Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Tattoos Are The New Mom Jeans.

My sons are in swim lessons. So for the next two weeks, I will be spending a fair bit of time at the public pool. I will also be spending a fair bit of time marvelling at the tattoos on display at the public pool.  Sometimes I think that I'm the only adult (and, I'm using this term loosely) in this town without a tattoo. When I start to get this feeling, I make Mr Wrath come to the pool with me. Then we bob around feeling rather smug that we are ink-less wonders in a sea of questionable body art. Or rather: a pool of questionable body art. 

I'm old enough to remember a time when tattoos were uncommon. When I was growing up, tattoos were the strict provenance of rebels, and criminals. If you saw a character on tv or in a movie with a tattoo, you knew that guy was a villain.  Only one of my friends' parents had tattoos. There was a crudely rendered Betty Boop on one arm, and a Magic 8-Ball on the other. He was the kind of dad who always wanted to hang out and party with us. He was the kind of dad who, if he offered you a ride home at the end of the evening, you would decline even if the only other option was calling your father at 3 AM and asking for him to come pick you up.

When I was in university in the early 90s, I wanted a tattoo.  I wanted to look like a rebel. I wanted to appear edgy and mysterious. I wanted to create the illusion that I had a sordid past.  I wore concert tees or flannel shirts, army surplus boots, ethnic jewellery I bought at craft fairs in the Students' Union Building, and high-waisted, pleat-fronted jeans from The Gap. But really I was a Star Trek-loving, anthropology major who lived with her parents. I was anything but counter-culture. Also I was too cheap to get a tattoo.

Twenty years on, I'm glad I didn't get a tattoo. Tattoos no longer differentiate, they homogenize. In 2011, having a tattoo doesn't make you a rebel. It makes you middle class. And mainstream. And old. And unlike jeans with an eight-inch zipper, you can't take off a tattoo, hide it in the back of the closet, and explain that you only got them because Helen Hunt had a pair just like it on Mad About You. And really, who didn't love Helen Hunt in 1992!? She was SASSY! She wore HATS, for FUCK'S SAKE!

That being said, I'm TOTALLY gonna get this for my 40th birthday:



No, I'm not.

• • • •

Before getting a tattoo (or marrying or hiring someone with a tattoo) you should check out this Tattoo Location diagram. It's a very useful tool


  1. I've toyed briefly with the idea of a tattoo. Something small and tasteful. If such a thing exists. Then I realize that I get bored too easily. I like to rearrange my furniture twice a year. What am I going to do with a PERMANENT decoration on my body?

  2. P.S. The tattoo location diagram is priceless.

  3. @Mary-LUE -- Beck sent me that diagram. It's so true!
    I rearrange my furniture twice a year, too!
    Recently I overheard my adult nephew (who has a tattoo) advising his younger cousin to decide on a tattoo design, hang it on the wall and look at it every day for 3 years. If he's not bored of it by then, he should get it tattooed on his skin. I thought this was v. good advice.

  4. I'm so happy I got my tattoo in the socially acceptable rebellious zone.

    Also, I think this should totally be your back up coping plan in case things with Mr. Wrath ever go south.


  5. Yeah, I don't understand tattoos. Even when I was trying to be all rebellious, I didn't get it. My high school English teacher had one on her ankle. She was a late 50-ish running to fat very proper British lady with horrible glasses on a chain (ack & GAH) and her ankles were all swollen over her shoes, but at some point in her youth she'd gotten a snake tattooed around her (presumably then much slimmer and sexier) ankle. At least I think it was a snake. We spent the whole year mesmerized by it, trying to figure out what exactly it was. And that was the end of me and tattoos. Because someday, all those nubile youngsters will get old, their skin will sag, and their beautiful body art will look like MacArthur Park after it rains.

  6. I have a friend who has a wolf/sunset/crashing wave combo on his hip/outer thigh. He loves to show it off. In fact, he will stand up in a restaurant and start to drop trou to show everyone. Actually, it is really for the shock factor of whoever he is showing it to, because he is quite accomplished at getting to the tattoo without anyone ELSE knowing what he is doing. It is a fascinating thing to watch.

  7. It is funny how this declaration of individuality is now the badge of honour of similarity. You know I never got one, thought about it for years and then eventually realized I didn't really want one. God help me, it would have been a dolphin or worse maybe the Chinese symbol for something.

