Tattoos are traditionally associated with “outlaw” cultures — bikers, gangs, punks, ex-cons, and sex workers. (Can you count how many tattoos you’ve seen in a porn movie lately?) But the 90’s saw tattooing move into the mainstream in a big way.
Since then, everyone has been expecting a tattoo backlash. And indeed, laser removal clinics have been doing strong business for two decades and counting. Lots of people, especially younger ones, seem to think that laser removal allows relatively easy removal of unwanted body art. If so, they may be surprised at the dozens of hours and the thousands of dollars required. And sometimes, the procedure merely fades the art instead of removing it entirely. (A better choice might be a cover-up tattoo from an experienced tattoo artist.)
Some traditional tattoos are sexual in content — think of the topless mermaid who wriggles when a sailor flexes his bicep. Genital tattoos are still rare, but they are done. For some, tattoo-adorned skin can become a fetish in itself. “Tabu Tattoo” is a magazine dedicated to pictures of racy tattoos in naughty places. Photographer Charles Gatewood is famous for his documentary photos of outlaw-style body art of this sort.
Does it hurt? Yes, but the amount of pain depends both on the person receiving the ink and the area of the body that is tattooed. Ink over bone hurts the most; work done over a well-muscled, fleshy area of the body (thighs, biceps, butt) hurts least.
How individual do you think you’ll be if you pick a design off the wall? The designs that tattoo parlors display on the wall is called “flash art.” They’re cheaper and easier to execute than custom designs, but you’re also more likely to run into that black panther stalking across someone else’s shoulder as well as your own. Some people are fans of the old-fashioned flash art style, however, and it a design appeals to you and you don’t mind sharing, go for it. If you do want to work on a custom design, most tattoo artists will happily assist, and can even work up the art for you from a verbal description or rough sketch. Many have extensive libraries of art in their studios, which you can browse for inspiration.
Make sure that your tattoo artist follows sterile procedure. Blood-borne diseases such as AIDS and hepatitis are easily transmitted by dirty tattoo needles. Your tattooist should use gloves, autoclave their needles, and shave your skin with a disposable razor. Talk to the artist beforehand about their precautions, and take a look at their workspace before getting down to business.
Even with increased acceptance of tattooing in society, think twice before getting a tattoo that can’t be covered. If you’re considering a career in law enforcement, for example, you might want to know that most departments forbid visible tattoos.
And remember, unless you’re already saving up for that expensive laser surgery removal clinic, tattoos last a lifetime. How many times have you broken up with a lover? Dumping a tattoo is even harder to do.