Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Tattoos--eewwww. And many of the tattoo'd agree.

For the love of Nascar
Amazingly, half of adults 18-29 have intentionally scarred their bodies with tattoos, and enough people want to join this marked band that a new tattoo parlor opens every day--with expectations of profit. But the tattoo removal business is also thriving, and recently I spoke to a young woman who says she'll have the rose on her hip wiped off as soon as she can afford it.

A news report from WCVB in Boston this week describes the costly, painful process required to eliminate drawings and slogans that took just minutes to etch.  Lasers shoot through the skin to disburse embedded ink, but each treatment can only lighten the image somewhat. The ink re-collects, and so another, then another session, six weeks between each, must be endured--perhaps as many as a dozen times.  Even so, says Dr. Oon Tian Tan, a patient can have adverse reactions like white or bubbled scars, or the tattoo can even darken. Deeply colored drawings may be impossible to obscure.

Beautiful? Or just tra(d)gedy?
The travail of removal doesn't deter Seattlites, and here tattoos are ubiquitous.  Seeing someone's complete arm transformed by navy blue, black and colors, or even noticing a snake or thorn garland around someone's neck always manages to take me aback, and I do my best to feign nonchalance, focusing on the individual's eyes.  Every person is worthy of respect, though when someone turns his skin into a visible sketchpad, he's sending a message--even if you can't tell at a glance exactly what it is. The only thing certain is that he (or she) felt his (or her) body would be enhanced forever via someone else's artistic imprint.

While honoring each individual's choice to tattoo, I must disagree. Nature-given bodies certainly can be imperfect, but why subject them to permanent scars in designs that reflect the wearer's state of mind only at that one point in life? Such an intrusive alteration shows either a lack of long-term perspective or perhaps too much confidence in the future--how can anyone assume that he'll never change his opinion?  What if later he tires of it, a spouse dislikes it, or skin sags to distort the drawing into something unattractive (see the Nascar lady)?

In that case, there's always the laser. Out of curiosity, I googled "cost of tattoo removal" and came upon an enterprise called Dr. TATTOFF, which has clinics in Dallas and Southern California dedicated to the regretfully inked.  Two of that clinic's dermatologists created their own scale to estimate how many laser sessions would be required to blast off a given tattoo.  They give a score based on the client's skin type, density and color of the ink, and its location on the body, to estimate cost; any work beyond that price is free.

According to their website, most tattoo removal requires 9 to 12 laser sessions, and sets back patients between $600 and $2,000. Looking at some of Dr. TATTOFF's examples raises the obvious question, "what were these people thinking?"

Is that really a BABY?
One individual had the word "Best" tattooed across the breadth of his upper back in "Chinese-restaurant take-out" font about 6 inches high. The estimated removal expense was $2,230. A 6-square-inch color drawing of what appears to be an angry bird on another client's back cost $1,823 to obliterate.  Dissolving a one-inch script name carved around a ring finger runs about $600.  Perhaps the most obvious candidate for removal was the 9-square-inch tattoo of a naked woman, hands behind, body cris-crossed with what seem to be leather straps, covering a patient's entire upper arm--labeled by the clinic with the word "bondage." Scuttling that beauty was likely $1,553 well spent.

Wow, that looks GREAT....
Of course, there are several "worst tattoo" sites, if you'd really like to be grossed-out. Reminds me of "cake wrecks," where well-meaning bakers misspell or misinterpret order forms to hilarious result. But you can eat or dump a hideous cake. Bad tattoos aren't so easy to destroy, and unsightly results don't leave 'em laughing. And often leave 'em lasering.

Years ago, I was asked to appear on a TV talk show to represent anti-tattoo sentiment. I was flown from my hometown (LA) to the site of the show (Seattle)--unaware that the audience was completely filled with the colorfully-ornamented clientele of the tattoo parlor-owner set to be my opposition. When the host brought his microphone into the well-pierced and needled audience, my hostile questioners had no qualms showing their "significant" etches, no matter where. My point then, as now, is merely that people change.  Tattoos, too, are affected by time, and the amount of pain and expense by many ruefully adorned to return to just plain skin ought to bring anyone considering the alteration pause.

A blog post in the Seattle Weekly a couple years ago offers an amusing flowchart of the tattoo decision-making process in which arrows lead through funny, relevant questions about ramifications, concluding, "you probably shouldn't get a tattoo." Right.


  1. If you have a gang related tattoo and are no longer associating yourself with that gang or any gang (good for you!), it would be in your best interests to have it removed.

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