Tatted and proud! (Photo: Kristin Booker)
As a heavily tattooed woman, I get used to strangers constantly asking me questions about my ink. (One never gets used to people touching you without permission, though; that’s always creepy. PSA: Tattooed skin feels the same as regular skin.)
The most common questions I get asked — again, by complete strangers — are:
1. How much did that cost? (Uh … a lot?)
2. Did that hurt? (It’s a needle getting driven into your skin over and over again, so, yes.)
3. What do they mean? (Uh … flowers are pretty?)
4. Why did you get those? (So I had could have this conversation with strangers 20 times a day?)
5. What about your wedding day? (Uh … what about it?)
6. What about when you’re old? (I’ll be an old person with tattoos?)
It’s that last one that strikes me as the oddest. As a woman in my 30s, I’m supposed to be aware that the sand is almost out of the hourglass when it comes to my sartorial and beauty choices. Like, we all know nobody wants to see our withered old-crone legs in a miniskirt after 35, and heaven forbid we should try to trick someone into thinking we’re young and fertile by wearing our hair long after 40.
And now a recent study from the U.K. has placed an arbitrary age limit on tattoos — saying you shouldn’t get them after 38. (It’s not clear whether you’re allowed to keep the ones you had before that.)
While this particular study applies to both men and women, it’s no secret that women are subjected to much more stringent rules when it comes to how to age “appropriately.” (Studies also show that men judge women with tattoos as “less attractive” but “more promiscuous,” showing that you don’t have to be over 38 to be faced with judgmental double standards regarding tattoos.)
Luckily, I don’t give a damn what men think about what I choose to do with my body. And just like I’m not planning to stop wearing my hair in pigtails or showing off my legs any time soon, I have approximately zero worries about how I’ll feel about having tattoos as I age.
First of all, tattoos are pretty much fully mainstream at this point. In Brooklyn, where I live, you can’t toss an artisanal jar of pickles without hitting a tattooed person. A one-year-old study for YouGov finds an entire third of Americans 18 to 44 years old have at least one tattoo, while another study shows that nearly half of millennials do.
What this tells me is that I’m not going to be the only tatted-up granny rocking on the retirement-home porch. We’re all going to have tattoos when we’re old. Tattoos will probably be seen as an old person “thing,” like playing bridge and being named Ethel are today.
Secondly, have you ever seen an old person with tattoos? They look bad as hell. I’d much rather be a cool, scary-looking old lady than a sweet one. Not to mention that Helen Mirren, whose picture is in the dictionary when you look up “great-looking older lady” not only shows off an interlocking “V” tattoo on her hand at 70, but she also says she plans to get an entire sleeve of snake tattoos.
And if that doesn’t convince, I’ve got two words for you: Angelina Jolie. The 41-year-old mother of six has somewhere around 20 tattoos, her most recent from last December, and she’s a global freaking sex symbol.
In all seriousness, tattooing is an art form that’s been practiced across the world since antiquity. The earliest tattooed human skin was found on a mummy from 3300 BC. There’s obviously something about modifying and adorning our skin that appeals to us on a fundamental human level.
And my tattoos, in particular, are chosen carefully, beautifully designed, and artfully executed. But even if they were a bunch of dolphins and blurry yin-yangs, I like to think that I’d look at them and see a record of my history.
And it seems like the older you are when you get a tattoo, the more likely you are to make a well-thought-out decision that you’ll be happy with later. If everyone got tattoos when they were 50, there would probably be a much smaller market for laser removal.
I can’t guarantee my feelings about my tattoos won’t change when I’m older, but for now, the latest research is on my side. As of 2015, the vast majority of tattooed people in the U.S. (78 percent) have no regrets as they age.
So I’m just going to keep aging (dis)gracefully. Look for me in the rocking chair in 50 years — I’ll be the one looking badass.
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