Getting Inked: Tattoos are now Tender, not Trashy
Updated: Sep 12, 2019
Just back from the beach, and I’m noticing more tattoos on fresh flesh. Friends are talking about getting tattoos in their late 30s and 40s, and I’m wondering – when did a tattoo stop being a tramp stamp??
When I was 18, I crept into a dingy tattoo parlour in Bali, Indonesia. I feebly asked for a ring of flowers to be etched around my finger. I’d bungy-jumped the day before. I was skydiving the following week. A tattoo was a rite of passage, right? Appraising me from behind his table of spiky instruments, the tattoo artist silently, disdainfully, waved me out of his studio. Clearly I had a luminescent sign above my head that read ‘rebellious phase’ and the likelihood of me regretting that tattoo was a safe 100%.
Many of my friends did get teen tattoos. Bees, butterflies and Chinese ‘love’ symbols that in fact spelled broccoli. Now they’ve had children, there’s some collective eye rolling at the impetuousness of that time. My school friend Martha, who got two tattoos at 17, says once she became a teacher she found herself hiding them. They’d lost their meaning. When she hit her 30’s, she finally had them laser removed (not cheap).
But when Kate – my glamorous and groomed, mother-of-two, New York City-based interior designer - announced that she was getting inked for the first time at age 36, I realised the tide had turned.
Delicate, womanly, romantic and sensual – skin art is now the ultimate style statement. After all, jewellery is a decorative adornment that can become so personal, it feels part of you – and a tattoo is an extension of that idea. It’s feminine with an edge, soft yet strong.
Is it this suggestion of empowerment that seduced my friend Kate? ‘I’d always been against the idea, afraid that I’d regret it’ she admits, ‘but at 36 I felt more confident in making a choice that’s meaningful – a celtic triple goddess symbol to represent my mother, myself and my two girls, and a Persian quote on my ribs. I’m now strong enough to say I don’t care if other people judge me. It sounds a little defiant, and maybe it is: I am a wife and a mother but I am very much my own person with my own identity.’
There’s a roll call of women reclaiming their bodies after kids or just celebrating relationships by getting inked. Take Angelina Jolie, Victoria Beckham, Jessica Alba, Carey Mulligan, and Cara Delevigne. And Sophie Turner (who already has at least 12 known tattoos) and Joe Jonas got matching tattoos of their dog last month after losing him in an accident. These expressions of loyalty, commitment and love now seem tender, not trashy.
Getting a tattoo is cultural and subjective, but the gain seems worth the pain (remind me: why do we punch holes in our ears and dangle things from them? Or pull hair out of certain places??) Tattoo lovers say their ink captures memories and conveys personal messages. Whatever you think of tattoos, they’re here to stay.