Mutilation or Art?

Wednesday, November 29, 2006
I have tattoos. Plural. I’ve posted about them before – I’m not shy about showing them off. I love them. I wouldn’t have gotten them if I was going to hide them away from the world for the rest of my life. Listening to the radio this morning, I heard Bif Naked playing. Her music is pretty good, not great, but catchy, fun, occasionally deeply emotional, and she’s amazing in concert. Oh yeah, and she’s got tattoos too. Lots of them. Thinking of her reminded me of a comment that a former acquaintance made to me about two years ago (has it been that long?).

By request, I was showing my coworkers the latest round of tattooing I had had done – my right leg, the largest piece, my favourite. One of the ladies looking at it had an almost disgusted look on her face and said “I’ve always wondered what’s wrong with people that mutilate their bodies like that”. Excuse me? If I wasn’t such a polite Canadian I might have been tempted to slap that look off of her face. To be fair, this woman was in her late 50s, married, grown children, grandkids – a completely different generation than mine. I don’t think this excuses her comment (or what it inferred about how she thought of me) but it does perhaps explain why she might think that way. Sadly, she’s not the only person who seems to think this way. Most people I’ve encountered, however, have at least been polite enough to say things like that about “those people” who choose to pierce, knowing full well I don’t have any extra holes and keeping silent on the tattooing although you can tell from the looks they give you that that’s exactly what they’re thinking.

What’s wrong with us? Nothing. Well, sure we all have our quirks but just because we choose to decorate our bodies does not mean there is something wrong with us. The conversation with the coworker went on and she explained that she felt there was some self-hatred involved and that is why people choose to “mutilate” their bodies. You know what, she’s right. There are some people out there who do just that. I won’t begin to explain why as there are likely a number of reasons, none of which I’m an expert on. Personally I’m not a big fan of piercing although I know many people with them in various “non-traditional” locations and I have had my ears pierced before. I’ve even considered getting my tongue done but with no one to test it out on, what’s the point? (Yes, I’m sick…but in a very VERY good way!) My friend J has her tongue, both ears (one all the way up), and her nose done – it sounds odd but it looks very tasteful with small gold hoops and a small gold stud for the nose. At one point she also had her eyebrow done. A number of fellow bloggers also have multiple piercings. They also have lots of tattoos and chances are there’s nothing “wrong” with them either.

I can’t say that I’m the most well adjusted individual out there but I don’t hate myself. We all have self esteem issues at one time in our lives or another but I can honestly say I love the person that is ME. Would I change anything? Sure, I could lose a few pounds and the hair issue bothers me but there’s not a whole lot to be done about it. Jokingly, I tell people that I willingly paid someone to scar me for life. It’s true – they did. The difference though is that I look upon tattoos (and piercings) as art. My body is a walking canvas. There are a lot of people out there who have very different opinions on the description of tattoos/piercings as art – my father is top of that list. Why shouldn’t I be allowed to decorate it as I wish. As with any piece of artwork, if you don’t like it, don’t get it, or think it’s crap – look away. A heavily tattooed female friend once summed up her choice as this: she hates looking plain, white walls in her apartment so she painted them. Why wouldn’t she do the same for her skin (something she doesn’t have to pay a damage deposit for).

Another common argument against tattooing is “What is that going to look like when you’re a 60 year old grandma with saggy bit?”. My answer? (1) I’m planning on being a very hot 60yr old; (2) I’m not planning on being a grandma; and (3) my saggy bits will be way more exciting than your saggy bits. While there are people out there who get tattoos/piercings on a spur of the moment (often drunk) basis, I’m not one of them. With the exception of my first purple (ick) rose, my other work has all been planned in advance and there has been a lot of research and consultation with the artist involved in the process. I took into consideration the thought of 60 year old saggy body parts when I decided where to place each piece. Even the chest piece that I’ve started is not on my breasts, it’s on the breast bone above my fabulous twins, a part which is in little, if any, danger of eventually hitting my knees.

My choices are my own and I regret none of them. There’s nothing wrong with me or my ink.


Barbara Bruederlin said...

