I got my first tattoo when I was 21, the second when I was 23. I’ve yet to get a third.
To this day I’m still not 100% sure why I got a tattoo, although I do know that I am happy with them and don’t regret the decision at all.
Typically, if you ask someone why they got a tattoo you will get a variety of answers, but they are usually centred around the same thought “I wanted one, no-one forced me into it”. Not much of an answer really.
Is it an act of rebellion? A way of showing you are nearer the ‘edge’ than others? (Although that just begs the question “The edge of what?”). There are people who get tattoos as a badge, an allegiance to a cause, or membership of a group. People get tattoos because they’ve seen celebrities get them, and all in all, tattoos, and it’s kin the piercing (body modifications), are much more socially acceptable these days than they have been. They are no longer limited to bikers or exotic types.
You can easily argue that anything that changes your appearance is open to interpretation by anyone that looks at you. How many times have you looked at someone with, say, a pierced lip or eyebrow and made assumptions. I do it all the time. We all do it. The ‘initial impression’ that is talked about when you are attending an interview is the same one you make when you walk past a person in the street.
I used to work with a Goth. He came to work dressed as a Goth, had few body mods other than bright blue and purple braided hair, but mainly his dress was what defined him. He was intelligent, funny, and has since started his own company. I asked him if he had turned up to the interview ‘dressed’ or had he toned himself down. His reply? “I am what I believe, so there wouldn’t have been much point NOT coming ‘dressed’, would there?”. He did admit later on that he had toned down his appearance by wearing a black jacket and trousers, and NOT wearing his stainless steel coated jackboots. My initial impression was something along the lines of “He’s a bit of a rebel…”, an opinion I was happy to change the first time I spoke to him.
I got a tattoo to be different. Not from everyone else, but different from my peers, different from the expectations. I grew up in an upper middle class area, and as an intelligent young man was expected to do many great things, or at least I thought that was what was expected of me. So I challenged it. Indirectly, and ineffectively, but I challenged it.
I’m happy with this definition, as it sits with my widely held beliefs that it is prejudice that is the ruin of a man. My definition of prejudice is not the ‘initial impression’, the one that tells you that person is different (colour, ability, race, religion, sex, and so on), but the way you react to it. Years of social culture will prompt thoughts to back the stereotype. How you react to those thoughts, that burst of ideas and images is what defines the way you think about someone.
I can guess what people think when they see me. White, almost middle aged, comfortably off. Probably works in an office, intelligent but not brilliant, informed but not radical. I know that I don’t easily ‘fit’ with any social group, that I hover the fringes of many, but never commit.
I enjoy the reaction I get when people find out I have tattoos. I work in a software company, a lot of high-fliers, ‘new money’, and all looking to break away from their defining classes, to exceed their peers. Tattoos still have the distinction of not being able to break the ‘dirty’, ‘bad’ air they carry. Within my ‘class’ (as much as I hate that definition) tattoos are the realm of the lower classes. They are viewed as an attempt to be a ‘big man’, a hard nut, someone to be reckoned with.
My tattoos are not in public view, both are easily hidden underneath a t-shirt. I don’t flaunt them, they are mine. To an extent they define who I am, what I am. How I want to be perceived.
To me, my tattoos DO say, I should be reckoned with, I am harder than you think, I am not a conformist, do not expect that of me.
My tattoos say, I’m not what you think I am.