Tattoo You

A quick hair fix before the junior prom.

Before the 8th grade dance.


My daughter and I are having a little argument over a tattoo.

She wants to get inked in June to commemorate her 18th birthday and official entry into pseudo adulthood. She initially wanted a bird, but now wants the number 18 to signify the house number of her best friend across the street. Her friend would get marked with our house number: 13.

Her friend’s father is against it and so are we. Things that seem like a good idea when you’re 18 have a way of being regrets when you’re 30. And though I’m not a huge fan of tattoos, I appreciate good work. I recently complimented a girl named Kat in the local health food store on her tattoos, which ran up and down her arms.

When I mentioned that my daughter is considering a tattoo, Kat offered to talk to her and show her some of her mistakes from her late teens. She’s had at least three tattoos covered up, which now look like thick black bands around her arms.

I don’t have any tattoos, but I know many people who do. A friend got a series of stars on her wrist after her father passed away and I thought it was a charming way to remember him. One of my nephews got a Chinese symbol on his bicep when he turned 18, and one of my brother-in-laws has a frat tattoo on his calf.

My old neighbor Gene, who served in the Marine Corps, had a bathing beauty on his arm that always made me a little uncomfortable at the bus stop. It was hard to think of a grandfather that way, but that’s the thing about tattoos – they’re a permanent reminder of a time and place in your life.

Tattoos were pretty much taboo for most women until the counter-culture of the ’60s and ’70s, when they became a symbol of empowerment, freedom and self-expression. At one time in history, tattoos were only associated with “loose” women and carnival freaks, but today, more women than men are getting inked.

I think rock and sports stars (think Tommy Lee, Pink and LeBron) and shows like TLC’s “Inked,” which began in 2006, helped bring tattoos into the mainstream. The show follows people from the conception and selection phase of body art to the actual tatooing. If you ask me, it did for tattoos what Trading Spaces did for home improvement.

For an in-depth look at the rise of tattoos’ popularity among women, read Margot Mifflin’s book Bodies of Subversion: A Secret History of Women and the Tattoo. Now in its third printing, the book traces the history of tattoos and women in the United States and Europe.

A brief article about it appeared in The Atlantic.

Of course, if my daughter wants a tattoo, there’s not a lot I can do to stop her. She’s turning 18 and doesn’t need my permission to visit a tattoo parlor, or is it a salon? She could probably get one and I’d never even know. But I wish she’d wait a few more years before permanently marking herself.

I guess part of it stems from being her mom and remembering her perfect little baby body when she was an infant. She has beautiful olive skin that’s soft and smooth and free of even a mole or freckle. I’d hate for her to muck it up with an 18 because, well, just because.

I’ve talked to enough people with tattoos to know that mistakes happen, and there is lousy work out there. It’s hard to talk about tattoos without someone pointing out a “cover-up” – a tattoo that was created to mask a poor job or regrettable choice. The receptionist at my hair salon recently showed me a symbol of the Red Hot Chili Peppers on her arm that was created to cover up a tattoo she got in her teens.

I grew up in the ’60’s and ’70s when most women didn’t get tattoos. It never occurred to me to get a tattoo, and I still have no desire for one. I don’t notice tattoos as a rule, though I admit I’ll do a double-take if I see a particularly good or bad one. I appreciate good ink work, and I’d shop around and do word of mouth for a great tattoo artist if I ever decided to get one.

But the chances of that are slim to none. I have no desire for a tattoo, and I doubt I ever would. I prefer good jewelry to mark occasions – I splurged on an expensive bracelet after my father died to remind me of him. I’ve never taken it off, so it’s like a removable tattoo – always there, just not permanent.

I wear an antique lapis ring to remind me of my great aunt Clara, who started this jewelry thing when my sisters and I were little. The ring is rose gold and has a large flat lapis with her initials CM carved into it. They’re also my initials, so that worked out really well for me.

The original stone fell out last year, and the ring was useless without it. So I took it to a jeweler, picked out a new stone and had the initials carved into it again. It was important for me to get the ring fixed because I really missed it when it was gone.

Perhaps jewelry is the immediate solution for this pair of best friends, who will separate for the first time when one goes off to college in late August. It will mark the first time they haven’t lived within 1,000 feet of each other since they were 18 months old.

They attended the same play groups as toddlers, were in the same Brownie and Girl Scout troop, went through public school and attended my daughter’s junior prom together. It’s a special relationship, one that you hope for but don’t expect when you move into a neighborhood when your kids are little.

A best friend across the street: how great is that? There is no driving, no play dates to be negotiated between mothers. There’s just the sweet back and forth between two girls who happened to be born within two months of each other back in 2001.

It was important for me that my children attend public school because I felt a bit of a disconnect from my neighborhood friends when I went off to private high school when I was 14. We no longer attended the same school or ran with the same crowd, and that’s a big deal when you’re a kid.

My neighborhood friends had high school, teachers and friends in common, and we gradually grew apart. I still saw them at birthday parties and in some cases, weddings and overnight visits, but things changed when I switched schools. I didn’t want that to happen to my kids, and it hasn’t.

My son still calls his friends when he comes home from college, and they pick up where they left off with lunches at the diner, and impromptu parties in our “bonus” room over the garage. My daughter has her bestie across the street, and they’re so tight that she’s planning to go with her family to Florida to settle into her dorm room.

It’s what I wanted when I moved here – kids who feel tied and connected to a place they’ll always call home. I wish that was enough for my daughter, but maybe I’m getting what I wished for with this whole tattoo thing. She wants a permanent reminder of things the way they are right now. And maybe, that’s not such a bad thing after all.

19 thoughts on “Tattoo You

  1. I don’t like tattoos. That being said, they all have them now, so I have accepted that my daughter will get one. I also told her that even though everyone has one, as a professional, will it hinder her in any way? I also took her to a neighborhood in nyc filled with older men with tattoos. She kind of got the idea of what tattoos look like on skin that starts to sag. Enough said…

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m not a fan of tattoos, either. Must be generational. When I was a kid, a lot of men who served in WWII had them, tho not my father. The tattoo craze apparently skipped my generation, only to resurface with a vengeance in the next. I have a goddaughter who is covered with them.
    At least your daughter isn’t considering piercings. Now those are really awful.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m not a fan of tattoos. Yet, lately, I’ve seen some and are fascinated by them and the insight they give into what is important to someone at that point in life. I’m also concerned when I see them in a seemingly vulnerable part of the body and hope there’s no long-term damage.


  4. I’m not a fan of tattoos either, especially since they are rather permanent. (A piercing can grow back.) But they are the rage right now, and as you point out, maybe it is your daughter’s way of showing her connection to her friends, neighborhood and home. All you can do is voice your opinion, and then let her make her own choices.

    Liked by 1 person

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