When I shaved my head, aged 14, the only words my mother uttered (before banishing me to my room until my hair grew) were "at least it's not a tattoo".
I've often thought about those words, not least because I'm now the mother of teenagers and would be devastated if either of them visited the tattoo parlour on the spur of the moment. I thought about it again yesterday when I saw a photograph of US rapper Chris Brown with a newly inked image of a woman on his neck.
The woman appears to have a black eye and split lip. Although his 'people' have denied it, the resemblance to his ex-girlfriend, singer Rihanna, in the aftermath of a violent attack by Brown, is eye-catching.
Brown, like many young stars, is covered with tattoos so perhaps this is just another design that he came across, and perhaps there's no subtext. Let's be charitable (difficult, I know) and assume that's the case. It still leaves the question, why would that design appeal to anyone? Playboy bunnies, mermaids, Victoria's Secret models – your average bloke who wants a girl to perve over on his own body can take his pick of inspirations without resorting to the battered-wife template.
Sorry incidents from one's past are best left in the past, not alluded to in permanent body art. It would be like OJ Simpson having a pair of black leather gloves tattooed over his hands; or Antony Worrall-Thompson having a Tesco Clubcard design on his forearm. Then again, perhaps I'm reading this wrong. Perhaps an indelible reminder is a good idea. To have to see every day, and acknowledge, one's failings.
Away from criminal acts, failed relationships live on deep in the skin. How did Amy Winehouse feel about her denim 'breast pocket' tattoo with Blake on it? After they'd split, I mean. Was it around the time it was no longer thrilling to see 'eloC srM' in the mirror that Cheryl Cole stopped wearing her hair up?
None of this will deter young adults from wanting tattoos - although there's hope that littler ones, now appalled by smoking, will be equally appalled by ugly, offensive or short-sighted inkings.
I suppose the 'sleeve' look so beloved of sportsmen has the virtue of being mostly meaningless patterns. Nothing to offend, their only regret might be that it's not so becoming on a saggy old-man arm. If I'd have had a tattoo aged 14, it might well have borne the legend 'Jez', after my boyfriend at the time. I hate ever to admit that my mother was right about anything, but I'm glad I only shaved my head.