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Old 05-18-2020, 03:08 PM
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Tattoos


Hey there, I've got a question that's been on my mind a lot over the last few years. Not sure if it's a "general question" or more up for discussion, so posting here (Mods please move to the right place if this isn't it, thanks!)

The question: Why are tattoos so popular these days?

Doing some internet research, the best thing I could come up with is that marking yourself with one or more tattoos is a way of establishing one's unique identity, in a time where people feel more cut off from their friends, homes, etc. compared to past generations. Having access to those things--your community-- provided a solid sense of place. Lacking it may give people an existential crisis.

This may explain most of it, but I feel there's something else in play. For instance, some people, when they reach a certain stage in their life, maybe after having lost something, will decide it's time to load themselves up with tattoos all over. What causes this? What does it mean?

I've never been able to understood tattoos. Some of them are nice, but I would not want to get one myself. I just don't feel the need. I've always been curious why others do.

BTW, I'm looking for why they seem so amazingly common these days, compared to when I was growing up 30-40 years ago. Just saying "Well, I like tattoos, so..." isn't the kind of answer I'm looking for.
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Old 05-18-2020, 03:36 PM
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Your parents and your boss disapprove of them, therefore they're cool.
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Old 05-18-2020, 03:42 PM
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Except the answer is almost certainly going to be, "I like tattoos, so...". As to why people like them, well, partly it's symbolic and meaningful to the wearer, partly because some simply consider it to be art or decorative, partly it's because it's fashionable/trendy and has become more acceptable.
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Old 05-18-2020, 03:56 PM
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I think the question is, "When I was growing up, hardly anyone had them. Now most people do. What caused the switch?"
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Old 05-18-2020, 03:57 PM
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Different people like different things. Go figure!

Tattoos were once the near exclusive province of sailors, bikers, criminals, convicts, and uncivilized savages, and sporting one labeled you as part of one of those groups, as recently as the 1980s.

But times have changed. People have a need to self-express, and tattoos are now a mainstream and socially acceptable medium for self-expression. There are grandmothers walking around now with tramp stamps they got back in 1990.
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Old 05-18-2020, 04:16 PM
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Your parents and your boss disapprove of them, therefore they're cool.
Ha ha! My parent and my boss both have tattoos.

I think, at least in part, it's because they are more accessible and generally safer now than they were in the past.
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Old 05-18-2020, 04:16 PM
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It's fashion. Since when have any fashions made any inherent sense?
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Old 05-18-2020, 04:21 PM
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Different people like different things. Go figure!

Tattoos were once the near exclusive province of sailors, bikers, criminals, convicts, and uncivilized savages, and sporting one labeled you as part of one of those groups, as recently as the 1980s.

But times have changed. People have a need to self-express, and tattoos are now a mainstream and socially acceptable medium for self-expression. There are grandmothers walking around now with tramp stamps they got back in 1990.
Yep. I got the tattos I have (a lot) in the very late 70's/very early eighties. Except for a couple of coverups.

I'm not going to get into the question of why tatoos are more fashionable, and respectable, than they were once.

I'll just say this -- like, perhaps, the grandmas mentioned in DCnDC's post, I wonder why the fuck I did whatever I did forty years ago. Tattoos and other stuff, but the tattoos show. I can't spend my whole life walking around with long sleeves and my collar buttoned up.

But really, what the fuck was I thinking? I mean, they're not bad tattoos, and the coverups dealt with the ones that no longer represent anything about me, but I wouldn't do it again.

Also, to those considering tattoos, keep in mind how they're going to look forty years of sun and age down the road.
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Old 05-18-2020, 05:44 PM
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"These days"? Did you completely miss the past 20-25 years?
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Old 05-18-2020, 05:46 PM
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I feel there's a tattoos arms race now, people now have to get bigger and more outlandish tattoos to beat the next guy and become THE most interesting person at the party.

