We Have Become a World of Ink and Holes

Josie and I were at the gas station, getting some coffee this morning. We got in line to pay and Josie says to me, “Why?” I think I know what she is talking about (we do have that kind of relationship where telepathy binds us). In front of us was a kid, maybe 19 years old. He may have weighed a hundred pounds wet. And pierced in his lips were two shiny silver and thick hoops. It looked weird. Now, to be clear, he was polite, addressed me as sir and let us go in front of him in line (though I’m not sure why), but we could not get over what he did to his face. When we walked out, Josie said, “What would make someone do that to his face?” O contemplated her question for about two minutes and came up with the words of wisdom that made Aristotle and Plato names that resonated throughout the history of philosophy: “I have no clue.”

When I was younger, body manipulation and tattoos were rare. If you had a tattoo, you were either a sailor (like Popeye), pirate or criminal. Normal citizens did not have tattoos (unless there was that night of heavy drinking and one appeared on one’s penis the next day). But today, piercings and tattoos are everywhere. I went to Josie’s daughter’s promotion from eight grade and every parent had these huge tattoos on every part of their body. Piercings were everywhere: tongue, cheeks, lips, chest (yeah, that’s weird), eye lids. I have dated women that had piercings in the most unmentionable of places. Heck, Josie has four tattoos and had her belly button, tongue, nose along with a ton of piercings in her ears. She also has five tattoos (though they are in non-conspicuous places and are meaningful). Even I have a tattoo though you’d never see it without shorts on (and I never wear shorts).

But the big question is why? Why in the span of thirty years did something that was once left to prison folk and military is suddenly so popular with bankers, doctors and lawyers?

I don’t know but I’ll take a guess. I could go over the entire history of tattoos and piercings (which is quite extensive through world history) but I won’t because I think the reasoning is quite simple. It comes to one word: individuality. I will come up with the irony of getting a tattoo or a piercing to be an “individual” at the end of this (if you have not figured it out already).

People, today, are always trying to express they are individuals. They did this when I was a kid. I remember, when I was in high school, people wore the “trendy” outfits that were commonly worn by Duran Duran or Madonna. I was a Heavy Metal guy, but never really fell into that. Leather pants and spandex were just not really my thing (except on Saturdays nights with my girlfriend). But these trends were short-lived and never really embraced.

So, here comes the tattoo. And I think it came from a place that most of us haven’t visited nor want to visit: prison. That’s right: the “thug life.” Prisoners would have tattoos to symbolize their affiliations (and because they had nothing better to do). This led to the streets where gang members would get tattoos to promote their gang and prepare them for comfort in prison. Now, in the 1990’s, athletes (professional at first) started feeling the need to intimidate the opposition (especially in the NBA and NFL). The best way to do this was to promote that they were “from the streets” and had a rough life. Tattoos were an easy way to show this (I have seen more than one gang tattoo while watching sports). For some reason, being a gang banger was a big deal in sports to amplify toughness (even Kobe Bryant got a tattoo to increase his “street cred”). To over simplify, kids and regular people watched sports, see how tough their “heroes” were and were influenced to follow in their footsteps. Suddenly, everyone was getting tattoos.

Here’s the problem: At one point, tattoos were the sign of individuality. But a problem arose. If everyone had a tattoo, the individual would be the one who did not have a tattoo. You were following the crowd by having a tattoo. There were a couple of other trends that didn’t work out. There was the branding trend. That is when someone had a hot metal branding iron sunk into their skin, leaving a mark. Yeah, just like what they did to cows. A lot of football players did it. This had some serious consequences. Pain along with infection were a serious issue. The “art” aspect was also very much in question since branding never really stood out. Combine that with the fact that slaves were branded and the trend died a quick death.

Then came piercing. Women always had their ears pierced (I remember doing my daughter’s ears at the mall). Then men starting doing it. A straight guy would do his left ear, gay would do his right and bisexual would do both. I had an earring (in my left, but I grew up and got rid of it after three months).Then, things got weird. Ear piercing led to eyebrows, noses, belly buttons and lips. Things got personal after that: tongue, nipples and the unmentionables (penis and vagina). It got worse. People started embedding piercings. That way, they just needed to screw in the stud. Finally, there was body implants. Want horns like the devil? No problem, they could be implanted under the skin. This didn’t last long either because, well, most employers don’t want to hire a guy that looks like the devil (which many of these folks thought was prejudicial).

Jesus, the ways to mess one’s body up, permanently, never seemed to end.

People will do anything to look tougher and different (what happened to just coloring your hair pink and getting a Mohawk?). But that’s where things go south. If everyone has a tattoo and a piercing, isn’t the individual turn out to be the one without the body modification? Not to mention it will be easier to get and keep a job. And that’s the other problem with body manipulation and tattoos. For the most part, they are permanent. I am seeing a lot of kids under 21 years old getting tattoos and in the most conspicuous places. I know a 17 year old who got a tattoo on her forearm (yes, it was out of a garage) and her 18 year old boyfriend get one on his neck. I looked at the two and said, “What were you guys thinking?” They have no idea that most jobs require one to hide their tattoos (no more short sleeves for her and I don’t know what he’s going to do).

Listen, I like tattoos and piercings. But, like everything else, I think moderation and discretion is the key. Especially since moderation seems to be the real sign of individuality today. Not to mention, like our boy at the gas station, too much just looks really funny.

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