Over the past twenty or so years, tattoos and body modification in general have swiftly moved from being the mark of prisoners and seamen to becoming a legitimate fashion statement. Amid the myriad of celebrities whose careers are untouched by their body art are their millions of fans following suit. As a consequence, it appears that everyone has an opinion on tattoos. Whether the tattooed person is vindicated for ruining their job prospects or applauded for their “hip”, “fresh” or “rebellious” look, the judgement falls almost entirely on to the little drawings on their skin. Men are judged most harshly by their partners parents or prospective employers, while women are abhorred for daring to make themselves ‘unappealing’ and asked how they will look in their wedding dress.
Both the dismissal and idolisation of the tattooed folk is, to me, deeply steeped in our society’s vanity complex and obsession with appearance.
While the underlying message of many of the criticisms with which those of funny coloured skin are presented is the accusation that we do not care about our appearance, I would assert that they are not incorrect. In fact, I could not care less. A tattooed person is rarely presented as being ‘normal’ or having the same kind of beauty as the people around them. By placing us outside of the conventions of traditional beauty, society has given us the gift of seeing good looks for what they are: utterly worthless.
That is not to say, of course, that all people with tattoos are unattractive. At least, that is not my personal opinion in the slightest. It just matters less whether you are or not when everyone is telling you that you have ‘ruined yourself’. Because even if you start to believe it, you realise that your heart is still pumping blood in to all your vital organs, your digestive system is still intact – as are your limbs – and you are still a relatively kind, intelligent, well-adjusted human being. All of which will continue to happen regardless of whether you are considered ugly.
The true sticking point of this is of course the realm of employment, which is often the thinly-veiled concern of many people who would disagree with the idea of inking their skin. And I am not going to say that they’re wrong. There are a fair few employers in the world who wouldn’t be over the moon with hiring someone with “FUCK” and “LIFE” tattooed across their knuckles or a full face tattoo. However, this is another deeply disappointing example of how embedded this narcissism is in our daily lives. A young child can be told that they must work and commit themselves in order to succeed, do exactly that and be turned away from their dream job because of what they look like. I don’t think this entirely man-made consruct is a healthy or productive model to live by and cannot believe that any parent would teach their child this in the interest of ease. After all, anything that can be constructed in society can be equally deconstructed.
Perhaps I am an idiot for maintaining the belief that my attendance and graduation from a top 10 UK University as well as my commitment to hard work and interpersonal skills will somehow override the fact that I have a few large pieces of body art, but I am prepared to be the guinea pig for this model as I am not prepared to sacrifice either my ambitions or my right to be tattooed if I feel like it.
I should think that the obvious response to my complaints about vanity would be the perfectly legitimate questions: why do you get tattoos if you don’t care what you look like? I can only answer this question from my own perspective, as people get tattooed for all kinds of reasons. And my response is quite simply because I can. In a way, I suppose that being a tattooed woman reminds me of the authority I have over my appearance. Too often a person’s appearance is controlled by outside influences, yet being tattooed somehow allows me to distance myself from that entirely and exercise my right to do whatever I want with my body. I feel exactly the same about the way I dress and do my makeup. If I were to quote Coco Chanel “fashion comes and goes, style is forever”, then my tattoos would be my very own ‘style’ and an indefinite statement of my ownership over my appearance.
Of course, someone with no tattoos or even an objection to body art might very well exercise a similar amount of control over their own appearance. Tattoos are quite simply my manner of doing so.
Vanity is imposed on our society every single day, causing problems well beyond the world of tattoos. Tabloid magazines documenting the ups and downs of each celebrity’s weight fluctation and aging process, the fashion industry, the diet and fitness industries, the cosmetics industry and many more are rightly put in the frame for contributing to the steady rise in eating disorders in both men and women. I can only speak for some young girls, but I grew up convinced that if I looked better, then my life would somehow be better. Yet every effort I made to realise this only made me unhappier and riddled me with anxiety.
At this point in my life, I have concluded that the only way to attain true happiness with the way I look is to accept that it is absolutely worthless. Embracing the complete invalidity of any looks I may or may not possess is easily the most fun way to contend with them. And I would ask anyone who wants me to care about how I will look in my wedding dress to reconsider their definition of marriage.