Literally the worst thing you can ever do is ask someone with multiple tattoos the story behind them. Be prepared to stand there and listen to them explain at length the full 30 minute story of how and why they got their tattoos.
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Old 05-18-2020, 05:58 PM
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Literally the worst thing you can ever do is ask someone with multiple tattoos the story behind them. Be prepared to stand there and listen to them explain at length the full 30 minute story of how and why they got their tattoos.
You could ask me. The only answer I ever give to that question is "I did a lot of dumb shit when I was a kid." That's it. Takes a few seconds.
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Old 05-18-2020, 06:00 PM
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Somehow, end of high school, I talked my parental unit into gifting me a tattoo for my birthday. I had to go a couple towns away for the nearest tattoo parlor. Luckily, I never got one because I got weirded out by all the offensive, racist, biker and gang tattoos and could never decide what I wanted on my arm for the rest of my life. Today, it seems like every town, every strip mall has a tattoo parlor.
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Old 05-18-2020, 09:26 PM
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Originally Posted by Dung Beetle View Post
I think the question is, "When I was growing up, hardly anyone had them. Now most people do. What caused the switch?"
The same question in reverse could be asked about bell bottoms.

Last edited by Telemark; 05-18-2020 at 09:27 PM.
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Old 05-18-2020, 09:37 PM
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I think the question is, "When I was growing up, hardly anyone had them. Now most people do. What caused the switch?"
Yeah. And, circular and unsatisying as it is, I'm sure a major part of the answer is that "Tattoos are more popular and mainstream nowadays because tattoos are more popular and mainstream nowadays." People are way more likely to get tattoos when their friends and neighbors and the celebrities they like have tattoos.
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Old 05-19-2020, 04:47 AM
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Yep. I got the tattos I have (a lot) in the very late 70's/very early eighties. Except for a couple of coverups.

I'm not going to get into the question of why tatoos are more fashionable, and respectable, than they were once.

I'll just say this -- like, perhaps, the grandmas mentioned in DCnDC's post, I wonder why the fuck I did whatever I did forty years ago. Tattoos and other stuff, but the tattoos show. I can't spend my whole life walking around with long sleeves and my collar buttoned up.

But really, what the fuck was I thinking? I mean, they're not bad tattoos, and the coverups dealt with the ones that no longer represent anything about me, but I wouldn't do it again.

Also, to those considering tattoos, keep in mind how they're going to look forty years of sun and age down the road.
Saintly, I appreciate your posting this, err, admission. This is what I've never been able to get about tattoos. Why put something on your body which is going to be there permanently? It just smacks of impulsiveness and lack of foresight.

Of course, I'm the ultra-cautious, deliberative sort. (Which I concede has its own disadvantages.) So I just cannot relate to throwing caution to the wind like that. There's no rubbing it off. (Not sure how well laser tattoo removal works these days.)
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Old 05-19-2020, 06:03 AM
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Possibly a change in the sources of popular music stars? i.e. as various forms of rock and hip-hop gained market share in the 80s and 90s, there were more tatooed role models?
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Old 05-19-2020, 06:23 AM
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So, like, we are going to entirely ignore the fact that, back when it was all sailors, bikers and ex cons, tattooing was far, FAR more painful than it is today. Like a LOT.

My first tattoo, as small as the tip of a finger though it be, I still squirmed and fussed while it was going on and was in no hurry to get another. I looked on persons with full sleeves, etc, as possessing true fortitude.

Until I started seeing LOTS of them. Having a second tattoo, 30 yrs after the first, made or clear, technology had advanced in tattooing, too. No where near as painful. I wouldn’t hesitate to get another, the pain and discomfort were so negligible.

So I’m guessing that’s a BIG part of it too!
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Old 05-19-2020, 06:25 AM
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So, like, we are going to entirely ignore the fact that, back when it was all sailors, bikers and ex cons, tattooing was far, FAR more painful than it is today. Like a LOT.

My first tattoo, as small as the tip of a finger though it be, I still squirmed and fussed while it was going on and was in no hurry to get another. I looked on persons with full sleeves, etc, as possessing true fortitude.

Until I started seeing LOTS of them. Having a second tattoo, 30 yrs after the first, made or clear, technology had advanced in tattooing, too. No where near as painful. I wouldnít hesitate to get another, the pain and discomfort were so negligible.

