child, inspected its body, and found a place where they longed to put a tattoo. There’s also no reason why this sense of rightness about our children’s skin should fade after children grow up. There must be a part of every parent that grieves when their child goes out and gets a tattoo. I feel sorry for the parents of every tattooed person I see.

Similarly I never could imagine looking down at a fresh tattoo on my own skin and thinking “Good, that part of my skin looks better now than it did before.” That’s the main reason I don’t have any tattoos. (There are other reasons too, ranging from the logical to the spiritual, but they are less fundamental and less important; they are nothing I could stand on when urging my kids to avoid tattoos.)

Studies report varying rates of (obviously hard to measure) tattoo-regret, but how could anyone feel they are improved by a tattoo unless they suffer from some body dysmorphic disorder? Given the popularity of tattoos, it might be interesting to find out whether BDD is more widespread than we think.

As much as I may try to urge my kids to avoid tattoos, it is like many other aspects of their rearing: an uphill battle against the surrounding culture. Not impossible, and in fact I have confidence they will eventually display the same characteristics that kept me from getting tattoos–but the trick is trying to keep them from getting tattooed until then.

I don’t remember my own parents ever talking about tattoos one way or another, though of course they hardly needed to since tattoos didn’t really start to become popular until I was almost through high school. So I don’t know how, from experience at least, to apply the model of “don’t push the kids too hard toward X or they’ll push back toward -X vs. don’t not push them toward X because if you don’t nobody else will and it’s all -X out there.”

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