I grew up in the 60s and 70s, when tattoos were something that only sailors, ex-cons and carnies had. When tattooing started to become more popular in the alternative culture a few years ago, I had my doubts, based on my upbringing. Tattoos weren't something to be proud of, they weren't something "nice" people had.
But as tattoos became more common, I started seeing them in unexpected places, on unexpected people. I knew they'd become mainstream when I noticed that an otherwise fairly conservative woman from my employer's human resources department had a tattoo on her ankle. The general quality of available tattoos has also dramatically improved. They are body art, not tacky things done in a back-alley tattoo parlor in Bangkok. I started to like and admire them.
But I still didn't want one. They hurt, of course they hurt, no matter what some people claim. It's a needle repeatedly jabbing you. It's painful, the amount of pain varying dependent on the body location, the complexity of the design, and the pain tolerance of the individual. My pain tolerance isn't great, so I'm afraid of the pain. They're also expensive, if you get an elaborate one with lots of intricate design and color. Tattoo sleeves are often gorgeous, but they take hours and lots of money to complete. What if you run out of money and can't get your design finished?
But it wasn't really the pain or the expense that made me feel I'd never want a tattoo. It was the indecision. What would be the right design for me? Where on my body would be the best spot? What happens when I get older and my skin stretches and sags and the tattoo no longer looks as attractive as when it was new? What if I get bored with the design, or just don't like it anymore after a few years? I was sure that a tattoo would never be the thing for me, because I'd never be able to pick a design that I could live with for the rest of my life, and I was afraid I'd be stuck with something I wasn't happy with and couldn't afford to have it removed. Something that permanent is scary. I have pierced ears, but if I decide I don't want pierced ears anymore I can just stop wearing earrings and in a year or less the holes will grow shut. But my body's natural defenses won't get rid of a tattoo. Once you get one it's for the rest of your life.
A few months ago I decided that I really like the gauge earring styles that have become popular with people who stretch their earlobes. I don't want to wear huge plugs or stretch my lobes so they hang down to my shoulders, but I do want the option to wear larger gauge "tribal" style earrings. So I bought some stretching gauges and started stretching my piercings. I'm up to 10 gauge now. I haven't decided if I'll go bigger, but I'll probably stop at 10 or possibly 8 gauge, no more. It's still small enough that the holes will shrink if in the future I decide I don't like it anymore, and I can still wear ordinary earrings if I don't feel like wearing the larger gauge ones.
This act of stretching my piercings has awakened in me a desire for a tattoo. I have a design or two in mind, things I think I can be happy with for the next 20 years. I've chosen a spot on my body where the ravages of aging shouldn't have too severe an impact, where I can also easily hide the tattoo if I want to: My back, between the shoulder blades just below the base of my neck. I've decided not to go for color, because color fades and I don't want to have to worry about touch-ups. Now all I need is to make the final decision on the design and save some money for the actual inking. I'm contemplating getting a henna tattoo of the chosen design first, so I can live with it for a few days and see if I really like it.
The process of deciding on a possible design is difficult. I like lots of things and have many interests. Should I have a tattoo of something that represents my sci fi / fantasy fandom? A Star Wars Rebel Alliance emblem, or the One Ring verse in Elven script? I think not. Much as I love my fandom, I don't think I want a representation of it permanently displayed on my skin. I can't choose which part of that fandom I love more than any other part. I also love Chinese language. Should I have some characters or a quote tattooed on my back? Lots of people have Chinese characters tattooed on their skin. I don't want to look like every other tattooed person. I want something that makes me happy, something that I can admire in the mirror, something other people will hopefully admire when I choose to permit them to see it.
Here are a couple of designs I'm contemplating.
This is a mehndi design. I like the lotus shape - I love lotus flowers. It also has spirals in it, a shape I'm really drawn to. It's detailed without being too intricate, and it looks good as a simple outline without any color.
This one isn't an image file. In the upper left corner of this page there's a design that resembles an eye. It also reminds me of a cloud. I really like it. It's a good graphic design, it's simple, it's Chinese, and it reminds me of a place that I hope to visit someday. So it would represent both hope and beauty for me.
I'm trying not to find too many designs. I don't want to make the choice difficult for myself. My first thought was to go with the design from Jiuzhai Valley's website, but it's almost too simple, and looks too much like an eye. Now I'm leaning toward a design like the mehndi lotus, perhaps with some modification to make it more personal to me. We shall see if I ever actually settle on a design and take the next step toward getting an actual tattoo.