Penetrating Art: The Timeless Tattoo Tradition

tattoo traditionsDictionaries trace the word “tattoo” to various Polynesian dialects, but that history barely scratches the surface of this surface-scratching art. Since long before Britain’s Captain Cook encountered the practice in the eighteenth century, people around the globe have been sacrificing their time, resources, and comfort zones to the pursuit of permanent skin embellishment. The Iceman mummy discovered in 1991 sports 57 tattoos on skin that is 5,200 years old. So when a tattoo artist tells you that his handiwork will endure, you can believe it.

Say Goodbye to Blood, Sweat, and Tears

Luckily, tattoo techniques have come a long way during our progression from smoke signals to cellular phones. Acquiring a “tat” is now faster, easier, and gentler than ever, and most well-inked veterans categorize the sensation as discomfort rather than pain. You cannot escape the impact of an electric-powered needle as it repeatedly pierces your skin, but the experience is not nearly as gruesome as that description suggests.

To vanquish exaggerated stories of patrons falling into pain-induced comas, consider a 2003 Harris Poll that figuratively exposed one or more tattoos on 16% of Americans. Patriotic fervor aside, it’s unrealistic to assume that nearly one of every five people in the United States has a near-superhuman tolerance for excruciating pain. It’s much likelier that these people are just as gutless as the rest of us—and that tattooing inflicts quite manageable discomfort.

Say Hello to All Walks of Life

No longer relegated to prison inmates, gang members, or military personnel, tattoos are now gracing the hides of all types of people. From the bare-chested bruiser who flaunts a skull on his rippling biceps to the prim-looking housewife who wears the secret smile of a naughty image beneath her skirt, visitors in today’s tattoo parlors represent many ages, backgrounds, and lifestyles.

Every Picture Tells a Story

tattoos designsDespite their differences, all tattoo wearers can enjoy body art that is intensely personal. Everything from images to numbers to words can be reproduced on human skin, and if it can be imagined, a custom tattoo artist can create it. Tattoos with personal meaningfulness are picture postcards that trace the wearer’s unique journey without ever going missing.

The Seduction of the Sweet Sting

Getting a tattoo is often addictive, and many people find themselves planning a second installment before the ink is dry on the first. Some tattoo aficionados claim that the pain releases a flood of endorphins, treating the body and mind to a pleasant, opiate-like euphoria in a perfectly harmless and legal way. Others find that the repetitive nature of the needle pokes becomes oddly soothing over time, inducing a relaxed state much like the torpor that sometimes occurs during long electrolysis sessions.

Baring Body and Soul

There is an appealing social aspect to the process of body adornment. Tattoo shops resemble beauty parlors, with professionals brandishing needles instead of scissors and walls displaying tattoo designs rather than hair styles. Both scenarios require patrons to spend considerable time in a chair while being treated, and to fill that time—or simply to distract themselves from the needle—some tattoo customers can get quite chatty and treat tattooists as confidants or therapists.

Let Your Story Unfold Gradually

Egyptian tattoo traditionsTreat the word “tattoo” as an acronym for “take ample time to ornament oneself.” Even the largest bodies have their presentational limits, and overzealous haste can leave you with years of waiting to sprout extra limbs to showcase envisioned tattoos with nowhere to go.

Location, Location, Location

The laws of gravity show no deference to tattoos, but they do follow some fairly predictable patterns on human anatomy. One enthusiast at a tattoo show described his elaborate design for a tattoo of a bikini-clad beauty draped seductively across the hood of a convertible sports car, with Mount Rushmore looming above. When told that this image was meant for the stomach, his friend warned, “In twenty years, Teddy Roosevelt will be driving.” It never hurts to plan ahead for life’s little indignities.

Lasting Impressions

Tattoos have made indelible marks on our bodies and minds for thousands of years, and the recent upsurge in their popularity epitomizes true staying power. U.S. News and World Report ranked tattooing as the sixth fastest-growing retail industry of the 1990’s, with an average of one new establishment opening daily in America. Tattoos offer us infinite ways of sharing our hearts and minds without ever uttering a word, so take a stab at creating your own tradition of this ancient body art.

 


 

 

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