Apologies to my friends with tattoos. I’m outing myself as a tattoo hater. I’m not trying to hate them, and I don’t judge anyone on an intellectual level for making that decision for their own body, but I just cringe at the whole idea of tattoos and I don’t really know why. I’d like to be more at peace with them as other people’s business, so I explored my feelings about them below in this stream-of-consciousness post.
Part of it is that I’m a bit of a visual art snob and I hate the aesthetics of 80% of tattoos right off the bat. I roll my eyes at at least half of tattoo tropes and artistic conventions. I find it super-corny and embarrassing that people want to give parts of their own bodies to this silly culture. Classic, cartoon-y tattoos are okay for, say, wall art or on the side of your purse, but I think they look terrible on the body.
I have seen beautiful tattoos that are works of art in their own right, but I rarely think that the human body is the right canvas. That’s the other part of my aesthetic distaste– tattoos almost never fit harmoniously into the look of the entire body. Especially when they are large, over curving surfaces, and not naturally self-contained (i.e. a face that just fades out at the neck as opposed to a heart shape, which has natural boundaries). Beautiful realistic art just does not nestle easily onto most of the available body surfaces. Stupid cartoons fit best but are stupid. Line art can manage to look good enough as art and work with the body overall. Maybe .01% of artistic tattoos I’ve seen online I thought were a visual improvement that worked with the person’s entire body. The vast majority just look like islands of cheesy art disrupting the natural masterpiece of the human body.
BUT even a beautiful tattoo that’s beautifully placed is one note to play for the rest of your life. Why?
But I don’t just think tattoos look bad. I think they look like a horrifying violation of bodily integrity. I’m fixated on bad tattoos in the same way I am on extreme plastic surgery or true crime. “How could they do it???” is the question that obsesses me.
I think the thing that really gets me is how so many people don’t share my level of concern for body integrity and purity. There’s something that doesn’t compute about it for me. It’s like other people de-valuing their bodies (or having extremely misguided, imo, ideas of what improves their bodies) cheapens the value of mine. I sound like someone opposing gay marriage because their own hetero marriage would be threatened somehow by it when I see the tattoo issue this way, and I know it. But norms do matter and, honestly, I do think a norm of tattooing encourages people to profane their bodies and treat them cheaply.
I’m overboard on bodily purity and I know it. I even think of hair dye and makeup as cheapening the body. Somehow costumes are okay, though. This hang-up doesn’t make complete sense. But I’m not ready to let go of it, either. I feel defenseless without it in a world that wants you to touch everything up. I guess I’m afraid of getting fooled into ruining my body. Might be my prefectionism plays a role here. I think I’d make a terrible mistake if I didn’t have the purity perfectionism to force me to do things right.
I imagine the unveiling of a tattoo as a horror scene. I imagine the moment of realizing what a terrible mistake I’ve made and how a part of my body is ruined, the shame I know I would feel the rest of my life, and I have to protect myself somehow. This is, I think, is why I feel so tragic about and disgusted by tattoos. If I didn’t, I’d feel vulnerable.
I never let the tape keep playing, though, never see how I would inevitably adjust to it, get it removed, whatever. I never see how life would go on, because tattoos are not inherently fatal. I’m just stuck at this catastrophizing moment. And I always assume that people who never felt this way about their tattoos are just deluded and will have the same horrible realization I project if they ever wise up. It’s extremely condescending, but I pretty much always think people with lots of tattoos would regret them if they knew any better. I don’t really take seriously the idea that people might be happy with them and not regret their choices because they are not me.
I’m not comfortable just letting other people screw up in their own lives. I feel responsible for their feelings and behaviors (overresponsibility/omnipotence), which here comes out as judging. I think paternalistic judging is nicer than thinking “Pfft, idiot,” but I’d rather avoid both. It would be best to respect the autonomy of others enough to let them make their own mistakes, if that’s what they are. I don’t have to take on the horror I think they are supposed to feel and then resent them for it. And I can calm the hell down and not treat viewing a dumb or ugly tattoo as witnessing violence against the body, which I sort of do now with my inflated sense of body sacredness.
I’m focused on the ugliness or stupidity of tattoos and the loss of a harmonious natural look, but those are red herrings. I’m trying to figure out whether people have my permission to get a tattoo, which is not the issue at all. Other people have the right to make decisions about their bodies, even if it scares me to contemplate doing those things to myself. The issue is not whether others are “right” to get a tattoo on aesthetic or practical grounds, but whether it’s any of my business, which it is not. I’m already feeling relief having thought this out. It’s not just out of my control what other people do with their bodies and aesthetics, it’s actually not my business to worry about them or offer my judgment. I can have more respect for people on their own terms AND let this gripe go.