So Iím guessing thatís a BIG part of it too!
Never knew they were less painful nowadays and I don't have any tattooos, but if true that probably makes some sense.
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Old 05-19-2020, 07:19 AM
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Yeah, that's definitely something I didn't know.
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Old 05-19-2020, 08:22 AM
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Of course, I'm the ultra-cautious, deliberative sort. (Which I concede has its own disadvantages.) So I just cannot relate to throwing caution to the wind like that. There's no rubbing it off. (Not sure how well laser tattoo removal works these days.)
I am the ultra-cautious, deliberative sort and I have tattoos. When I started getting them (early 90's), it was for attention. Throughout high school and college, I was placed firmly in the nerdy girl corner and didn't want to be there. I also dyed my hair super copper penny red to stand out and dressed uniquely. I didn't have the ability to express myself verbally, through writing, through art, so I did it with my appearance. As I grew older, I let my hair go back to natural grey, now dress "earth mother" as friends tell me, yet I still appreciate every tattoo I have and look forward to getting more when allowed.

(FWIW laser removal is a long process, can be more painful than getting the tattoo itself, and if the original tattoo was done well, almost impossible to fully erase)
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Old 05-19-2020, 08:30 AM
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Thirty years ago, a friend suggested five of us all get matching tattoos. I thought it was a cool idea, but when I gave my support, the girl who suggested it laughed, saying I'd never get one.

So, I got one. Then another to "finish" my first. Then another, and another.

Fast forward to today, I'm the only one out of the original five friends with ink, and I have dozens of hours of work. Why? Because I like them.
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Old 05-19-2020, 08:53 AM
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Why put something on your body which is going to be there permanently? It just smacks of impulsiveness and lack of foresight.
Or dedication, commitment, and thoughtful self-expression.

Potato, potahto.
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Old 05-19-2020, 08:55 AM
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Take the movie, Encino Man from 1992. For all it's awkwardness, that movie is a pretty good time stamp for when 1950s prudishness began to dissolve in earnest. Yes, people began pushing back against societal molding in the 60s and esp 70s, but those who did were by no means accepted in the mainstream; in fact paisley-clad hippies and punk rockers with day-glo mohawks were still fairly shocking. By the mid-80s you could flout societal expectations and be different without destroying your family's good name, but there was still a significant social cost if you did. You were still gambling your mainstream social credibility in order to keep your own soul alive. That started to dissolve in the early-90s as Political Correctness began its rise. Although PC was (and still is to a large degree) considered kind of a buzzkill, it also pumped the brakes on rejecting those who were different. Encino Man captures the disorientation of those steeped in the Old Ways as minds became open to living and letting live.

As we began to avoid mocking or shunning people who bucked the system, it started to become very cool to follow your bliss. You're gay? Be gay, whatever. You want funky hair? here's 400 new colors & perm kits at your local corner store. Want to conceal your gender while you give it a bit more thought? Here's a bunch of 'loose-fitting' clothes and a pensive music genre to make them practical. You want a tattoo? Choose from these classic designs, or have a look at our Animaniacs collection.

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Luckily, I never got one because I got weirded out by all the offensive, racist, biker and gang tattoos and could never decide what I wanted on my arm for the rest of my life.
Tattoo is a bet with yourself that something that interests you today will still be of interest in 30+ years. I had always been intrigued by them but also couldn't commit to a design I thought I'd like to look at for that long. It should mean something to me because let's face it, I ain't gonna get any better looking with just a little bit of paint. After I turned 50 my daughter wanted to get matching tattoos with me, and it only took a few seconds for us to decide on the design--something that has defined our relationship, and our outlooks on life in general, for over 20 years. It would have been satisfying to have gotten it 30 years ago, but now it's even more special.
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Old 05-19-2020, 09:23 AM
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This reminds me of how thoroughly society has changed, in this respect at least.

I went to an art school on an island for a summer in the early 70s. Over morning coffee on a dune, someone asked one of the older guys about a woman he'd met in a bar. He just smiled, arched an eyebrow and stage-whispered "She has... tattoos."
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Old 05-19-2020, 09:31 AM
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Also, to those considering tattoos, keep in mind how they're going to look forty years of sun and age down the road.
Most of my tattoos have color. The oldest (thirty some years) is just as bright and vivid as the most recent (2 years). I use 70 SPF sunblock on all my art.
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Old 05-19-2020, 10:32 AM
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It's fashion. Since when have any fashions made any inherent sense?
Is it really fashion, though? Isn't fashion ephemeral?
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Old 05-19-2020, 10:59 AM
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OK, so, tattoos are popular now because...they're fashionable, more acceptable, and not as painful to get. Thanks for the discussions!

