Up Front by Emma Hart


Not Actually Blue at All

I've always liked tattoos. I guess because I knew a few guys with tattoos growing up, I've never had that expectation that they must be dangerous meat-heads. It wasn’t something I ever had to learn. That I knew nice guys with tats, and bastards without them, wasn't surprising, it just was.

Chicks with tats, on the other hand, were skanks.

Still, as a teenager, I sort of vaguely wanted a tattoo. The main reason I never got one was that I thought people would decide I was just doing it for the attention, rather than for myself. Getting a tattoo at sixteen would have been try-hard.

Now I'm old, and I find as I get older that I increasingly don't give a stuff what other people think of me. The only person whose opinion I take any notice of is my partner, and this might be because he agrees with me a lot. Apparently it’s just safer that way.

He certainly agreed that I should get a tattoo. Back in April, we were sitting in the hot pools in Hanmer people-watching, and noting that there was a lot of ink around. I was really impressed by the guy whose back looked like an illustration from the Tale of Genji. I expressed a vague longing, and Partner surprised me with his vehement enthusiasm for the idea.

Apparently chicks with tats are kind of hot.

I knew that I wanted a tattoo, and I even knew what I wanted it to be of. What I needed was encouragement enough to break the shackles of my Presbyterian up-bringing and not see it as a stupid frivolous waste of money.

I've just been writing a beginner's guide to getting a tattoo, and it got me thinking about it all over again. I had no idea where to go, where I could get a proficient and clean tattoo or how much it was going to cost me. A bad tattoo is like having a shitty haircut for the rest of your life.

Fortunately for me, I was still in touch with a bunch of slightly disreputable people to ask for advice, and there was even a consensus: Naith at absolution. So I went in to check the place out and make an appointment, and something very odd happened.

When I was at uni, 'we' used to refer to 'other people' as Normals. We could spot Normals by the way they dressed and spoke, and by the way they looked at us sideways like we were weird and possibly contagious. I wasn't really aware of it at the time, but we were just as snobby towards the Normals as they were towards us.

When I walked into the tattoo parlour, the guy behind the counter looked at me like I was a Normal, and maybe I’d got lost somewhere on the way to pick my kids up from soccer. I didn’t belong. Being a life-long sufferer of Oppositional Defiant Disorder, I made the appointment anyway. I did go away feeling just a little worried that I was trying to be something that I wasn't any more, that I'd just got too old for this stuff.

Once I was booked in, that's when I started worrying about the pain. What if it hurt like going to the dentist, and I got sooky? What if it hurt like some other things hurt and I enjoyed it too much?

Much to my surprise, the actual tattooing experience was a delight, and one I recommend enthusiastically to other people. Any other people, pretty much randomly. Do it, it's great! My tattooist was friendly, helpful and open. Due to what I call the Christchurch Effect, this complete stranger turned out to be the good friend of a good friend of a good friend of mine. He's also the only person I've ever had get mildly annoyed that one of my breasts kept getting in his way. Every now and then he'd get completely absorbed in what he was doing and absently try to shove it sideways.

I’ve had no negative feedback on my tattoo at all, though we'll see what happens in summer when it's out and about more. Only one of my friends was brave enough to suggest that I was having some kind of mid-life crisis. It was particularly courageous of that individual, because I keep having to resist the temptation to nuke any argument with him by saying 'oh yeah? well you're boffing a choir-boy'. My elderly mother was delighted. "I’ve always wanted to get a tattoo myself," she told me, "to surprise the undertaker". My daughter is fascinated, full of questions, and obviously quietly thinking about getting one herself. I'm grateful for the restriction that stops her getting one until she's eighteen: not because I don’t want her to get a tattoo, but because I don’t want her to get a stupid tattoo.

The only real problem I have is that I now really, really want more tats. I don't know where or what of, nor can I really justify the expense, but I've gone ink-mad. So gratify me vicariously. I want to hear stories about tattoos or people's reaction to tattoos. I want to see pictures of tats. And I want to know what you guys think about social stigma around ink: does it still exist, and is it different for men and women?

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