    The lower back, female, middle aged act of rebellion is a good one. There is nothing like being in a meeting at work and seeing those come out as someone reaches for something. It just kinda screams desperation to me. No offense to anyone reading this WITH one of those, I am sure you are nothing like who I worked with and are very secure.

  8. Helen Hunt was the bomb. I loved that show. In fact, when Mark was a baby and we only had crappy cable, I used to hope that he would wake up to feed at 3 rather than 4 just so I could watch Mad About You while feeding him.

    Oh, tattoos. I've told you I'm the only non-inked person in my entire yoga studio. Tattoos are VERY big in the yoga world. Some of them are truly startling.

    @Jenifer - "God help me, it would have been a dolphin or worse maybe the Chinese symbol for something" - HAHAHAHA! So true!!!

  9. I seriously considered getting a flirtatious lady bee tattooed on my right hip when I was 20. Did I do this? THANK GOODNESS, NO. And I once talked a friend out of getting Beavis tattooed on one thigh and Butthead on the other, so everyone in the world owes me a big thank you.

    When Bill was a young design student, he made extra cash by selling drawings to tattoo magazines. OH BILL.

  10. @Beck -- Thanks for the keeping the world safe from thighs lined w/ Beavis & Butthead tattoos. A flirtatious lady bee? Oh dear.

    @Nicole -- Now that I'm married, Mad About You is even funnier! At 6AM, A&E use to air a show that was 10-minute long biographies of famous people. It was aimed at high school kids -- and very sleepy mommy-types. I learned a lot about American presidents.

    @Jennifer -- HAHAHA. I would probably have an arm band of "tribal" art. Like 90% of the students in my faculty. We were a pretentious lot.

    @Kimberly -- "a wolf/sunset/crashing wave combo"?? Is he a very big fan of The Hangover?

    @HP&Strawberries -- "their beautiful body art will look like MacArthur Park after it rains" -- this made me laugh out loud. Then I shuddered at the thought of the timeworn snake/ankle.

    @Marty -- not gonna happen.


    I'm going to add a disclaimer that I think a lot of readers will agree with:

    Some tattoos are beautiful works of art. Many tattoos are meaningful symbols for their owners. Some of my favourite people on the planet have tattoos and I'm not judging them for the lifestyle choices or personal philosophies that lead them to get tattoos.

    But I've read that 33% of people in Generation X & Y have tattoos. And 90% of those people say they were tattooed as an expression of individuality. That's what I'm mocking -- the irony of conforming to non-conformity. It's funny.

  11. I totally agree about all of it! Your disclaimer is well noted. Also, who didn't like Mad About You...the episode where they are outside of Mabel's door "sleep training" her was one of my all time favourites. The acting and writing as a married couple was fantastic.

  12. I dunno about the Hangover. I shall ask him. Probably not. But you never know. Allegedly this tat had deep meaning for him. Whatever.

    When I was first dating my husband, I had the "what kind of tattoo would you get if you were to get one" conversation with him. (What? Doesn't everyone?) His response of, "well, the problem is that the art I would WANT would look so ridiculous on me that I won't get it." Topped my list of reasons to keep dating him.

  13. I got my tattoo a very long time ago when I was in my early 20s. I didn't get it to be rebellious or stand out, neither did I get it to fit in. I don't regret it. I don't flash it. I don't hide it. I don't actually think that I fit into your tattoo mould. But eh, whatever, it's my tattoo not yours.

  14. Oh THERE's one of Marilyn's self-proclaimed slightly snarky comments. I agree with you too. I've been in 'maybe I'll get one' mode since my early twenties, but I'm so bad at committing to something permanent (I know, I can't believe I'm married either). It's why I don't have a dog (I know, I can't believe I had children either). Okay, I'm a totally inconsistent waffler who's too chicken to get a tattoo. I bought a chair from a swanky furniture place downtown and every single sales person in the store was extensively inked. Most of them were quite lovely (the tats, I mean, all of the sales people were lovely), but I can never help giving it the 'when you're eighty' test. I think I'd go for a usually-covered area.

  15. @Bibliomama -- I want a blog badge that says, "I made Marilyn snark." It's such a rare occurance, I feel honoured. A bit ashamed. But mostly honoured.

