Susie Rushton: This is one tattoo too far


Peaches Geldof has been complaining that her father should have stopped her from getting covered in daisy-chain tattoos at the age of 14. The actress Megan Fox says she is undergoing painful removal of a large portrait of Marilyn Monroe on her right forearm. “It’s too negative,” says Fox, when in fact she means it is limiting her acting roles.

Even with the best body make-up, high-definition TV is apparently making the camouflage of actors’ tattoos more difficult. Is the fashion for body inks fading to an unsightly blue blob? Will the next generation look back to the past two decades and recoil at the manner in which random curlicues, angel wings, baby names, dolphins and misspelt Japanese characters were needled all over bodies, both celebrity and civilian?

Certainly, fewer of them might choose to emulate us. According to a poll by Harris, the number of tattooed Americans (fewer than 10 per cent until 1990), fell from 16 per cent in 2003 to 14 per cent in 2008. Increasingly, they are less acceptable in the workplace, unless you’re on the payroll at Manchester United. Police in Phoenix, Arizona, have been ordered to cover up their tattoos. “We don’t want to give anyone a reason to mistrust us,” said a spokesman for the force.

But the move to cover up isn’t only to save the feelings of others; more and more people are speaking of their regret. “If I could graft myself a new skin, I would,” Peaches said, rather sadly. The trade in laser-removal treatment is booming on both sides of the Atlantic. A British survey – albeit by a laser-removal clinic – claimed the peak age for “tat regret” is 35. Whether that last statistic was rigorously sourced or not, it suggests a truth about age and self-expression.

The Sylvia Plath quote that seemed really cool and rebellious inked on your shoulderblade when you were 17 looks a bit mawkish in middle age, particularly when juxtaposed with a Boden sun dress and dribble of baby sick. Humans will always be interested in scarification and body decoration, though, and there will be enough enthusiasts and jailbirds to keep the parlours trading, even if the “fashion” for them among stroppy, privileged young women begins to wane.

But if we have learnt anything during the recent era of popularisation, it is that it is only too easy to get a bad one. Like becoming a Wag or joining the priesthood, inking is an undertaking that can go wrong in so many ways. Aside from the obvious idiocy of stamping yourself, permanently, with a lover’s name, the art itself can be, and usually is, badly executed; the image or word itself can lose its appeal; it can be too large, or pathetically small; it can draw attention to a flabby, scrawny or (and this applies to everybody, even David Beckham, in the end) wrinkly part of the body.

It can also be just plain wrong. This week Dasha Zhukova, the art-loving socialite girlfriend of Roman Abramovich, launched the first issue of her magazine Garage. The cover image shows a woman’s naked lower half, her pudendum tattooed with a butterfly (don’t all rush to WH Smith; they’ve banned it, despite the “modesty sticker” covering the decorated area).

That the butterfly was designed by Damien Hirst in a special commission still doesn’t make it cool, to my mind, and Shauna Taylor, the British woman who volunteered to “model” the said “artwork” doesn’t convince, either. “I was hoping it might feel kind of nice but it was probably the worst pain I have felt,” burbled Taylor, 23, and yet, “I love it. I would have been stupid not to be part of this project. I have a piece of art on my vagina.” Tell us how you feel when you look down there in 12 years’ time, Shauna.

How Ab Fab can we be in a financial crisis?

It is cheering news indeed that Jennifer Saunders and Joanna Lumley are back at work on three new special episodes of Absolutely Fabulous. There have been a few hints that the script will nod to the current era (apparently there will be an Olympics plotline), but hasn’t the world changed beyond recognition since Patsy and Eddie’s boom-years heyday?

In reality, wouldn’t Patsy and Saffy now be priced out of their stucco-fronted Notting Hill townhouse by the loaded Russians and Europeans who have colonised that postcode? Professionally, they are anachronistic, too. An ailing advertising market has meant that even glossy magazines have had to make cutbacks and lazy editors-at-large like Joanna Lumley’s character have been replaced by furiously multi-tasking, mass-tweeting, overachieving working mothers.

And being a successful PR is no longer a question of simply throwing a good party and going out for lunch a lot; you have to have art direction, public affairs and digital marketing “synergies”. And what will they wear? High fashion has changed to adapt to the current era of financial nervousness, and I can’t imagine Patsy embracing the stealth-wealth, minimalist look of the moment. Edina’s beloved Christian Lacroix, byword for a certain OTT style, went into administration in 2009. What, exactly, is absolutely fabulous these days? I think we’d all like to know that.

The proposed abortion law changes are an insult

It is an insidious attack on the highly civilised right to decide, quite calmly and rationally, not to have a child when we really don’t want to. The proposed changes to abortion law by the Tory MP Nadine Dorries and other pro-lifers will force women to have a “breathing space” even when they’ve done their research and decided to go ahead.

The insistence that in such a period patients have “independent” counselling, further delaying the termination, is insulting, suggesting that women are incapable of making up their own minds about something fairly monumental: whether to produce a human being who will be totally dependent on us for at least 18 years.

Having a child is best done with a willing spirit. This amendment’s supporters claim it will cut abortion rates by a third, or 60,000 a year. Even if that figure is to be believed, it means 60,000 babies could be born to mothers who are equivocal at the very least about their offspring’s existence. Is this the start in life we want for children?