Harriet Walker: To tattoo, or not to tattoo?

Share
Related Topics

British summertime, and the great unveiling of flesh begins. Some of us have bits we'd prefer the sun never shone on – hairy legs and backs, a tendency to paunchiness perhaps – where others are happy for the world and his wife to plunder the innermost recesses of their troubled psyches. We walk down the street reading their life stories on their forearms, shoulder blades and lower backs.

I speak, of course, of the rogues' gallery of tattoos that emerge when their owners shed their clothes around this time of year. From inscrutable foreign characters and epigrams to swallows and dainty little fairies, here is the modern Book of Kells, a Bayeux tapestry of break-ups, small victories and drunken nights out.

Pictures emerged this week of Kylie Minogue sporting a tattoo sleeve (that's a full arm of them, for the uninitiated) painted on for her new film. After her glitzy appearance at Glastonbury over the weekend, her grungier look came as a shock to the tabloids. It's no surprise that the conservative press don't like tattoos (Untrustworthy! Common! Football hooligan!), but when I found myself quietly thankful that our Kylie would be able to wash it all off at the end of the day, it struck me that body art means a bit more than many of those who opt for it may realise. I don't doubt the validity of a tattoo – they're born of the same instinct that leads us to gossip, brag and, latterly, to tweet. I might sound a bit Californian here, but it's good to share; it's what separates us from the psychopaths. But where there's a healthy amount of self-expression involved in writing, say, a diary entry or an email to your best friend, you wouldn't necessarily want to staple its contents to your forehead.

A while back, I booked myself in to have one, to the horror of most of the people I knew. People, I should add, with finely honed aesthetic sensibilities and fairly well-maintained, finely tuned bullshit detectors. Still I was adamant, after a period of heartbreak, that I wanted to mark my emergence from the gloom by having the word "Satis" carved into my arm. It's Latin for "enough". I know, I know – why didn't I just go and listen to some sad music instead? I already had, and I still didn't feel validated. I was too embarrassed to tell my more acerbic friends at the time, so why I thought it was a good idea I'll never know.

But I'm not the only one to have felt that a tattoo was the way to inner peace; several friends have done it, others have certainly thought about it. The impulse always comes after some period of adversity, some emotional trauma overcome, some sense of a turning point in one's life. By all means, these occasions should be marked – with drinks, tears and pats on the back, with things that don't outstay their welcome. And with no more pain than the average hangover.

Otherwise what are you doing but prolonging the hurt in perpetuity? People don't forget the shaping influences in their lives: we don't need pictorial Post-its flagging them up for us.

A friend of mine had her mother's initials inked onto her wrist after she died, another had one done when his son was born. This proves the rule with tattoos: you have to be sure it's something you really want to remember. Otherwise you risk ending up like Johnny Depp, who had "Winona Forever" altered to "Wino Forever" when Ms Ryder exited the stage. A statement indeed.

When it comes to an everyday sense of permanence, we're all teenagers, really. Every hardship seems the biggest, the most important, the one that will change us forever. But when the really big things happen, they'll knock your fairy or your swallow into a cocked hat.

I never did get my tattoo in the end and I'm indelibly glad. Tattoos, it seems to me, are the sign of a mind on the mend, not a person transformed. I missed my appointment because I ended up meeting the next stage of my life over lunch and lost track of time. And that's when I really moved on.

h.walker@independent.co.uk

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Telesales / Telemarketing Executive - OTE £30k / £35k plus

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company specialises provid...

Austen Lloyd: Commercial Property Solicitor - Exeter

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: EXETER - A great new opportunity with real pot...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Private Client Solicitor - Exeter

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: EXETER - An outstanding senior opportunity for...

Sauce Recruitment: Retail Planning Manager - Home Entertainment UK

salary equal to £40K pro-rata: Sauce Recruitment: Are you available to start a...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: When is a baroness not a baroness? Titles still cause confusion

Guy Keleny
 

CPAC 2015: What I learnt from the US — and what the US could learn from Ukip

Nigel Farage
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower