Walk down almost any street in America, or in many places around the world, and if you look closely enough, you will see masterpieces decorating the skin of many individuals. Physical paintings as individual as the human canvas they belong to; not only in the design, but also the meaning behind them. While some people have one or two tattoos, many in places that are hidden, there are those who have entire arms, legs, and even heads, completely covered with ink. Artwork displayed for the entire world to see—proudly and sometimes defiantly. Others, wear theirs hidden to be only shared with a select few.
Knowing the pain behind even the simplest tattoos, the question arises, why would someone continue to endure the pain of having an entire arm, leg, back, or chest covered? Eddie, age 53, who has 20 or more with both arms sleeved, stated that his tattoos make him “feel good, like a living piece of art.” His grandfather, whom Eddie calls “the greatest man on earth” and someone Eddie looked up to, was his initial inspiration. He also noted that, being a biker and the military went hand in hand with tattoos. This connection goes back at least 50-years – evidence that can be seen on the arms of senior vets and bikers.
Jonathan, age 27, also relates to the “biker styles” though he mixes his up with the “Danish/Irish heritage” as both of his grandparents were immigrants. His reasons for his tattoos are to reflect a “personal documentation of my [his] life and its various stages.” Artwork becomes permanent marks of something deeply personal and meaningful, just waiting for someone to ask what they signify.
Parents, such as Buddy, age 32, choose to “honor” their children as a way to “keep those I love close.” A man who doesn’t go just for design, he relates that he has “never considered getting a tattoo that doesn’t have significant meaning to me.” Tattoos often become permanent tributes of names and birthdates of birth and sometimes death.
Still others will share a religious reason behind their choice to ink. Derek, 25, chose a “Thai Buddhist piece with a lotus flower” as a reminder when life gets “challenging, to refocus on my goals.” This is his way of looking down and taking a deep breath – meditating when life gets out of control. Daniel, age 32, also uses his tattoos as a visual reminder or witness about his faith in God. In regards to the pain involved, he states, “Sometimes physical pain gives reasoning with the emotional pains of life.” This idea is behind the latest trend of the semi-colon: a reminder that when an author could have chosen to end a sentence, they opted not to. The author is the person who wears the tattoo and the sentence signifies their life. Typically placed on the inner wrist, it becomes a visual reminder to the wearer of choices they made, and still make– on a daily basis.
Females too, share an emotional and spiritual connection to their tattoo choices. MaryBeth age 37, relates, “Each of my tattoos has significant emotional significance from a specific part of my life” and continues with “The pain involved is not a factor for me…the self-expression and the permanent artwork are what matters.” Some will undergo additional pain as they have older tattoos redone and refreshed. As MaryBeth stated, “I don’t regret a single tattoo. I would rather refresh them than remove them.” There is the idea of taking smaller tattoos and having a tattoo artist work with them, adding pieces to create a sleeve.
There is, of course, some rebellion for some who initially get their first tattoo. Ingrid, who is now 33, said of her first tattoo (at 18), because it was “cool to do” and she did it to “be a rebel against her parents.” However, now she considers her tattoos her creation of memory and heritage, her “jewelry with meaning” because she is allergic to most metals. Youth is not the only age in which rebellion occurs. Susanne was 44 when she received her first tattoo. Hers was “a form of rebellion from long standing control because she had been expected to maintain a certain physical appearance due to her husband’s rigid standards. When rebellion is the drive for designing and marking a body, the person creates a visual permanent reminder of an activity that created conflict. Although some may regret their decision over time, others continue to look upon them as permanent remembrances of the periods that make up a life.
Many people will profess to know exactly what they wanted; they deliberate for several months about getting their first tattoo. The common ideology that pushes people past the pain involved in a tattoo end as memorials to those they loved – still alive or passed away. Their memorial is a permanent mark of something deeply personal, meaningful, and only shared by choice with a select few.
As MaryBeth relates, “Other people have expressed opinions about my ink. They have told me not to get more.” The next time you see someone who has decorated their bodies extensively, rather than questioning why they would change their appearance so drastically; take a moment to look more with an objective eye at the artistry without bias or judgment. Open your eyes to see the walking masterpiece of humanity.