    @Marilyn -- What is your tattoo?! And where is it?! For the record: I also don't regret wearing mom jeans. I liked having my belly button covered up.

    @Kimberly -- I've played that game, too! Or it's variation: If someone promised to give you $21 million would you have this tattooed on your body? Then you show the person a really hideous tattoo, ie a cat tattooed on a stomach with the belly button serving as it's anus. Or something similarly classy.

    @Jenifer -- SLEEP TRAINING! That's a v. cool episode, partially because it was done in one long take w/ only one camera! Erm. Why do I know this?

  16. Look at you starting an interesting dialogue! Yes, that is the episode shot all in one take and I remember them hyping up the episode, I guess it worked. I just remember them sitting on the floor outside the door and being pre-kids and newly married I just found it so strange and fascinating and not really getting it.

    My sister might fit into the other category as well, she got her tattoo not to stand out, fit in or defy...it means something to her. It is our family crest and it is on her hip and you really wouldn't know it was there, now that I think about though I think she has another tat on her ankle...must confirm. Anyway, the point is after our Dad died she just felt like having this piece of our family on her body.

    Personally, I don't need/want a tat to make the connection, but for some people I think that tangible display for whatever emotion they are trying to connect with is what they are seeking. I think it brings meaning and beauty for some people.

    I think there are wildly different types of people who get tats and the gaggle of girls going on their fortieth birthday and slightly drunk is tied into the stats you were talking about. Oh, look at me I can get a very personal yoga symbol like ten of my closest friends because I am unique!

  17. Ewww...ugh..no you are not getting that tattoo! Nowadays tattoos are almost pretentious. My friend's daughter-in-law got one recently during a drunken moment in Montreal. She thought she'd be all "look at me I'm so deep and philosophical" she chose the word 'tomorrow' for all of its deep meaning (I guess?) The tattoo artist didn't speak good English, wrote it "ToMMorrow" and the daughter-in-law didn't even notice till someone pointed out to her that her permanent ink had a typo Yeah, how smart do you think you are now!

  18. @Jenifer -- I was besotted with that episode b/c I had taken a film studies course in university. We'd studied/discussed longtakes (as used in Hitchcock's Rope) and it was one of the only times I ever applied my knowledge to real life. That's sad, isn't it?

    Tattoos as symbols of personal connections, momentous events, ethnic heritage and loved ones is a nice concept. I can see how that would make a person feel powerful or peaceful or connected. It one of the reasons that I lament tattoos becoming mainstream.

    @Sandra -- HAHAHAHA. Where is that tattoo? Somewhere easily hidden, I hope. Maybe it's time to legislate a "cooling off period" before getting inked. Ya know, like with handguns.

  19. I love that tattoo location diagram! And I have an awesome tattoo story, which is not about me since I have none (although in the early 90s I was about to get a small tasteful flower tattooed behind my ear but then I didn't after all) but about a friend, and is really a cautionary tale about how not to get a very visible tattoo in a language neither you nor your tattoo "artist" speak (i.e. Arabic) and then move to a country where that language is spoken, so that everyone can laugh about how your foot says "SLUT" in big blue arabic letters!

  20. @planetnomad -- no. No! NO! NO! WAY! Oh, that is funny.

    I have a theory that tattoos of chinese symbols don't really say things like peace, strength or calm. But rather "these aren't my real breasts" or "don't touch me, I have scabies" or "this white man has more money than sense."

  21. I'm sad to have missed the conversation. You've been doing all of this great writing and I don't like missing it! I've been at school, having my brain expanded, NOT reading blogs. Wah.

    No tattoos for me. When I was in my late teens my older sister showed me what was left of her lower abdomen/upper hip area intertwined heart tattoo after having a child. It gave me a healthy perspective on the whole issue and I decided that it wasn't for me.

  22. I feel the same way. I do not have a tattoo, nor do I ever intend to. There is nothing I would ever want permanently etched on my body. Ever.

  23. Sadly I am a victim of the 90s rebelious tatoo movement. In my 18 year old mind bigger = supercoolrebelchick, so I got the biggest tatoo $140.00 would buy me. It's a tribal tramp stamp that is 12" wide. With a blue flower in the center. You know, to keep it feminine.