OPINION: Normalizing Ink

By Alexander Kenny, Staff Writer

Tattooed men are the new “sensitive.” Tattooed women are the new “approachable.” According to Pew Research Center, 40 percent of millennials (ages 18-35) have at least one tattoo and most have degrees. I’ve met librarians with tattoos.

Ink has bled so deep into our culture, it’s no longer a sure indicator of rebellion. It’s a picture of a thing we like to think about, and that’s all a tattoo definitely is. We get tattoos to please ourselves, even when we get inked in spots we can’t see. It is a permanent form of expression, but they’re really there to satisfy our own passion for a thing, and sometimes recognize a severe personal tragedy. Sometimes a cigar is just a big blue dinosaur. Professor Bitey, the non-ferocious blue dinosaur on my left tricep is so stupid, it’s smart. Nobody asks me what the blue dino means. It’s boyish and silly, and I suppose that suits me accurately and it suits the image I hope to convey.

I’m getting another tattoo and I’m not sure why. I hope to work for NASA someday, and it’s unlikely this next tattoo of a rocket ship will legitimize me. A cartoonish rocket will make me happier and incrementally more interesting than having a bare tricep, but I can’t grasp the mechanism responsible. I want the ink, but I don’t want traditional tattoo drawbacks: I don’t want to explain my tattoo, and I don’t want you to explain yours.

There must be tattoo drawbacks because tattoo-removal shops are thriving. Those of you thinking of getting tattoos, reconsider any tattoos that will be visible for the rest of your life. For readers facing jail time, I advise the opposite: Definitely get that face tattoo. A perpetually visible tattoo conveys dedication, and to some degree, toughness.

Most companies now permit visible tattoos as long as the ink is “non-offensive.” But would you prefer an accountant whose forearms display dollar bills? Does a lawyer with the scales of justice crawling beyond a collar seem more dedicated? What if your surgeon appeared with sleeves rolled up to show defibrillators on his biceps? There’s a stigma against tattoos for a reason. It doesn’t matter how many degrees you have –  a tattoo will always indicate some degree of rebelliousness because of previous media representations of toughness. Toughness no longer has a monopoly on the market, but it has a controlling interest.

I’m guilty of owning a “regrettable” tattoo. It hasn’t cost me a job, but the conversations at the swimming pool annoy me. At eighteen, I had “Quinn” tattooed on my back. Bob Dylan wrote “Quinn the Eskimo,” but the cover you know is Manfred Mann’s “Mighty Quinn.” I like the song, Quinn is a guy I’d like to be, and you’ve never seen anything like him. When I tell the story, I sound pompous, and I’m glad the tattoo is hidden by a shirt.

Consider a waiting period. Magic marker the tattoo for a week. I wanted a blue Infinity Mobius on my forearm, so each morning, I carefully drew one on. The entire week, I was bombarded with “Why you got a big, blue eight on your arm?”

If you decide you want ink, I recommend The Body Gallery 2 in Leesburg or Marlowe Ink in Fairfax. Both are professional, friendly, clean, and safe.

Photos Courtesy of Michelle Gardner

  • Robin Dalrymple

    I waited until 35 to get my first tattoo. A year later, I’m getting my 4th. I think you hit a certain point in life where you don’t care what others think about you anymore and it feels good to express yourself. 🙂

  • Jen Anandi Magnuson

    I always said I wouldn’t get a tattoo, because I wouldn’t want to look at it when I was 80. . . Then I did an Ironman, and now I have a corporate logo on my ankle, courtesy of Marlowe Ink… I think I’ll still love looking at it when I’m 80!

    Interesting points you made about the lawyer, accountant, and surgeon… funny what our minds make up about people based on appearance!

  • Johnny Walker

    I’ve never heard of drawing one yourself for a week to try it out. That could probably prevent some unfortunate tattoos.

  • Catherine Taylor Collier

    Love the tone of this! Especially going to remember the face tattoo recommendation in case I’m ever heading to the slammer 😉