Saturday, May 10, 2008


I had my Diane Arbus moment. Actually, I had about 75 of them. I went to the Tatoo Expo with my husband and son, and hell yes, I brought my camera. My son is fascinated with tatoos, draws realistic portraits of eskimos on his forearm, and is more than likely trying to find a way around the 18 year legal age requirement for body art. We did not take him to the Tatoo Expo to encourage him, but to show him that identifying yourself visually with the body art scene might limit your prospects. There are some breaks you won't get if you go through life looking like a walking comic book. You may also prefer not to be associated with the gang element of tatoo culture, of which there was enough at this expo to warrant a no guns sign at the gate.

We weren't the only voyeurs on the scene - understated attire and an unmarked epidermis immediately outed you as a bourgeois looky-loo. But the overwhelming majority of the attendees were on a mission to get marked. The exhibit hall had literally been turned into a giant tatoo parlor. Clients winced, clenched their teeth or looked stoically away as the body artists manned their little drills. It was a fast food crowd - not a lot of money there - and most of the bodies being inked were lumpy and untoned. Vendors hawked goth jewelry, leather corsets and t-shirts touting "My first murder," in letters that dripped blood.

On a small stage in the back of the hall, a biker-MC in cat-in-the-hat headgear was attempting to banter with the crowd. Smiling broadly, he straffed us with F-bombs. It was an F-ing great exhibit, with some F-ing great artists, he's seen some F-ing great tatoos and now, for your entertainment, check out these F-ing great belly dancers.

Four plus-sized Sheherazades undulated onto the stage, finger-cymbals tinkling. Their dancing clothes had the makeshift quality of last minute halloween costumes. Ornate tatoos disappeared into their back fat. A handful of bystanders applauded good-naturedly but the real action was on the exhibition floor.

I admit it, I don't like tatoos. When my son asked what I would choose if I absolutely HAD to get one on pain of death, I told him I wanted a black dot so I could pass it off as a birth mark. I think the sight of beautiful Angelina Jolie in an evening gown with her dye-injected arms is just sad. I understand that sometimes life events cause such deep shifts and revelations in people's lives, they feel they must commemorate them. I know that there's something sexy to getting your first tatoo - I've got you under my skin, baby, and all that jazz. But whatever causes you to take the plunge, there is an element of self-destructiveness to tatooing and I think it can be addictive. After a while, some people have so many tats, they reach the dangerous point of WTF and do something irreversible, perhaps inking their faces like a Maori tribesman.

While dermatologists are probably already reaping the benefits of tattoo addiction, popular culture has yet to acknowledge the phenomenon, second cousin to compulsive plastic surgery, body dysmorphia and self-cutting. The body art movement has made big strides into the mainstream, and it would appear judgmental to suggest that there are folks who just don't know when to stop. It's going to take some remorseful people going public, crying to Oprah about the cost of having their markings removed and how the color green is forever. Once the self-proclaimed victims start coming forward, it will be safe from a politically correct standpoint to acknowledge the existence of tatoo addiction. In the meantime, boys and girls, think before you ink.

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