People can be rude idiots sometimes. Screw em, it's your body. (at least you don't have a "daughter country star wars" tattoo haha)

Wandering Coyote said...

Great post, Karen. My dad believe only men in the navy should get tattoos so he's not impressed with mine, but to his credit, he's kept his mouth shut about my lip ring. I think there is a fine line between mutilation and body art, but you're certainly nowhere near it! And I like your comeback about the saggy bits - I'll have to remember that if anyone ever gives me a hard time!

ems said...

Personally, I cannot imagine ever having a tattoo but go, girl, go. I'm wondering if it is still less acceptable for women to have tattoos than men. There are a couple of male runners we see quite often at races who are virtually covered from head to foot. I reckon people would look more if they were women.

I have to admit I am a little bit squeamish when it comes to piercings.

Karen said...

WC - My father HATES tattoos. He doesn't even think men should have them. You should have seen the look on his face when he saw the first one. And it was TINY compared to the others. Even though he spent his entire adult life in the service, he's the only military man I know who doesn't have one (even among his friends from his service years). Now he just shakes his head whenever he sees a new one or he hears I'm planning new work.

Piercing makes him feel faint. He accidentally walked into the kitchen as my stepmother was piercing her daughters' belly buttons (don't ask - she used a gun!) and almost threw up.

mister anchovy said...

I think you should have as many tattoos as you like. As a painter, I would have trouble getting one, because I could never choose an image I could live with for the long term. In part, that's why I paint - because I need to see new images all the time. But that's just me. Same thing with piercings - go to town, have fun, whatever turns your crank.

* (asterisk) said...

Well, you know where I satnd on this, I'm sure! I don't hate myself. Quite the opposite, in fact! As a result, i want to make myself look the best i can. And i think that is with tattoos. I'm not into piercings. I have both ears pierced once, although I used to have three in one ear and two in the other, and i also used to have an eyebrow piercing.

Interesting story on the subject of old people's opinions of tatoos.

I went to a wedding many years ago. The afterparty went on late at a hotel where many of the guests were staying. I was a bit peckish at about 11:30pm so went to get a bar snack. They wouldn't serve me. My friend, whose brother had been the one getting married, said it was probably because of my tattoos (I had only three small ones then), and to prove the point he went and was served no problem. A fellow guest sitting with us was a woman in her 60s. She was appalled and surmised how they would have reacted if her (late) tattooed husband had requested a sandwich: the idea that a man (if he were alive) in his 60s who had fought for his country being refused a snack because he had tattoos is absolutely absurd.

I've been told to cover up in a pub, too.

People are idiots. What's more frustrating is that they seem unable to differentiate between the sort (and quality) of tattoos that "undesirables" would wear, and the sort acquired by "tattoo collectors".

I've seen Bif Naked before. And to be honest I'm not keen on the work she has. But that's personal choice. She probably wouldn't like mine, either!

Of course, we have all had to deal with the "what about when you're older" question. I once read a good response that I shall use in future: "When I'm in my 60s I think i'll have more to worry about, like pissing without a bag!"

Tanya said...

At least I'll be an interesting old lady. Who bloody cares? Why should it be THEIR concern what I do with my body or what I look like in my old age? Who gives them a right to judge?

I am planning more tattoos. In fact, a half-sleeve on my left arm, to go down my shoulder. A big commitment and a big investment.

Why would I want to spend so much money on MYSELF if I didn't want to love myself? My partner has tattoos - does that mean she doesn't love herself? And if she was so worried about me abusing myself, why then did she get me my tattoo for my birthday?

Comes down to people being intolerant and expecting the whole world to confirm to a way of thinking they personally endorse. At the end of the day, me having a tattoo is not a problem for me, it's a problem for them. I'm just glad I don't live in such a narrow tiny distrustful world like they do.

Karen said...

*A - I'm not a big fan of Bif's choice of tat's either but like you said it's a personal choice. I believe they all have a special meaning for her and are tied to her early childhood in India.

The choice of tattoo is dependent on the individual - different things have different meanings for each person. However, I still don't understand why anyone would get a tattoo of Bugs Bunny on their butt cheek.

* (asterisk) said...

No, I don't understand that either!

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