I’ve toyed with the notion of getting a tattoo for a good few years now. I knew I didn’t want anything expansive. A sleeve of climbing roses or entwined snakes winding up my arm – which can be such beautiful and expressive body art – is not what I was looking for. My vision was for something small and exquisite, maybe even tucked away where only I would know it existed. I knew I wanted one and I knew I wanted it to mean something to me – I just didn’t know what. So the procrastination continued throughout my forties, and with that came the inevitable questions surrounding exactly why I wanted a tattoo in the first place.
Recent statistics show that almost 40% of the adult population have tattoos, and within that group sits a good proportion who decide to take the step into body art in mid-life – and it varies from those who are unreserved with a liberal and sizable scattering all over their bodies to those with just one carefully considered and well-placed tattoo.
But it is a serious business in your fifties and upwards, weighing up not just our own personal judgement – a generational hangover if you like – but also a societal division that might still exist as to whether or not tattoos are now wholly acceptable or just plain feckless. Are tattoos still considered taboo?
I belong to a generation where tattoos were mostly restricted to the trades, bikers and criminals. Of course there were people within the professions who enjoyed decorating their bodies and who used it as a form of self-expression for segments of their lives. But these mostly remained hidden under shirts and trousers, particularly in the workplace where a tattoo was most definitely frowned upon, despite their skills and talent for the jobs they were doing.
But in recent years I do think there has been a significant shift with more and more deciding to have a tattoo or a whole plethora of them, regardless of age or career choice, and for a number of reasons. Tattoos are no longer concealed. They are seen and talked about. As we become more attuned to self-expression and making ourselves visible with age, a tattoo can embody that, communicating an individual style or belief, or simply just commemorating another person.
The media and social media play a huge role now in advocating the celebrity tattoo; many of them in their fifties and up - Cate Blanchett, Helen Mirren, Julia Roberts, Felicity Kendal, Sandra Bullock, to name just a few. In 2016 Judy Dench had ‘carpe diem’ tattooed on her wrist for her 81stbirthday, a present from her daughter. Interviewed by Surrey Life magazine, she said simply: “Good, isn’t it?”
Or perhaps it is our children who plant the idea in our heads as they come home with a meaningful sketch tattooed on their shin that they didn’t give second thought about doing. The fact that it is indelible is irrelevant. They are making a statement about who they are. And so they should.
I think today’s youth, who seem to be so much more unfettered by division and labels than we ever were, are paving the way for us to be exactly who we want to be and do exactly what we want to do. We are learning by their example and it’s made us braver. In turn, this gives us the most important reason of all - people are having tattoos simply because they want to and they can.
So with the years of thought and procrastination behind me - last week on holiday in Majorca, taking some much needed time out to spend with my daughters, I did it! I had a tattoo. Something just fell into place and – no – it wasn’t the result of a day long spent lounging in the sun downing copious margaritas! I finally knew what I wanted and where, and the sooner I did it, the better.
My tattoo is a simple but beautiful line written in Portuguese. It sits at the back of my neck below the hairline and it says – My Life.
It’s in Portuguese for my parents, who gave me life and love. It’s for my children, who are my life. And it’s for me – my life, my time. I’ve reclaimed it!
So no – in my view, there are no longer any taboos surrounding tattoos. They are a liberating expression of who we are, who we want to be and the face that we decide we want to show to the world.