Mid Life Crisis? Nah, I just love Tattoos

“heavily tattooed women can be said to control and subvert the ever-present 'male gaze' by forcing men (and women) to look at their bodies in a manner that exerts control.”Margo DeMello*

I would consider myself to be a heavily tattooed women. Both my arms (sleeves) are fully tattooed - although I have a little space for a few more, the top of my back is tattooed and the front of my left thigh.

I get quite strong reactions to my tattoos, people react to them like Marmite, they either hate them or love them, there doesn't appear to be an in-between.

People seem to have no filter when commenting on tattoos, its not like with a new hair style, where people are always polite, with tattoos they will turn round and say, 'why would you do that to yourself' or 'I just think they are ugly'. People would never say that about your hair. So why is it OK with tattoos? I'm baffled.

I am definitely in the minority of people in my age group with tattoos, only 9% of Generation X (36 - 50 year olds) have 5 or more tattoos. I couldn't find a stat to tell me how many of the 9% were women.

I had my first tattoo at 28, this was 10 years after I walked into a tattoo studio and then walked straight out again, terrified. But I knew, even at 18, that I was going to have tattoos. My first tattoo was a tiny daisy on my shoulder.

My advice to anyone thinking about getting a tattoo is to be brave. Better to go for the larger than you think you want, tattoo than the small one, because the small one will get in the way of the next tattoo, and the next...they are terribly addictive.

One of the most common questions I get asked is why? Why would you want tattoos?

My answer isn't simple.

Firstly, for me, it has nothing to do with the pleasure/pain principle. I get no pleasure from the pain, usually I am just exhausted afterwards because of the adrenalin. I don't enjoy the pain, nor do I enjoy the healing process, when they are all scabby and itchy. I like the end product when they are healed.

Secondly, I have always felt different, this is a way of externalising that, I don't want to look like everyone else, I like to challenge my thinking and keep an open mind, my tattoos help me do that, they remind me that everyone has the right to express themselves even when I don't like what they are expressing.

Thirdly, I see them as art, I have art on me, as well as all around me and that makes me feel beautiful.

Fourthly, I have leukaemia, my body is out of control, getting a tattoo is something I can control, I decide what goes on my body. That makes me happy.

And finally, although I am sure there is more, some of my tattoos have specific meanings for me, for example, I have some paper planes on my right arm, these represent my daughter as she is always doing origami, I find cranes, paper planes and flowers all over the house. These small representations feel special and intimate.
This is a tattoo representing my eldest, the origami unicorn is a nod to her love of origami and to Blade Runner

The reason I chose the quote above to open this blog was because I have experience of this. Men and women struggle with my tattoos, but I have noticed, as a broad generalisation that a lot of men don't find them attractive and some find them threatening (luckily neither of these things apply to my husband).

I first noticed this when I went out about 10 years ago at a fortieth birthday party, my tattoos were spreading down one of my arms and on to my back, but I didn't have as many as I have now, I had a pretty dress on, and my hair was cut short and dyed blonde. It was a salsa night and I was out with a number of female friends, during that night all my friends at some point or other were asked to dance by one of the men there, I was not.

Dancing with my friend as no one else asked me to.

I went home, and felt ugly and upset, but then when I thought about it, it wasn't me that had the problem it was them.

I know from conversations with people who have become my friend over recent years, many have assumed that I am a lesbian because of how I look. Which is ridiculous, especially in this day and age. And even if I was a lesbian, why wouldn't I want to dance and have fun in the same way as my friends. How stupid can people be?

Adolf Loos, the European Theorist said in 1910,
'Tattoos are a sign of degeneracy and only seen on criminals and degenerate aristocrats.'

I like to think that over a hundred years later we have moved on from that and we don't judge people on their external appearance, and we are, in fact more enlightened, and open minded, but I suspect it is not the case.

I know that I will get more tattoos, personally I think they are beautiful and I hope when you look at people you don't judge them purely on how they look.

As you know, I do love a stat so here are a few more for your delectation and delight xxx

  • The average age for a person to get their first tattoo is 21
  • There has been a 13% growth in the number of people getting tattoos since 2007
  • Women under 35 are almost 50% more likely to get a tattoo than their male counterparts
  • 15% of Millennials have 5 or more tattoo - this is the highest figure 
  • The majority of people, 86%, have no regrets about having a tattoo - 14% of people regret at least one.
Percentage per country of adults with at least one tattoo

USA - 42%
Canada - 36%
Ireland - 36%
UK - 29%

UK Adults with Tattoos by Age

18 - 24 - 13%
25 - 39 - 30%
40 - 59 - 21%
60+ - 9%

*Margo DeMello has a Ph.D. in cultural anthropology and currently teaches at Canisius College in the anthrozoology Masters program

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