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