Written on the Skin

Art Beauty Culture Fashion Random Style Writing

I’m in two minds about tattoos. On the one hand, they’re art. And I make it a habit to love all art (or at least try to). On the other, they’re a permanent fixture in a world of perpetual change. And as we all know (it’s been ingrained in us via several song lyrics, hackneyed poems and other annoying clichés): everything changes.

Like most other normal women, I’m not without bodily adjustments – clothes, jewellery, make up, tinted moisturiser, even piercings (at last count I had eight).

It’s just that when I’m old, I don’t want to look at any more discoloured skin than is necessary. I’ve already got my fair share of imperfections – freckles, scars, moles, and a birthmark on my left arm in the shape of a frowning face. I guess this is a tattoo of sorts – one that I had no choice in (if I did, my birthmark might be smiling).

One could argue that marking oneself is like reclaiming some kind of identity. Haven’t tribes been branding themselves since time began? Haven’t we been doing it since birth? Didn’t we draw on our hands in school to generate some kind of ‘separate otherness’? Don’t we write our phone numbers on people’s arms so that we’re still in their minds the next day? Don’t we wear makeup to simultaneously hide and reveal something to others? That’s the other thing – are tattoos for others, or are they purely selfish? All questions to which I am still pondering the answers.

Last year, my brother got a tattoo on his chest. It’s Hebrew writing: two letters, meaning ‘life’. It’s at once curved, spiky and elegant. Earlier this year, I was lucky enough to visit Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, the world’s most famous memorial and trust dedicated to the victims of the Holocaust. Without going off on a tangent (I fear words here would drastically fail to encompass this experience), I was faced with images of concentration camp victims who had numbers forcibly tattooed on their forearms. Tattoos represented uniform, rather than uniqueness. In a way, my brother’s modern-day tattoo somehow represents a reclamation of identity; it takes a proud person to forever mark themselves in this way.

On the other hand, tattoos can be just plain ugly. They can look awful, and worse, mean absolutely nothing. Some of my pet hates are:

  • Nautical stars on wrists;
  • Wedding bands;
  • Massive colour tattoos that just look dirty;
  • Playing cards;
  • Chinese proverbs that have no personal significance;
  • Partner’s name;
  • Anything on cleavage or buttocks;
  • What this stupid fool has done.

I still haven’t written off (ha) tattoos forever, it’s just that I change my mind (and style) so frequently that I would no doubt get completely bored and sick of the design quickly. And forever is a long time to be stuck with something you’re bored and sick of. Be original with your tattoo. Be classy. But most importantly, be proud.

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