How about part 2 of my question, why do some people suddenly decide to get all fashionable and get a lot of tattoos after a certain point? And am I right in my sense that oftentimes, this transition coincides (or is triggered by) a major life change?
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Old 05-19-2020, 11:58 AM
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If "yeah, that one" after 30 years of pondering constitutes a major life change, and a 2x6 inch mark on a forearm constitutes 'loading up' then I am indeed busted.

Folks I know with more than three images have generally been at it since they were old enough to sit still for the needle, and their first is often a DIY. I would consider the same people to be the sort who, at a very young age, might tell someone where to stick their judgment. (not a snark at anyparticularbody). I don't know anyone who, after 40+ years of living unmarked, turned into The Enigma overnight.
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Old 05-19-2020, 12:32 PM
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Tattoos were once the near exclusive province of sailors, bikers, criminals, convicts, and uncivilized savages, and sporting one labeled you as part of one of those groups, as recently as the 1980s.
Some of us still hold this opinion.

These days, my major objection is that it is fashion, and therefore any number of my students want to get ink the second they turn 18. So they get bad art, from worse artists, of things they will cringe over when they are 25 just to be "cool."

People do stupid things for stupid reasons. Other people are judgmental assholes. Film at 11.
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Old 05-19-2020, 01:16 PM
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Is it really fashion, though? Isn't fashion ephemeral?
Sure fashion is ephemeral, but that doesn't mean that all fashions have exactly the same longevity.

I'm sure that the fashions about having tattoos will continue to change over time, but the shifts will take longer than shifts in current fashions about, say, hairstyles or makeup.
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Old 05-19-2020, 02:09 PM
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Saintly, I appreciate your posting this, err, admission. This is what I've never been able to get about tattoos. Why put something on your body which is going to be there permanently? It just smacks of impulsiveness and lack of foresight.
They aren't permanent. Nothing is permanent. Tattoos will last 80-90 years at best. Enjoy them while you can.

I'm skeptical that tattoos are less painful than they were. My first tattoo was on my shoulder. I told my wife at the time (2001) that it felt like a cat licking my shoulder. A decade and a half later, I got another tattoo, this one something like a sleeve, and the outside of my arm felt the same, like being licked by a cat. A little scratchy, but no big deal. Soothing, even. But the inside of my arm, near my elbow? It felt like the tattoo artists was peeling long strips of skin off my body with red hot pincers. I suspect if you got tattoos many years apart, and the first was much more painful than the latter, that it was due to placement on your body, and possibly the skill of the artist, rather than any new pain easing techniques developed in the intervening years.

I wonder if computers had something to do with the popularity of tattoos? I know I was always turned off by the pre-made art that was in the books you could browse through at the parlor. This isn't a haircut, I don't want to look like the other kids on the block. This art is going to be on my body for the rest of my life, why would I want the same generic tattoo fifty other guys have? But I can design my own tattoo (or have my wife the artist sketch up my idea), take it to the shop, and have them make a stencil from it. I'm not sure I could have done that thirty years ago. So now I have bespoke art that speaks to me personally and that I know nobody else on Earth has, and that drastically increases the appeal of tattoos, to me.

Interestingly, while I love tattoos, I'm not a huge fan of piercings. I mean, earrings are okay but I'm talking about the pincushion faces with tons of metal in them. Or the ear gauges. I mean, whatever floats your boat, if that's your style, but I don't find it nearly as attractive or expressive as I do tattoos. But by all means, pierce yourself up if that's your thing. I just wouldn't do it myself. It does appear to me that facial piercing gained popularity almost concurrently with tattoos, so maybe we should be looking for something that explains both?
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Old 05-19-2020, 02:22 PM
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I've never gotten a tattoo. My tastes change too much. I do think of it as fashion...and I get tired of wearing the same styles. If it were easy and practical to have them removed, I might get one or two. But most tattoos just don't look that good to me. Whatsherface, Lena Dunham, has a couple that from more than about 6 feet away just look like someone scribbled on her with a ballpoint pen.

Some tattoos are gorgeous, but I still don't think I want them on me.
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Old 05-19-2020, 02:37 PM
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Saintly, I appreciate your posting this, err, admission. This is what I've never been able to get about tattoos. Why put something on your body which is going to be there permanently? It just smacks of impulsiveness and lack of foresight.

