Snow: Tattoo: An abuse or ‘thing of beauty and a joy forever’?

08/30/2014 8:00 PM

08/31/2014 10:50 PM

As we drove the main drag of Jacksonville on the way home from the beach, I marveled again at the number of tattoo parlors along the way. I mused that we must have an entire industry built around folks who want to deface their bodies with art or messages to the world.

Indeed, there is. A 2012 survey by the American Medical Association reported that the industry takes in a cool $2.3 billion a year.

Because I don’t understand this phenomenon doesn’t mean I’m criticizing it. “To each his own,” said the farmer as he kissed his cow.

Many tattoos, like bumper stickers, transmit messages such as “My son is an honor student at Camp Polk” or “I love Grammaw,” etc.

I would think, though, that as fickle as love is, a person would be cautious about having terms of endearment drawn on the body.

For example, wearing “I love Gloria” on your chest while in bed romancing a girl named “Sue Ellen” would surely have a chilling effect on the encounter. Sticking with just “Mom,” a popular tattoo, is safer, cheaper and less painful.

Time was when tattoos were viewed with disdain. It wasn’t until the 1970s that they became generally, but by no means universally, accepted. I reiterate: A person’s skin is his or her own to adorn as desired.

The AMA reported that 21 percent of Americans wear tattoos, which are more popular with women than men.

Nationally, the AMA found, the average per-hour cost of a tattoo ranges from $80 to $100. However, the per-hour cost in Brooklyn, N.Y., ranges from $150 to $350. Sources say removing tattoos is more expensive and painful than inking them.

Were I desirous of a tattoo, choosing the message or art would not be easy.

Would I wear a miniature tattoo of UNC’s Old Well on the back of my hand or choose to have a sketch of the Blue Ridge Mountains running down my arm?

I read on the Internet that more and more people are getting tattoos of favorite Bible verses, although tattoos are specifically banned in Leviticus 19:28: “Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves. I am the LORD.”

Due to the discomfort involved, “Jesus Wept,” the Bible’s shortest verse, would seem to be a wise choice for religious folks bent on wearing tattoos as a form of evangelism.

While some people choose to flaunt their tattoos, others keep theirs under wraps.

Reader Andy Book of Durham once visited a Beaufort fish market to buy scrap fish for his crab pots. He and three friends were admiring the tattoos covering both arms of a woman who looked to be in her 50s.

“She asked if I had any tattoos,” Book said. “I told her that in 1945 my Navy buddies, knowing my fear of needles, forced me to get a tattoo. When she asked where it was, I told her that it was a rose – a long-stemmed one – on my posterior.

“She immediately pulled down her pants and underpants and showed us tattoos on both cheeks. We admired them for a few seconds before she pulled up her britches and walked out with her husband, who had just grinned during the show.

“My buddies and the owner were aghast, never having seen such an exhibition. Those tattoos must have cost her a bundle.”

Undoubtedly, many tattoo enthusiasts agree with actor-musician Johnny Depp, who said, “My body is my journal and my tattoos are my story.”

Some of these journals must be brief indeed because of cost and the pain involved.

Author Jack London once quipped, “Show me a man with a tattoo and I’ll show you a man with an interesting past.”

That might have been true in London’s time, when tattoos were to be seen primarily on seafaring men.

London’s assertion doesn’t hold water today. Tattoos are worn by homemakers, teenagers and others who may not have ventured more than a stone’s throw from home.

If you have an aversion to tattoos, get over it. For many, a tattoo, to paraphrase the poet John Keats, is a thing of beauty and a joy forever.

Entertainment Videos

Join the Discussion

News & Observer is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Terms of Service