Tattoos: Why? (Part One)

“Getting inked.” “Tatted up.” In today’s culture it has become quite the “fashion statement” to get a tattoo, and in many cases more than one. Tattoo parlors are springing up seemingly on every corner. These days, all the cool kids are doing it. But, have all the people who have gotten tattoos thought seriously about it, both for the short-term and especially the long-term ramifications?

[I typically put a picture here, but I know better than to try and do an image search on this subject. What does that tell you?]

I will state upfront that I generally believe getting tattoos is not a wise decision. However, instead of trying to convey why I hold this belief, I will attempt to show by series of questions along differing lines of reasoning, and offering some thoughts on possible alternatives to tattoos, why this is the case.

The first question I would ask someone who came to me with thoughts of getting a tattoo is “why?” I would try to ascertain as nearly as possible the following information: what is it that you are wanting to depict on your body? What is it about this particular thing or thought that you think is worth permanently marking your body to represent? Where are you planning to place this marking, and why have you chosen that particular location?

I have actually had this discussion with a few people. The typical answers I get are along these lines: because I think this particular image or phrase is cool. I like it and I want a tattoo anyway so that’s what I picked out. I’m putting it [here] because I [want/don’t want] certain people to see it.

Here’s a suggestion. Before you permanently mark your body with an image or phrase, make a picture/copy of that image and place it in several prominent places around your home, such as your bathroom mirror, on your refrigerator, etc. for an extended length of time. Do you still notice it after a few weeks or months? Do you still think it’s as cool as you did before? Has any of the coolness rubbed off with familiarity? If it has, imagine how much more that will be amplified once you’ve had the tattoo for several years and the colors have begun to fade, and age takes its toll on the skin upon which the tattoo resides. Will it still be as cool and captivating as it was when you first came up with the idea?

Another reason commonly given for getting a tattoo is as a memorial, to either another person or even pets. Sometimes the object of these types of tattoos is still living, and sometimes they have passed from this life. My question at this point is this: is getting a tattoo the best way you can think of to honor this particular person or pet? Perhaps you could dedicate yourself to serving them, if they are still living, or to championing causes they believed in, if they have passed on. In the case of a pet, take some pictures. Make an album. Hang them on your wall. All of these actions seem more reasonable than permanently marking your body in honor of an animal.

One thing I have brought up in these conversations is the permanence of the tattoo and the possibility that the person might regret it later. This idea is invariably met with dialogue along the lines of “well I’ve given this a lot of thought and I don’t think I’ll change my mind.” However, if this is the case, I wonder why one hears so many stories of those who have gotten tattoos in the past and now regret getting them. It’s a fact that people’s tastes generally change and evolve as they grow in age and experience. What seemed “cool” years ago now seems foolish. If you don’t believe me, just look at the people of my generation, who spent their teen years in the 1980’s wearing parachute pants and “big hair.” How many of them do you see doing the same thing today? (The “one hit wonder” bands doing reunion tours don’t count!)

Here are some more general thoughts/questions. As I stated in the beginning of this article, tattoos are very popular right now. Is the person considering getting a tattoo bowing to peer pressure? Do they have friends who have tattoos, and who are encouraging them to do the same? Are they looking for acceptance within certain peer groups?

However, it may be that getting tattoos has moved beyond the “fad” stage and is becoming inculcated as a part of our culture. How does this change things? What if it’s not just a fad anymore but simply a part of today’s culture? Does that change any of the answers to the questions that have been asked? How and why?

Tattoos are expensive, and many of the people I know with tattoos complain about a lack of money. Is a tattoo so important that you are willing to allocate the funds you have worked so hard for to purchase, especially when you could pay down some debt with that same money? Maybe you could invest that money into a retirement fund, or into your child’s education. Pay extra on your car note or house note, or do some needed maintenance on the same. It seems that there are much more productive uses for the money than “getting ink.”

There are additional considerations for those contemplating tattoos. People, fairly or unfairly (that’s a different discussion), judge others based on their appearance. Will getting a tattoo potentially hinder you in your chosen profession? Is it really a risk worth taking?

Serious people, those who tend to be the decision makers at various places of employment, do not generally seek attention except for serious purposes. People who draw attention to themselves via unconventional hairstyle, clothing, or otherwise altering their appearance (including excessive piercing and tattoos), or by their actions and mannerisms, are not generally considered to be serious people. Do you want to be considered serious by potential employers?

I have tried to ask questions about the practice of getting tattoos in order to get people considering doing so to think it through. Also, I am trying to give others who may know people considering getting tattoos some discussion points to review with them. At the end of the day, to put it bluntly, people are going to do what they want to do.

In closing, I would encourage us all to avoid making rash judgments based on outward appearances as much as possible, but to base our opinions on peoples’ words and actions.

I’d love to discuss these things with you. Any questions and comments that are in line with this page’s Commenting Policy will be published and responded to (to the best of my ability).

For more information on how I keep my worldview informed please go to Cross Roads Church.

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