Skin Deep 235

Skin Deep 235
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Earlier this month, I saw one of my daughter’s friends in Starbucks—I say ‘friend’ but the last time I saw them together was when they were about six and rustling up some country line dancing in the school field. They are both just turned 17, but larger than life, sitting on her wrist and hand for all to see like Long John Silver’s parrot (was that him or some other treasure hunting dude? I forget), was a tattoo. A crap tattoo at that—there’s no other way of saying it. I asked her where she got it and the answer didn’t surprise me.

Now, before I come off as being somewhat out of touch, I still remember what it’s like to go to the pub before you’re legally allowed to and get so hammered that your face falls off. I also know the thrill of watching an 18-rated movie at 14 because the guy who owns the cinema doesn’t care and, although I was 19 when I got my first tattoo, can imagine that—particularly now—the call of the ink is rather strong while you’re growing up. Everybody wants to belong, right?
To a certain point, you can even let slide the fact that it happens—there’s a certain logic that says if you want to swan around your hometown at 17 with some kind of remedial art project on your shoulder, knock yourself out, but there’s a responsibility that should lie with the tattooist for this as well.

See, I can kind of roll with the fact that at 17, you really want it done and also that you’ll lie through your gritted teeth until you get your way. I can even accept the fact that a tattooist—somewhere—will do it too, because as much as I would like to say “it doesn’t happen”, it damn well does.

Not particularly speaking as the editor of Skin Deep, but more as a semi-sentient human being, even an empty sack of grain would have to question the placement of that piece. It was obviously her first tattoo and somebody—with no real understanding of the art but a huge understanding that £30 for half-an-hour’s work can put half a tank of petrol in your car—thought it would be fine to do it.

I don’t know who’s dumber. You really can live your whole life with something that was supposed to be Bugs Bunny on your shoulder, but a sprawling snail-line that comes down from your wrist and across the back of your hand like the results of an LSD fuelled henna party? That’s a different thing altogether.

On the flip side of this, later that same day in fact, I was buying some shoes. The guy that took my cash had a tattoo right in the middle of his forearm—it was well done, really well done. I pointed at it and said four words that made both of us smile: “Children of the Fence”.

It probably means nothing to you and I won’t bother explaining it here. Fact is, in those few minutes of buying shoes, we had a bond. I had discovered the thing in his life that he loved enough about to commit to good ink and the fact that I had deciphered his secret symbol, meant we were on the same page. I felt good that he felt good. He probably felt good because he didn’t have to explain what it was—and that’s when a tattoo really works. They have a language all of their own and that in itself is priceless.

Anyway, merely hours apart, I stumbled across some of the best and worst of what tattooing has to offer—all you seemingly have to do these days is step out of the door. One fuels the reason the media like saying what they say about it, the other is the reason all of us reading this get up in the morning.

Do not think you can change it. It has happened for years and will continue to happen for many more. To try and fix it is truly pointless, but the fact remains: owning a machine, or a studio and hanging up a sign is not a licence to be a dick.

Or as I would prefer to spin it, just because you can get in that dress, doesn’t mean it fits.