On Sunday as I was driving through my neighbourhood, which admittedly is slightly alternative, I noticed five 20-somethings all with tattoos – on their legs. There were three guys and two girls, each with detailed and colourful ink on their calves and thighs. As I waited at the lights I watched, like an elderly member of the fun police, as they walked down the street seemingly without a care in the world. I remember feeling that way. I still feel like that sometimes when the moon is just right.
But it wasn’t their youthful exuberance and joyful optimism that had caught my intention – and possibly would have stolen, or at least borrowed just for a wee bit, if that was humanly possible – it was their tattoos. And as I continued to spy on their happiness behind my “too large but help to make my face look small” sunglasses, I wondered if I had become a prude. Holy Jesus.
The strange thing is that I myself have tattoos – three of them to be exact. The first one was when I was 16 and thought I was cool. The second was when I was 18 and thought I was tough. And the third one was when I was 22, and had just spent six months living on a kibbutz in Israel, and had metamorphosed, conversely, into a hippie. It has peace signs and sunflowers and, as was the fashion in the mid-90s in London, is a band around my arm.
So my last tattoo was nearly 20 years ago, and is the one that probably represents me the most, but also unfortunately it’s the one that now looks the worst of the lot. Two decades of sunshine and a penchant for sleeveless tops has resulted in the sunflowers resembling black and tan splodges while the peace signs have kind of caved in on themselves – a bit like my social justice leanings.
Over recent months I have begun pondering whether the time has come – and more importantly whether the technology has improved enough – for me to have them removed, starting with my favourite. The laser specialists say it still hurts a lot, but it is cheaper than it used to be.
I mentioned my plans to a friend the other day and she counselled me against it saying my tattoos charted my transformation from girl to woman. I agreed, but it’s a conversion that took place between the ages of 16 and 22. The woman today has changed immeasurably from even those dark distant days and I have no tattoo to mark that personal revolution apart from the lines on my face and the scars on my heart.
You see, when I saw that five-some strolling in the sunlight, I wondered whether I would do it all again knowing that today I am considering erasing these pieces of me that I have worn so visibly on my skin. The answer is probably yes. Back then I wanted to be a rebel and in many ways I was, and still am. Today, though, I understand there are other less obvious ways to make my mark in this strange world that we all live in.
I have never gone any further than enquiring about having my tattoos removed. Maybe it’s the pain, maybe it’s the cost, or maybe I’m not quite ready to say goodbye to what has long been a definitive part of my persona – even if today I wear heels and a frock more often than a singlet, and society still sometimes judges you a certain illogical way.
In fact, I think I’ll wait until you can just grow yourself a new arm, or shoulder-blade, or arse-cheek from one of your own toe-nail clippings before getting rid of my tattoos. I think I just might be ready to say goodbye to them by then.