Of course, I'm the ultra-cautious, deliberative sort. (Which I concede has its own disadvantages.) So I just cannot relate to throwing caution to the wind like that. There's no rubbing it off. (Not sure how well laser tattoo removal works these days.)
I'm also ultra-cautious and deliberative. I got a tattoo because, in part, I wanted to do something that wasn't either of those, and the negative consequence - maybe having a bit of skin on my body that I don't like the look of - was pretty mild.

As it turns out, a decade plus down the line, I don't regret it at all.
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Old 05-19-2020, 02:50 PM
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Iíve never gotten one. Iíve never been tempted.

Today I am 59, planning for retirement both financially and with what-am-I-gonna-do?, and Iím actually considering getting a tattoo. Just one, a USMC EGA (eagle, globe, and anchor logo, like this) on my arm. Iíve been thinking on this for a few years.

Iíve seen plenty of tats, there are many in the military, and a lot of them were spur of the moment decisions often lubricated by alcohol.

Lately, tattoos can be really well done. If I get one now, itíll have to last me, what?, 20-30 years maybe? So perhaps Iím part of that trend where theyíre becoming more popular.

Last edited by Bullitt; 05-19-2020 at 02:52 PM.
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Old 05-19-2020, 02:51 PM
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Tattoo is a bet with yourself that something that interests you today will still be of interest in 30+ years.
This makes me think of one of the classic threads (from 2008) from another forum. Unfortunately the original photo is gone, so I'll attempt to describe it. It was the I-Ching symbol from GI Joe still visible in other versons in the thread, except his was huge and solid black. On the inside of the arm, starting at around the wrist and continuing halfway to the elbow. Each solid black bar was around an inch thich and maybe five inches long, partially wrapping around the thinner part of his rather fleshy arm. It was almost like he had had a single large solid black rectangle tattooed on his arm. The thread starts off with him proudly showing off the tattoo but later develops into his complaining about getting newly heavy attention from a store security guard as he shopped, because it looked like a bad prison tattoo. And it was huge. And blocky. And black. So just about as difficult as it could possibly be to modify or remove. 12 years later, I wonder how he views it now?
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Old 05-19-2020, 03:27 PM
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Wow, I see that someone did manage to preserve the original image, in post #158. More blank space than I rembered, but just as hideous.
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Old 05-19-2020, 03:27 PM
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I am proud of those people who dared to get a tattoo because it is very cool. I am sure that this is what makes us individual. Tattoo helps to show what is inside of us outside of our body. I'm afraid to do it and probably never will. And this is my choice and I want everyone to respect my decision.
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Old 05-19-2020, 03:50 PM
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Tattoo helps to show what is inside of us outside of our body.
Yes, they do.
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Old 05-19-2020, 04:14 PM
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I don't have any tattoos because no matter how perfectly it was done (assuming it was) I would find something that bothered me about it and would never be totally happy with it. It's just my nature. Maybe it should have bigger or maybe it should have been smaller or more to the left or more to the right or maybe it's not totally straight. And on and on.
If I'd gotten one in my late teens or early twenties, peak time for getting one, it almost certainly would have been something that I am not into anymore. They were not legal here at that time and it's probably for the better as far as my skin is concerned.

That said, I can appreciate a good tattoo on someone else.
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Old 05-19-2020, 04:56 PM
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I wonder if people getting their first tattoo in middle age is the contrapositive to my reason for not getting one*. Maybe by 40 they figure their tastes/politics/beliefs aren't going to change in any radical ways.



*I was thinking about getting 'some ink'... and thinking of marrying my girlfriend.
Then, I had my one wise thought: I'm in my 20s, and I won't be the same person in my 30s or 40s. Maybe I'll wait on both of those.

Dodged two bullets: would've had a MAGA-hatted ex-wife, and an inside joke (an obscure Firesign Theatre line yet) on my tricep.
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Old 05-19-2020, 05:47 PM
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Well, certainly you've gotta appreciate the total commitment of single-theme full body tattoos.
  #42  
Old 05-19-2020, 05:58 PM
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Both of mine are commemorative. The first is a ring tattoo; Ms. P and I each got one on our anniversary one year. The other commemorates the Nationals' World Series win last year.
  #43  
Old 05-19-2020, 06:19 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Darren Garrison View Post
One of those images was marked with the caption, ďThink before you ink.Ē

Definitely.
  #44  
Old 05-19-2020, 07:08 PM
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Why re they popular now?

