Toy’s “R” us just went out of business, but tattoos are in, and they are becoming a big business. When I was a kid, tattoos were something sailors got on shore leave or gangbangers as an initiation rite. They featured hearts, daggers, names, fierce animals, and I wondered why anyone would want to be branded for a lifetime with a reminder of the person they once were but may no longer be.
Nowadays, tattoos have emerged as complex works of art, and men and women of every nationality from performers to university professors, athletes, businessmen, and doctors have them (often more than one), and you don’t have to seedy tattoo parlors on the wrong side of town. The NYT (5/13/18) reported that tattoo artists are now invited to wedding receptions where they are provide as a party favors. The host and the artist create a personalized emblem for the event, and guests can get inked in the moment.
I have given up my old perceptions about tattoos and what they say about people who have them…If a tattoo that has powerful meaning for you, makes a statement about who you are and makes you feel good, why not?
The skin is the largest organ in the body, but it’s a limited commodity and sooner or later you’re going to run out of display space; which means you now have to decide whether this event is so memorable (as compared to those that may yet happen) that it’s worthy of immortalization.
And what about the potential for the commercialization of this limited resource. With the burgeoning growth of tattooing, soon big companies will be willing to pay you to use your body as a billboard for their brand; and depending on size and location will determine how much they’ll pay you for these indelible advertisements. What if your body is covered with tattoos of such artistic value that people will bid for your skin as an art piece, and upon your death they get to tan and display it.
Truth be told I also have one; it’s small and discretely placed where few can see it. It’s a turtle, which has been a powerful totemic animal for me since my days in the Indian Health Service and represents my transformative journey from doctor to healer. Now I’m thinking of getting another…a flamingo which symbolizes the last 30 years of my life when in addition to being a physician I became a humanitarian clown. Clowning is the best way I know to get out of my head and into my heart to connect with people at a soulful level. I have clowned in hospitals, prisons, orphanages, street markets, war zones and disaster areas, and doing this work lifts my spirit because it reminds me that even in the most difficult circumstances we are reminded of our shared humanity. Clowning is a play date for my heart.
My clown persona is a flamingo ballerina who wears pink tights, a tutu, and flamingo headdress… it’s ridiculously funny; my question is where to put it, and how big to make it.
P.S. I still think fewer says more than being covered from head to toe with them; the skin is a limited-edition notebook on whose pages we ought to write poetry, not novels.