The Vanity of TPPM-Tattoos, Piercings, and Permanent Makeup

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:

Courtesy of

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?

Photo courtesy of:

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: 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: 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.

No Make Up? Really…?

Recently, the media began circling, like a great white shark, around a new story, R&B songstress Alicia Key’s newest declaration: “I don’t want to cover up anymore. Not my face, not my mind, not my soul, not my thoughts, not my dreams, not my struggles, not my emotional growth. Nothing.” See this article: for her open letter. Alicia has started a “revolution,” a bonafide, hashtag-able trend, and like all celebrities with two or three fans, just because Alicia has resolved that #nomakeup is her new state of being, we all need to assess our levels of self-assuredness, prettidom, and transparency.

No to Makeup vs. Yes to Makeup

Interestingly, Alicia’s newfound freedom made me wonder what, exactly, IS makeup? I have my own definition, but I wanted to know what the defining experts have to say. According to, makeup is “substances (such as lipstick or powder) used to make someone’s face look more attractive.” Pretty genetic, huh? So, I kept looking. The British put another spin on it; Collins Dictionary posits that makeup is “cosmetics, such as powder, lipstick, etc, applied to the face to improve its appearance.” One thing is clear and a commonality-this stuff is used to make you look better than you would in the absence of it. We need make to look good, attractive, aesthetically appealing. Or do we?

Most of the women in my circle of friends and immediate family wear very little makeup. Now, I have a few “Divalicious” friends and one or two family members who wouldn’t be caught dead (or alive) without full coverage foundation, designer primers, multiple layers of eye shadow, lip and eye liners, with mascara-coated lashes, high-dollar glosses for upper and lower lips, and a fine-mist facial spritz to finish the look. But, that’s the exception; not the rule. The vast majority of the women folk I know embrace makeup as “dress up stuff,” and the daily look really only requires a pretty lip stain, a coat or two of black mascara,  and maybe a mineral or translucent powder to hold the shine at bay.

This resurgence of a “no makeup movement” made me think about all of the times I have, publicly, shown my face without makeup. I wear makeup, roughly 5-6 days a week, but removing my makeup is the second of a three-step relaxation process after a long work day or weekend of play. The thought of wearing makeup just because, just walking around the house, well…it’s not a thought or consideration. I just don’t do it. Once I arrive home, if I’m not leaving the house again, and generally I’m not, my makeup is removed immediately along with my jewelry and clothing. Truth be told, my makeup gradually disappears throughout the day. The only makeup that’s lingering after lunch, but especially after a day of work or play, is my volumizing mascara. I reapply a shimmery lip gloss or a rich-colored lipstick once a day.

Here I am, ready for bed, fresh-faced with moisturized skin. My makeup is removed daily with baby or coconut oil. My skin is washed with Dove soap or Clinique’s Facial Bar Soap. I prefer a thin washcloth to any other abrasive or exfoliating scrub, sponge, or mask for my face. My face is moisturized with coconut oil or Clinique’s Moisture Surge Intense Hydrator-both applied with clean fingers. I rotate the use of the Clinique products, usually three times a week, with the Dove and coconut oil.

As I age, I’m getting fine lines in my forehead and age spots, particularly on my cheeks and along my jawline. Most camera filters do a fine job of camouflaging this reality, but the lines are there…to stay. I try to use a good SPF daily moisturizer, but me and the sun…that’s my boo. Will a full coverage foundation cover these lines? Most assuredly. Do I care enough to wear a foundational makeup everyday? Nope.

Every now and again, I have puffy under eyes, and dark circles under my eyes more regularly. Increasing my water intake goes a long way to improving the appearance of these eye issues, but using makeup to cover up these flaws, to me, really accentuates that there are flaws. Concealers, more often than not, aren’t concealing much at all.


My eyelids are dark, and they often look as though I’m wearing eye shadow-when I’m not, so making shadow a daily part of my makeup regimen is a no. I use a dark eye liner every now and again. Most days I just say no to even that.

Here I am getting my upper braces installed last July. No eye shadow, but it looks like I’m wearing a nude shadow.

Gloss…if I had to have one item of makeup, that would be it. I can’t stand crusty, cracked, dry lips, and you won’t ever see mine looking less than kissable. 😌 I prefer Lancôme’s Juicy Tubes which are slightly flavored with translucent, shimmering color. I keep three or four tubes with me at all times.

Again, ready for bed, and coconut oiled slicked up. Shining like a diamond!

So what does all of this mean? Saying “no” to wearing makeup diminishes its worth, as a rite of passage, for women. Makeup is defining; it can be very gender-specific and definitive for those of us who need that tiny bit of cover. In so many ways, as women,  we want to reveal our full selves to the world; we want others to see our multi-dimensions and to appreciate our diverse gifts. To the majority of women I know, there is a distinct femininity associated with wearing makeup. Even men who wear makeup, for sport or to earn a living, acknowledge the importance of the illusion of makeup. The look, the image, the celebrity isn’t quite complete without the purposeful use of cosmetic cover.

Shopping for makeup can be a totally personalized, glamorous, and highly sensual experience. Good makeup ain’t cheap. Being professionally “made up” is a pampering experience that most of us relish. We enjoy the laser-focused attention that a makeup artist (or even ourselves) gives to the facial features that represent to the world who we are. While I have no doubt that Alicia Keys will have her fair share of faithful followers in her quest to push her #nomakeup agenda, the makeup manufacturers aren’t exactly shaking in their boots afraid that their stock will drop. There are simply many, many more of us who truly want to put our best face forward every day. Makeup is just one of the ways to represent our best selves – to expose just enough without being totally vulnerable to all of the eyes that gaze upon us.

Think on this: Anne Lamott, American novelist and non-fiction writer once wrote, “Joy is the best makeup.” I agree, Anne. Ladies, the use of cosmetics is simply an enhancement to what should be pouring from your eyes and oozing through your skin…anyway.