My most recent blog entry about my facial imperfections, in the wake of Alicia Key’s #nomakeup movement (see: You Would Be…If Only…), made me think about permanent makeup. Some folks simply cannot join the movement because they have decided that 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year…a certain degree of “glam” must always greet them in the morning and retire with them at night. Imagine, the convenience of washing off your “makeup” and still having a pretty facade that works well with a coat of ChapStick and a bit of facial moisturizer. Vanity at its best? Perhaps. One slip of the inking tool could prove disastrous. Arguably, the risk of injury may be worth the long-term benefits if hundreds of dollars in cosmetic coverup can be saved.
Here is an advertisement for before and after results of permanent makeup:
Along that same vein of permanency, I remember getting my ears pierced when I was around ten years old. After almost 40 years, I’d say that my 1978 ear piercings are pretty permanent. Back then, we didn’t go to Claire’s or to the mall to get ear piercings. I sat in a kitchen chair, pulled close to the stove. My mom numbed my ears with clothes pins for about 15 minutes, and a sterilized needle (burned black on the tip with the fire from the kitchen stove) threaded with white cotton thread was inserted into my left ear and knotted. The same cycle was repeated for my right ear. For several days, I used alcohol to clean the area, and my mother dabbed peroxide on both sides of each ear as she gently pulled the string from one side to the other. By the fifth day, she inserted an inch long broom straw into the holes on each side which became my temporary “earrings” for roughly another week. The same cleansing ritual was used daily to ensure that no infection would result, and alas…my first pair of silver studs replaced the broom stick temporary pair, and the rest is history.
Later, I got another piercing in my ears at the mall, but allowed it to close within weeks of getting it done. I have no other piercings, but I’m always amazed by people who can see the art in multiple piercings, especially facial piercings. I suspect it is an artistic expression, of sorts, but it makes me wonder at what point does one decide that 100, 200, 300, or in the case of the man below, 400 piercings is enough. It is a dubious distinction that causes the average person to exercise restraint, if only to appear normal. Does anyone see the artistry in multiple piercings? Or is it about a sensation? A unique look? Vanity at its worse? An expression of individuality that exceeds imagination?
Thinking again about makeup (or #nomakeup) as artistic expression, in recent years, I’ve noticed a more concerted effort, especially in the media, to spotlight celebrity tattoo artistry. Since 2005, reality shows about tattoo parlors and ink crews have been televised, but about three years ago, several of these cable reality shows have become “all the rage,” a sub-culture of all things obsessed with the lifestyles of others. In case you’re interested, this article does a great job of reviewing all of the legacy and current tattoo reality shows: http://www.avclub.com/article/every-show-about-tattooing-reviewed-207757. While most deal with the dramatic trials and tribulations of the talented cast members, the artistry gets lost in the drama and is truly a tertiary “character.” Since the ink reality shows don’t adequately inform their audiences about the art, this fact made me curious about the history of tattooing. Wait…I’m being presumptuous here; you may be reading this entry and struggle with my assertion that tattooing is, indeed, an art. I’ll get to that later.
About that history…in 1991, along the Italian-Australian border, the discovered mummified remains of an Iceman dated over 5,200 years ago tell the story of tattoos being used to alleviate joint pain, for therapeutic reasons. See Smithsonian Magazine article: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/tattoos-144038580/?no-ist. More recently, ancient Egyptians, and in particular women, were credited as being the first recipients of tattoos-for royal concubines, prostitutes, or permanent symbols of protection during pregnancy and birth. Other cultures use tattoos as marks of nobility or high status, “stigmata” or belonging as a slave or to a religious sect. Also, the history of tattoos relates that the art has been used to mark criminals. One would be hard pressed to visit a prison facility and not see the marks of brotherhoods, sisterhoods; a sign of belonging.
My first personal experience with the culture of tattooing actually occurred after I was tattooed. As a teenager, I only saw tattoos on televised characters who were imprisoned or in gangs. No one in my immediate family possessed a tattoo, and if they did, it was not obvious or on display. After getting my one and only tattoo in the early-90’s, one day I encountered a stranger, walking in the mall. She was an elderly Russian woman who told me that tattoos were symbols of the incarcerated in her country. Those were her first words to me, as she asked me had I ever been imprisoned. Not knowing me from a mass murderer, she thought I was “sweet” and “pretty,” and questioned my decision to “mark my body like that.” It was the first (and only) time I felt shame associated with my tattoo. I walked away, in a daze, thinking about how the innocent rose tattoo on my upper left shoulder might imply “hard time” and if so, was I sending an unwanted message to strangers. I was young, and I cared A LOT back then about what people thought about me.
So, how is it that I came to get a tattoo? What makes a 20-something, first generation college graduate decide that a tattoo is appropriate, necessary…desired? One of my friends, Lazandra, and I decided one day, no doubt after a few happy hour fruity cocktails, that we would go to Rocky’s Tattooing on Highland and get tattooed. It was more of a bet, at least that’s how I remember it. We were both unmarried, working at Nike, and still adventurous enough to do, most things, without much deep contemplation-what the hell! Since we were smart enough to wait until the next day (when we were sober), we made plans to meet there at 7 pm. Long story short, I showed up; she did not.
It hurt…like hell, and I really don’t remember anything other than paying the artist and walking out the door with a piece of Saran wrap and some kind of clear ointment underneath it. That was 1993.
Here is that same tattoo over 20 years later, in July 2014:
As you can see, the colors of my rose tattoo faded over the years. A slight hint of red in the rose, the green leaves, with a hint of yellow in the stem. There once was an open ribbon with my name written on it. Hardly visible after all those years.
Just after the 4th of July in 2014, I got the bright idea that I wanted to cover my old rose. I have a very talented former student who I contacted to do the coverup. After showing him a few inspirations I borrowed from the Internet (the images above), he came up with the image below.
The old rose fit easily into its new “house,” an ornate elephant with her trunk up to signify good luck. We set out to complete the ink one afternoon, and after about 90 minutes, the results are below:
Tattoos are permanent, for the most part, and while they can be removed if you have buyer’s remorse (even if it’s 10, 20 years down the line), or covered to reflect an emotional growth spurt, your own sense of conservatism, practicality, and arguably professionalism may determine where, or even if, you decide to affix a tattoo on your body. I can say that temporary physical pain is associated with getting a tattoo, but almost every person I know who possesses a tattoo, either wants another one or already has multiple ones. It’s art in my opinion, and just as I pamper my natural hair with organic products, adorn my face with expensive makeup, and choose clothing for my body that appeals to me, my ink, both past and present, is merely an expression of the many layers of who I am. Maybe, just maybe, I’ll get another one this summer to celebrate who I hope to become.
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