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The Illustrated Man

Submitted by maggie on March 19, 2010 – 5:21 pmComments

“I have a tattoo of my dead cat on my back.”

My teammate yanks her shirt up to display a blurry, fist sized portrait of a grey cat surrounded by a halo of pink flowers.  The tattoo commemorates her beloved pet that died of cancer, and while the effect is grotesquely touching I cannot help but laugh.

Herein lies the dilemma of body art; it is always done with good intentions but while the emotions may evaporate with time, the ink will not.

I propose, however, that we are no longer our parents’ generation where tattoos label a person as naval or rebellious.  Tattoos are becoming increasingly pervasive and socially acceptable.  From pro athletes’ ink-caressed arms to drama filled reality shows filmed in tattoo parlors, inking is no longer stigmatizing.

The absolute subjectivity of the tattoo fascinates me.  I overheard a girl at the parlor picking out her design: “it’s perfect; it’s exactly what I want!”  Taking a gander at the drawing, my eyes are assaulted by a dolphin with a clover in its mouth jumping over a rainbow.  Despite the lack of a universal taste meter, I stifle my gagging because I do not know what motivated this eclectic and fanciful combination, nor is it my place to judge what she wants to put on her body.  Tattoos are like life narratives: a touching or hilarious story always inspired the permanence.

No more a sideshow feature, the illustrated man is finally ripening into appreciation.  Tattoos can be beautiful pieces of art that take years to complete, or the most simple of words or numbers commemorating something so meaningful that the person wanted to remember it on their bodies forever.  Even impulsive tattoos are a lesson learned, once you have to cover an ex’s name or go through the costly removal process you’ll think twice before letting your next love get under your skin.

For those of you who refrain from getting inked, have no fear, the growing numbers of tattooed bodies are making the untouched skin something of a novelty.  Every artist appreciates a blank canvas.

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