Healing ink regret: tattoos are forever, but even the worst ones can be appreciated
On my left shoulder, a completed reworking. On my right shoulder, what he had to work with.
Whoever said that tattoos are addictive is an idiot. Like "issues" or "projection," addiction is psychobabble-related spillover, a word that suffers from a flippant overuse and strays from its meaning.
As a recovering addict, I can't see a connection between my tattoos and a desire to keep getting more until it kills me. Because that's what addiction is -- doing something until you die. But after spending six hours face down on a massage table listening to Camp Lo and Fat Joe while getting tattooed last week, I had a lot of time to think about why in the hell I have so many tattoos -- and how one actually goes about getting a bad one.
I don't think most tattoos start out bad -- even joke tattoos can have somewhat of a good intention. But my bad tattoos came by way of my own terrible taste; I can't even blame the four bro-ish solid black stars on my back on being young and dumb. I was in my late twenties and wanted to get new tattoos for my birthday, and made those bad decisions a decade after I was eighteen and really stupid.
The tattoo artist wasn't completely at fault -- however, it would have helped to know how shitty a solid black tattoo could look if not done well. But it wasn't just the color -- the placement was kinda stupid too. Almost immediately after the stars became a part of me, I began noticing random meathead dudes at the gym with similar designs in the same bodily area. But unlike my late-blooming lip piercing that was quickly removed from my face after setting foot in Manhattan once upon a time -- following a startling realization that both nothing and everything is in style in New York City -- my tattoos weren't removable.
For all of my dramatic whining about these things, I should say that they weren't the worst tattoos you've ever seen. My friend Katie has a katydid on her shoulder that looks more like a praying mantis on a mission to hurt someone -- a tattoo so bad I think she holds onto it, if only for the story of just how bad it looks. But my shoulder stars had no vision. They weren't even funny bad. I had randomly picked them and it was obvious, just by the sheer clip-art-ness of the images. And the fact that the tattoo artist literally printed two stars off of the Internet and stuck them to my back made them almost as bad as the guy who walks into a shop and picks an image off the wall.
I should mention that my first tattoos ever were also solid black stars positioned above my elbows and done by the same artist, and somehow, I still have a fondness for them. But for the handful of years I've had the bad stars, I've casually solicited various tattoo artists with the idea of fixing them -- covering them up, incorporating them into a new tattoo, anything. But I am hardly a visual person, and could never so much as conceptualize a solution. I needed an artist with an eye for something other than clip art to repair them.
Two weeks ago, the random beauty of the universe prevailed, and an old friend came through who I knew would be up for the challenge. Normally, I wouldn't get a tattoo right in the middle of swimming pool season, but his transient nature puts your tattoos on his schedule. I made an appointment with no clear picture in my head, and showed up ready for anything.
He asked me what I had in mind, which, like any annoying customer, I had no idea. I cryptically told him I liked "girly stuff," -- hearts, stars, bows, flowers, pastel colors (and apparently inadvertently described an Easter basket.) Luckily, he made it work -- channeling Lisa Frank through his own distinct style, I left with new shoulder tattoos that were better looking than I could have imagined.
I was no longer embarrassed of having tattoos on my shoulders. (Well, except for when I had to go to my boyfriend's parent's house for Father's Day, and I ended up covering my still-healing, gooed up backside with a shirt that stuck directly to the tattoos, in an attempt to hide them out of respect for his mother.)
As much as I disliked the clip art on my body, I never thought about tattoo removal. The painfulness that I've heard comes along with the de-tattooing didn't scare me -- I fell asleep around hour two of this latest tattoo and it wasn't until hour five that I became nauseous. (I'm pretty sure giving birth to my first litter of fertility drug-induced babies when I'm forty will be no problem, pain-wise.) Those stupid tattoos were a part of my life, and I liked that about them.
While I was getting tattooed, a girl came into the shop for her first piece, a flower that she wanted on her ear. She had that weird rationale about the location -- that when she got old and saggy, at least her tattoo wouldn't look old and saggy. I somehow have no qualms about being tattooed and old and saggy, but maybe that will change when I'm old and saggy.
Or, fuck it. You only live once. Get as many tattoos as you want -- and who cares if they're shitty. They're yours.
Get the Arts and Theater Newsletter
Weekly information keeping you in the know when it comes to the art and theater scene. Find out about upcoming performances, exhibitions, openings and special events.