Tattoos = Fashion?

Via Waylon Lewis
on Jul 31, 2009
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Imgur: “This mannequin has tattoos.”

Sacred? Or Degraded?

(Or both)

Are Tattoos—once underground, now ubiquitous—sacredly profane or just street cred for yuppies?

Tattoo on the lower back? Might as well be a bullseye. ~ Vince Vaughan, in Wedding Crashers, 2005.

nba tattoos

One thing is clear: tattoos have become fashion.

Once the provenance of sailors and military vets, tattoos are now common, and accepted, on sorority girls and NBA players alike. I’ve heard more than once from friends who say “egad, that girl’s tattoo will be weird to look at when she’s a grandma.” But generally we’re aok with tatto0s. They’re no longer bad boy—they’re downright yuppie. While there are still plenty of amazing tattoo artists, tattoos themselves rarely signify anything deeply meaningful. I can’t tell you how many friends have got one (or ten) because “it looks cool.” And those are the ones being honest.

Many of my Buddhist friends get tattoos of their refuge or Bodhisattva names on their biceps or shoulderblades, or heart. “To remind me,” they invariably say, “of my commitment.” I always think, and sometimes say: “If you need reminding—if it ain’t tattooed on the inside of your heart—you shouldn’t have taken said vow in the first place.” I don’t know that I’m right, however: there’s a long tradition in Buddhism of posting reminder notes of waking up to yourself around the house. And that’s essentially what function these Buddhist tattoos seem to serve: reminders to wake up. And that’s a good thing.

This mornin’, in the tub, in the middle of a long New Yorker article, I was surprised to hear underground end-of-the-world author James Kunstler refer to tattoos negatively. Excerpt:

“I’d say an emergency meeting of the G7 is pretty much the front entrance,” Kunstler said. “Although who would have thought Iceland would be the first to go?”

Kunstler saw degeneracy everywhere. Stopping in a pharmacy to drop off a prescription for sleeping pills, he was nearly bowled over in a narrow aisle by a heavyset woman, and remarked, “Our fellow-Americans just don’t look that healthy.” The tattooed arms of a young man standing next to a young woman at a crosswalk qualified him as a “bad boyfriend.” (The proliferation of tattoos, Kunstler has written, is “a symptom of the growing barbarism in American life,” and the fact that tattoo parlors now rent space on main thoroughfares, like Saratoga Springs’ Broadway, rather than in back alleys, is “a harbinger of social dysfunction.”)

Kunstler showed me a motel at the corner of Broadway and Division Street, near the outdoor café, that he considered “the most low-quality Western-civilization architecture conceivable.” Its name was the Downtowner, although its appearance suggested a Roadsider. “Look at the details,” he said. “Look at those stupid mangy little shutters and those horrible windows, and the horrible steel railings and those ridiculous pilasters. Everything about it is just so cheap. And the thing that amazes me is that this is the stuff that we built in the most confident and flush period of our history, in the sixties, when, you know, we were basically ruling the world!” Farther along, we came across a faux-Georgian bank, which he said was “basically fabricated out of the cheapest shit you could possibly get, stuck onto a brick box. Except it’s not even a brick box. It’s an aluminum-frame box with a brick veneer, meant to visually get across a cartoon idea that this is a plantation house, and therefore a dignified building-you know, with a dignified activity, banking, going on.” Hard as it may be to believe, Saratoga Springs rates comparatively well in Kunstler’s assessment of America’s built environments.

The architectural criticism was inextricably linked to our national predicament, because in Kunstler’s view the American economy since the Second World War has essentially been one of continuous sprawl-building, made possible by cheap (but diminishing) energy sources, and, given what we’ve built, it amounts to “the greatest misallocation of resources in the history of the world.” As long-term infrastructure, McMansion subdivisions and the big-box retailers that service them are only worth the scraps that can be salvaged by scavenging, he contends…for the rest of this worthwhile read, click here.

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About Waylon Lewis

Waylon Lewis, founder of elephant magazine, now & host of Walk the Talk Show with Waylon Lewis, is a 1st generation American Buddhist “Dharma Brat." Voted #1 in U.S. on twitter for #green two years running, Changemaker & Eco Ambassador by Treehugger, Green Hero by Discovery’s Planet Green, Best (!) Shameless Self-Promoter at Westword's Web Awards, Prominent Buddhist by Shambhala Sun, & 100 Most Influential People in Health & Fitness 2011 by "Greatist", Waylon is a mediocre climber, lazy yogi, 365-day bicycle commuter & best friend to Redford (his rescue hound). His aim: to bring the good news re: "the mindful life" beyond the choir & to all those who didn't know they gave a care. | His first book, Things I would like to do with You, is now available.


25 Responses to “Tattoos = Fashion?”

  1. Ehron A: Whose place is it to judge, either way? My opinion is that this is only a question that a person about to get a tattoo should ask themselves.

    Tom F "street cred for yuppies"

    definitely. come to my neighborhood. [NY] haha

    Waylon Lewis: Ehron. Good point. My answer: because, in my opinion, there's a long sacred proud underground tradition to tattoos. Like any tradition, it deserves some respect, not just appropriation as fad or fashion.

  2. Matt says:

    Tatoos = ouch … 10 years later = WTF was I thinking?

  3. Everett says:

    Tattoos mean different things to different people. Personally, I like the fact that it is a possession that nobody can ever take from me. I could lose my job, my house, my car… I could be homeless, divorced, living on the streets. But I will always have my tattoos. I will take them to my grave.

