by B.G. Morgan
We see tattoos everywhere these days and on a lot of people who, 20 or 30 years ago, would never have worn them. Once a stereotype of criminals and outlaw bikers, the tattoo has become part of our mainstream and is no longer seen as a negative by most people. Starting in the mid 1990s, more and more people went out and got tattoos. You would be hard-pressed to find any college student in most major universities without one. But what about women who have been out of school for many years? Is this trend of permanently placing ink on your skin big with them as well?
One might argue the reason many people in their 20s get tattoos, your distinguished writer of this article among them, is because they do not possess a broader view of the big picture in life. The old argument of “What about when you are in your 60s? How do you think the tattoo is going to look then?” Well according to a 63-year-old woman I met during my research, pretty good. Amy is a mother of two children, has six grandchildren, a loving husband, and got her very first tattoo at the tender age of 60.
“I always wanted one,” she told me, and, on her 60th birthday, her husband took her to a local parlor and bought her a tattoo. Since that time she has added to it, turning a simple sun tattoo on her shoulder blade into a beautiful collage of the sun, sea, and stars. “At first it was just about getting the tattoo, but it has really grown to mean something special to me,” she explains.
Tattooing really is not as uncommon as you might think. Since 1995, the number of people in their 40s and older who have been getting tattoos is growing. Big Mike is a retired tattoo artist who still shows up at his old shop to tattoo some of the current employees. “I got to retire early because of the shift,” he tells me. “It used to be you would only do bikers or other outlaw types. Then young people started to pick up the trend and, all of a sudden, all those baby boomers jumped on it.” It’s really not surprising if you think about it: a generation reared in social rebellion going out and doing something many still consider rebellious.
As Big Mike and I where trading stories of tattoos, an older couple walked in with a young man and woman. Tom and Elizabeth have been married for 25 years; the two youngsters are their 20-year-old son David and their 18-year-old daughter Jenny. Jenny is here to get her belly button pierced, David to finish a tattoo that he started two weeks ago, and Tom and Elizabeth, at the ages of 49 and 47, are getting their first tattoos to commemorate 25 years together.
“It’s something different, you know,” says Tom. “And it will last forever like our love,” adds Elizabeth with a smile. They both sit down and get matching tattoos. I ask their son David what he thinks of getting a tattoo with his parents. “It’s a little weird, you know, I mean, they’re my parents,” David says with a slight chuckle.
After leaving the shop, I start a walk down Venice Beach. For those who don’t know, this place is something different. All Angelenos know about it, but it’s not a big stop for the tourists, and that’s a shame because they really miss an interesting side of Southern California’s culture. I stop and talk to many women and ask them the basic questions for my article: Do you have any tattoos? If so, how many? What, if anything, do they mean to you? The answers are, of course, varied as, like snowflakes, no two people are alike and neither are the tattoos. The one thing I did note is that everyone was more than happy to share stories with me. Tattoos are symbols of our lives, our past, and our culture. They commemorate those we love and those we lost. Everyone was very open with me about the stories of loved ones who had passed and how they honor the memory with the tattoo.
Michelle, a 42-year-old secretary, shows me three flowers on a vine around her left ankle. “They represent my parents and my brother, all who have passed away.” In a way, this form of commemoration is getting the job done. “People ask me about the tattoo all the time, and I’m always happy to tell the story.” It’s doing exactly what she wants, keeping the memory of her loved ones alive.
Kim is 37 years old and was born and raised in Los Angeles. Her tattoos tell a different story, not of lost ones, but of herself and her culture. “My parents were born in Japan and moved here just before I was born. I’ve only had the chance to visit Japan once,” she tells me as she shows me tattoos of a samurai, a koi fish, and a dragon. “These are very important in my cultural heritage,” she goes on to say. And, in a way, it helps her connect to a past she knows mostly through books and stories. Once again, the tattoos are doing what they were intended to do. Kim is not only teaching about her culture when people ask about them, but those who ask are also learning about her love of that culture as well.
However, I should point out tattoos are not for everyone, and everyone does not have a great story behind their ink. Stephanie is a 45-year-old mother of one and has no tattoos and no intention of getting any. “They’re just not for me,” she says. “I know my daughter wants one, but, until she turns 18, that’s not going to happen in my house.” She then looks at my arms and tells me it seems my mother doesn’t seem to have the same opinion of tattoos as she does. I smile at her and tell her that she actually does, that my mother hates my tattoos.
Another woman I met, who did not talk too much to me, told me that she got her tattoo at a young age and really regrets it. “I went into a shop years ago and picked something off the wall. It doesn’t mean anything to me and, as soon as I save enough money, I’m going to have it removed.” She tells me she is in a hurry, so I thank her for her time and move on. But I guess that really brings in the main point: if a tattoo means something to you, it is something you will always treasure no matter how it ends up looking. Like a treasured childhood toy that may fade and become ragged as years pass, it will still remain a memory of something special.
So remember, everyone has a story to tell of their life; tattoos just help give the story an illustration. If you’ve always wanted one or can’t wait to get one more, you should look into yourself and reflect what truly matters to you, because that is what the best tattoos are made of. And a friendly tip to those who worry what they will look like in your twilight years: remember these two things. The lower back, shoulders and ankles are easily covered and do not sag in those later years; and, a tattoo hurts for a short while, but the ink and the memories last forever.
Hair by Paul Spataro www.paulspatarohair.com Makeup by Sherilyn Segal www.sherilynsegalmakeup.com and
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