Time to Rethink Ink

Tattoos: love them or hate them? If you are like me, you shudder at the thought. The mere word can conjure movie images of bikers, sailors, trollops—not to mention the creepy, all-night tattoo parlors—and brings to mind a long-held belief that tattoos are for someone who fits a mold to which I do not aspire.

But I am starting to think my notions old fashioned. Ink is everywhere these days.

In an article in the Washington Post, I learned that boomers are shedding their inhibitions—and stereotypes—and getting inked along with the younger set. It seems many reach an age when they no longer feel society has a hold on them when it comes to appearance, and they let go of a need to conform.

For some, the midlife tattoo is a liberating statement that says they are their own person. I’ve seen prayers, inspirational messages, birds, flowers and religious icons on people my age and older. I know a woman who has a pink-ribbon tattoo to acknowledge her sister’s battle with cancer. Another friend sports a butterfly to say she is free from the bonds of her unhappy marriage. 

Memorial tattoos span the ages too. The old image of a “Mother” tattoo on a muscled arm has given way to a rose for the first grandchild on grandmom’s shoulder. Some memorial tats feature the date of a loved one’s passing. People even incorporate cremains—ashes from a cremated loved one—into the ink. 

Tattoos today can have practical purposes. In an article in the Atlantic, I learned that tattoos can provide medical information for doctors, such as DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) tattooed by the heart. For women who require reconstructive surgery after a mastectomy, tattoo artists can ink a realistic areola and nipples where there are none. Watch an inspiring video here

A Pew Research study from 2006 shows that while a younger person is still more likely to get a tattoo, 15 percent in my age bracket now have them. A tattoo parlor in a DC suburb claims that three or more 50-plussers a week come in for a first-time inking. 

My 16-year-old daughter has many friends with tattoos. Their parents are well aware of these permanent designs—in my state, minors must be accompanied by a parent, who is required to show ID and provide written consent.

When I counsel my kids about the permanence of ink, I admonish that the tattoo won’t hold up as they age. I remind them that designs could stretch or fade over time. 

I know a mother and daughter who both got tattoos on the same day. But even with my more enlightened view of tattoos, I’m so not ready for that!


Tags:     families    creativity    you aging