  4. Andy says:

    Will I be considered more spiritual in my yoga class if I put a big stupid OM symbol with eagle wings across my back?

  5. My ink serves as a little history lesson, or diary of sorts. Each piece reminds me of a certain time in my life, and the lessons I've learned since then, regardless of whether on not I would choose that specific piece of art today.

  6. elephantjournal says:

    Rebecca Carlsonjust as americans have commercialized native american sacredness, china is now doing the same to Tibetan ritual and culture. Tibetan dances are now allowed to be held in "social squares", drawing hundres of participants. Monks in ochre robes yield to social temptations like cell phones, leather jackets, smoking, pool and yes, tattoos– ritual meanings? it's a worldview, people. not everyone understands it's meaning at the same depth. it's a spectrum. you can't eradicate the process of this diverging dispersal into mainstream or sub or sacred society any more than you can decontextualize your self from society. just stand true to your own sacred views if that includes tattooing or religious cultural expressions of any sort and that will champion the meaning at that level for others to recognize. (i'm not talking politics of social or cultural submission, here, just ritual)

  7. Amen, brother. Interesting point. And I love the way you wear 'em.

  8. Aurora says:

    Different strokes for different folks….I echo elephantjournal' s comment at the top here. 🙂 I had an ex boyfriend who put a cockaroach on his arm because he said one saved his life. He designed it and had it done. The idea may have come from wanting to fit in initially, but he made it his, and as a talented artist it marks him with his art and a story that is no one else's….

  9. Aurora says:

    PS I really can't get on board with tatooing animals though….not cool at all.

  10. OddPryc says:

    My tatoos reminds me of that time in my life and what I was expressing. They tell stories. Or, that's what I want mine to do and I love when I can find someone who has a story for theirs too. But, what pisses me off is that tatoo on that cat. What purpose does that serve on this article? What story does that tell? That someone has no regard for that animals well being. It looked cute? Tatoos hurt and that is unnecessary pain that serves no purpose in that animals life. I am quite disappointed it is in this article. Disgusted more like it.

  11. David Sanchez says:

    Tattoos, to me, mean many things. A tattoo is a sign of commitment, a willingness and ability to be dedicated to a concept enough to accept it for the rest of your life. If one is honest with themselves they understand prior to getting a tattoo that, like everything, even something as "permanent" as a tattoo is not permanent. Tattoos change through the years based on skin deteriorating, the underlying body deteriorating, and their meanings also evolve with time. Being able to accept this and still having the confidence to decidedly move forward is a statement… of course a drunk and unwitting person may make this same statement, but the results tend to be a bit different in that scenario.

    The bottom line is that my tattoos are for me, not for anyone else. I am at peace with my tattoos, and that is what concerns me most. That being said, I am NOT at peace with the cat sporting a tattoo.

  12. Hunter says:

    As a massage therapist I see a lot of tattoos most people never get to see.

    They range from WTF to Cool and Bad art to great. All I have to say is choose your artist carefully. With your body as the canvas, and the tattoos I have seen, I wonder about the skill of some of the artists.

    Bad Tattoo+Time=Trash

    And don’t forget you might need some re-inking over the years to.

    As far as a sign of the decay of modern civilization…Okay, yeah, whatever.

  13. ARCreated says:

    I don't care what any thinks or doesn't think about my tattoos…each one is deeply personal and reflects a part of my life. as a minimilist they also do wonders for adornment without jewelry…they are my story and I love having them with me…I'm with L matter what happens my tattoos are with me…

  14. jon says:

    Our bodies are our bodies. If they aren't what we want to project, we are free to change them. Some will understand those changes, others will not. Whether we decide to get a haircut, a tattoo, a sex change, or wear something with a purple boa, we change how we look. Even "natural" is a fashion choice.

    The question always is, when someone finds your fashion stupid, how do you react? That's what it all comes down to.

  15. John says:

    It's a matter of taste. No sure that that tat that looked cute on a 20 year old women will still be appealing to look at in middle age especially when this fad passes and the new aesthetic will be un-inked.

  16. jenny says:

    ah. My first tattoo appeared when I was over 50 (is that middle-aged?). It took me 3 years to understand what I wanted and I knew when I found the artist to help me realize my ankle dwelling flowing windhorse. 3 more years to my elbow encircling double-dragon, about to be completed for my 58th b-day.

    They live. I believe they reveal themselves, elemental.

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  18. Kala says:

    It still amazes me how often non-tattooed people are concerned with tattooed people. Couldn't that time and effort be placed into doing something incredible instead?

    And for those who are concerned about the tattooed cat photo, that is most likely Photoshopped.

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  22. Thomas Shoen says:

    I turn 40 this July and I am just now considering getting my first tattoo. If for no other reason than to solidify a bond I feel with my yoga practice. It will be somewhere that few people can see it. It will be mine and I have no great need to show it off.

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  24. wendelyn anderson says:

    As my 50th birthday loomed close on the horizon I decided I wanted to do something radical to commemorate the occasion. Something that was in defiance of traditional notions of what it means for a woman to grow older. So i decided to get a tatoo. And since I am an artist and textile designer it had to be something I designed myself and that reflected ideas of transition and regeneration. I decided to use an original rendering of a greenman motif that I created while taking a special class on design and issues of sustainability.