Because everyone want s to show their individuality in the same way. Lack of imagination. Everyone else is doing it, so I have to, too.
  #45  
Old 05-19-2020, 07:16 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by digs View Post
*I was thinking about getting 'some ink'... and thinking of marrying my girlfriend.
"I dunno... I can see marrying a girl, buying a house together, having a few kids... but a tattoo? It's so permanent!" -Drake Sather
  #46  
Old 05-19-2020, 07:48 PM
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Have tattoos become more color-fast (I know that's not exactly the right word) in the last few decades? There are two reasons that I'd never have considered a tattoo, back when I was young.

One was that most of the tattoos I had seen were on older men and they had gotten blotchy. When my dad was in the army, he got his identification number tattooed on his leg, which was apparently a thing in the group he was serving with. The idea being that if you got blown to pieces, they could identify which leg went with the rest of you. I think I was about four when I first remember seeing it, and by then the digits were too blotchy to read.

The other reason is that I have bad skin, and it would end up looking bad.

Quote:
Originally Posted by DCnDC View Post
Well, certainly you've gotta appreciate the total commitment of single-theme full body tattoos
Hey, I recognize The Enigma! He was in an episode of the X-Files.

Carl Zimmer wrote a book about scientists getting Science Ink. Before the collection was a book, he'd post pictures of them on his science blog as they came in. A lot of them were very cool. The idea of getting a tattoo to commemorate your degree or your career is also cool.

The only science ink that ever left me even vaguely considering getting it was done by an arachnologist. It was a scorpion done in UV ink. It didn't show at all unless there was a black light on it.

Last edited by Yllaria; 05-19-2020 at 07:49 PM.
  #47  
Old 05-20-2020, 06:53 AM
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Originally Posted by DCnDC View Post
Well, certainly you've gotta appreciate the total commitment of single-theme full body tattoos.
What I've gotta do is question the professional ethics of some plastic surgeons. Dermal implants are one thing. Cutting off someone's nose? There's no way that's ethical.
  #48  
Old 05-20-2020, 07:23 AM
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Originally Posted by DrCube View Post
I'm skeptical that tattoos are less painful than they were.
IME tattoos vary in discomfort based on location (near the armpit is horrible), the artist's skill, and the length of time being tattooed (four hours is my max). My ink done by Pittsburgh's Bob "Moose" Retter (RIP) hurt like hell because Moose was heavy handed, but I loved his style so I lived with the pain. Work done by other artists hurt much less.

There used to be a sadistic tattoo artist locally who would tell a naive customer, already in discomfort, that he had to "set the ink" once the work was done, by repeatedly slapping the area. Ouch. I was hanging out in a shop once and the customer asked if the artist was going to "set the ink". The artist immediately understood and explained.
  #49  
Old 05-20-2020, 09:20 AM
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It's fashion. Since when have any fashions made any inherent sense?
And it's for this very reason that I will never have one. God forbid that I still sported the same hairstyle I had in the 80s, or was forced to adopt same baggy grunge look I thought was so cool in the 90s.

To the OP, I think they have, very gradually, become more socially acceptable as casual style statements have increased, and with that comes popularity. Fashions have changed, informal modes of dress have lost their shock value, it's ok to wear jeans to many jobs, so tattoos are one of the last ways we can break down taboos.

People like dressing up and making individual style statements. In my youth, it meant getting my ears pierced so I could wear crazy earrings. If I'd been born 20 years later, I probably would have got a tattoo for the same reason. And would now be regretting it.

I'll wager that the next generation or so will avoid tattoos, because who wants to do what your parents do? That's so uncool.
  #50  
Old 05-20-2020, 11:00 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by digs View Post
I wonder if people getting their first tattoo in middle age is the contrapositive to my reason for not getting one*. Maybe by 40 they figure their tastes/politics/beliefs aren't going to change in any radical ways.
May well be. I got my tattoo when I was 41; I'd always wanted to have a tattoo but I put it off because of conventional wisdom about "regretting" it later. Fifteen years on, I don't regret it in the least.

(However, I'm not sorry that the tattoo I got isn't the one I wanted as a teenager, namely the equation featured in Fermat's Last Theorem. Now that the theorem's been proved, it just wouldn't seem as inspiring.)
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