What We Love: Tattoos


The word still makes some people ‘tsk’ disapprovingly or shake their heads in dismay. Some people. But not as many as before. 

I guess they used to be the trademark calling card of “thugs” or “criminals” or “bad girls” or other negatively-connotated demographics. 

That notion – that (any) tattoos on a human symbolizes truancy – has started going out of fashion in some respects. At the same time, there exists the remnants of a tenable concern that a person will, upon getting a tattoo, be invited or coerced into society’s “dark” side. 

I have a few tattoos. They are small. They are all about my family and my inner strength. And I feel the need to say that only because there’s this idea that tattoos are socially acceptable only if they cradle some trenchant meaning. Which is, yes, ludicrous. 

We know that times are changing because it’s not our peers who judge us now. Most of my friends compliment the delicacy or beauty of my tattoos, expressing envy, noting wistfully that they want to get one done now too. One friend called his tattoo “a regret, but in a fun way that I’d do again.”

Those inked folks out there who have more (and/or more noticeable) tattoos than me may find themselves more scrutinized than I do, but for the most part, I’ve noticed a trend towards tattoos being considered “edgy” or “stunning” more so than their being considered racy or inappropriate. Especially living in a city like Toronto, teeming with diversity and art and youth.

That is, of course, with an exception for the majority of the humans who comprise the older generations. Most parents react with dismay or disappointment upon learning their child has gotten a tattoo.

“You can punch as many holes in your body as you want,” my mom would quip as I grew up begging every other year for new ear piercings. “But you can never get a tattoo.”

She appreciated my first tattoo though, because of the thought I’d put into it, and because of its intense meaning, and because it was “so much smaller and more pretty than I thought tattoos could be.” 

In a lot of people’s minds, tattoo parlours are grungy, underground, dimly-lit shops rife with cigarette smoke and explicit paraphernalia. There’s a laminated folder of tattoo designs, from which a guy can select a skull and crossbones to get on his bicep or a girl can choose one of several bright blue butterflies to ink on her lower back. 

That’s sort of what I thought they were like, too, until I did some more research.

The tattoo parlour I go to in Toronto is bright and airy. There are pink neon signs, a bowl of candy, cold brew on tap, plenty of green plants, soft white overhead lights. A comforting, knowledgeable receptionist. Often there’s a dog hanging out. The tattoo artists coo over the dog, skip around the shop, and play Nintendo when they’re not working. When they are working, they’re careful, professional, and incredibly clean – sanitizing your skin, their instruments, wearing gloves. Giving you tattoo balm to take home.

I have to believe that it’s the outdated notions of tattoos-mean-bad, of tattoo-parlours-are-dirty-underground-dungeons that spurn concern from parents. That, or maybe it’s the permanency of it all. Or maybe you’re this lady, and no one can really figure out what your deal is.

But the permanency aspect confuses me a little bit.

Because haven’t we been taught all our lives to commit? Haven’t we been trained to recognize that decision-making is important, that independence is to be heralded, that creative self-expression is a good thing?

I see tattoos as a map of somebody’s life. They’re memories frozen in time. There’s no fear of regretting it later, at least in my book, because that design, that momentary pain, that permanency, was something that was of the utmost importance to me at some point during my life. In some former incarnation of myself, that piece of artwork was so crucial to who I was, to who I wanted to be, that I committed to it forever.

That, to me, is something beautiful. It’s a reminder of who I once was, of how far I’ve come, of the passions and trials and adventures I’ve seen in my life.

So that’s probably how I’ll think when I see your tattoos. But it doesn’t really matter how I feel about your tattoos. It only matters how you feel about them.

Tattoos don’t have to be meaningful, and you don’t have to explain yours to anyone. If you get them to commemorate someone or something, or if you get them because you think they’d be fun – your opinion, your decisions, and your body are yours.