Monday, August 01, 2011

Tattooed moms and the generation gap above and below

From Mom Houston, a Houston Chronicle blog:

According to a 2006 Pew Research Center survey, 40 percent of people in Generation X, those born between 1966 and 1980, have a tattoo. That’s up from just 10 percent of Baby Boomers, people born between 1946 and 1964, who have them.


As more and more of the younger side of Generation Xers are reaching parenthood themselves, I wondered if their perspective on tattoos had changed. It’s always interesting to see how people’s decisions, clearly in contrast to their parents’ traditions, change once they become parents themselves,

More here.

I must admit that the biggest motivation for my getting a tattoo was precisely because it seemed my whole generation was doing it. That, and it seemed to be part of the zeitgeist of the 90s. But all the anti-tattoo arguments I'd been hearing for years rang true to an extent: it will be there forever; it may very well be something you hate later in life; it might keep some employment opportunities closed, and on and on. Okay, all reasonable points. So I thought about it for nearly the entire decade. At one point, I was considering getting a Vladimir Lenin tattoo, but a friend pointed out how the communist revolutionary was also a murderous scum bag, so I kept on thinking. In the end, I just picked out a design I liked in a shop:

It was small and unobtrusive. I put it on my upper arm, where my t-shirt sleeve would cover it. It was a sort of universal symbol, a black sun, hearkening back to ancient cultures while also looking forward and outward, the whole man-in-space theme I've loved since I was a kid. At the time, it seemed like something I could not only live with for decades, but also something I could love, too.

And you know what? I've had it over a decade and I still love it. Art on my body, which I personally chose and placed. It also has the unexpected benefit of reminding me of the era in which I first started to assert my identity into the adult world. It's cool.

Of course, lots of people from my generation weren't so contemplative about their tattoos, and I have no doubt that, at this point, years later, many of them don't feel the way I do. To some extent, I have no sympathy for these of my generational comrades. I mean, they knew what they were getting into, just as I did, but they had to go for stupid shit, or for way too many. And now some of them are apparently perplexed over what to tell their kids about the issue.

So here's my advice:

Don't put it in terms of tattoos good/tattoos bad. Put it in terms of how long people live, how people change their attitudes and opinions, how often times people look back on their youth and judge themselves to be stupid or naive. Put it in terms of career, but also in terms of aesthetics and quality of life, as well as personal identity, and how people must often balance these concepts in order to successfully pursue whatever goals they end up pursuing. Take great pains to validate the individuality of your child, to let him or her understand that once past the age of eighteen, it is a personal decision to physically alter one's appearance in this way: this is just wisdom the parent is offering, not some kind of authoritarian control.

Hopefully, with such an approach, the GenXer's child will make a decision that everybody can live with. I mean, your kid may very well end up getting some ink, but probably something tasteful and small scale.

Unless your kid's a cutter. Which means he'll probably end up getting shitloads of tattoos, very likely in awful taste, and buttloads of body piercings, including the genitalia. You won't really want to take him to family gatherings, but that's okay because your abuse very likely made him this way in the first place, and that's what you get, asshole.