Tattoos are everywhere, and everyone has an opinion on them. In the Western world, getting inked has become increasingly accepted, particularly amongst younger generations. A few months ago, a writer who was part of the upper echelons of British society sought to find out Britain’s real opinions on tattoos, given that they are no longer the domain of working-class sailors. She spent hours one Saturday morning getting fake-tattooed by a professional, emerging with a two, fully coloured, sleeves. As soon as she walked out of the studio, she experienced the instant judgement of strangers, as well as admiration from other passers-by. The same day, she attended Henley Royal Regatta, where she received a less than complementary reaction, with other women openly deriding her apparently permanent lifestyle decision. The writer’s boyfriend commented at the end of the day that she had adopted a more confident walk, which she put down to the effects of being constantly looked at in both a positive and negative way. The experiment showed exactly how divisive tattoos are, especially when they are worn by attractive, young women.
From their roots in tribal traditions, through their use as identification for sailors, tattoos today have arguably come to symbolise a rejection of the natural human body, which is exactly what its opponents cite as their main criticism for the art form. However, the pool of those rejecting the popularity of tattoos is getting smaller. When supposed stalwarts of conservatism, such as Samantha Cameron, admit and openly display their own body art, they potentially encourage others. Of course, they also serve to solidify hardcore opposition (‘Look! Even SamCam fell foul!’). These same people generally tend to be more than happy to dish out derision to people who have tattoos, but who cannot stand being criticised themselves (‘But we’re right! This is how God made us! Well yes, obviously God makes bad people too, but I’m not one of them and howdareyouquestionmysuperiority’). In addition, there is, naturally, a pool of people who see the increasing popularity of tattoos as bastardisations of the spirit in which they were conceived. They’re usually inked themselves, and do not necessarily favour their ‘club’ being overrun by people who think they’ve made a massive political statement by getting their own name inked on their back (or something).
In a world where young people have far less to protest about, it makes sense that we use tattoos (at least initially) as a form of rebellion. Our parents and grandparents had the very real threat of war, less money and more visits to Church than us, so our way to show them that we are quite seriously not turning into them is by being selfish and spending our minimum-wage earnings by rocking up at a tattoo studio on a Sunday. But our ‘selfish’ act is really not that selfish at all; for every person who gets inked, society moves one step forward to celebrating diversity. It has to, otherwise it will have to ostracise everyone who has ever had to buy Bepanthen for non-nappy rash related reasons. The depoliticisation of body art is not necessarily a bad thing, and has far more important consequences than it initially seems. Recognising and celebrating differences in bodies makes it easier to do the same across all walks of life. Importantly, no-one is forced into getting a tattoo; those who have them are generally quite accepting of those who make the choice not to, because they are respectful of individuality. Maybe there should be a pop-up tattoo artist studio at the next Tory conference; those who don’t die from the shock of it might be keen to help us normalise body art, although no-one needs to see Boris Johnson get a butterfly inked on his buttock (you know that would happen).