Tattoos, seen through eyes of faith

An article caught my eye in this past Sunday’s Washington Post Magazine (WPM), “Layers: Tattoos Go Deeper Than You Might Think”.  This new old form of body art is present in so many ways… in your face: another guy walks by at the gym with a full sleeve tattoo extending from an A-neck undershirt.  Other times it’s more of a, “wait, did I just see what I thought I saw?” moment, as with the woman I passed in a restaurant recently, a butterfly delicately traced just below the hairline of her neck seemed to be her ever-present wink at the world.  There’s the repressed tattoo-bearer: the man who, extending his arm to check his watch, shows some wild ink beneath an otherwise docile oxford shirt.  Finally, there’s the less-frequent “all-consuming” tattoo wearer, so covered in symbols that the tattoo is actually known as a “full-body suit.”

It would seem that tattoos and the reasons behind them are as individual as the people who get them.  Some common themes from the WPM’s interviews seem to be:

  • Conscious self-assertion, “Hey world, this is who I am.”
  • A reminder or augmentation of one’s beauty.
  • A personal reminder of one’s own biography, especially moments of suffering.
  • Spiritual statements about one’s origins, conflicts, and feelings about good and evil.
  • Tattoos as ongoing hobby, “I keep adding them and they eventually connect with each other.”
  • Tattoos as a statement of individuality or independence from the norm of society.

To be sure, I would NEVER get a tattoo and I don’t recommend them for others… I believe the teachings of Christ, handed down by the Church – succinctly: God made his creation and called it good… We are born beautiful not by virtue of our appearance but by our very being itself.  If I were horribly disfigured by an accident, penniless and incapacitated, God my Father would still find me beautiful because he made me, he gave me being.  My existence, whether comfortable or filled with suffering is capable of serving Him if I offer it to him… and in this I find my dignity… no need for additions.

All that said, the article above really moved me.  The people interviewed struck on tremendously important human themes:

  • identity
  • memory
  • beauty
  • spirituality

 

I don’t judge anyone who strives after such themes in peace and integrity of conscience.  Such striving is beautiful… but rereading the article several times, I’m moved with pity more than anything.  If I need to add something (i.e. a tattoo) to myself to achieve those human categories, isn’t that a sort of a crutch… which presupposes a disability?  If I cannot be fulfilled apart from painting myself, is that a sort of self-slavery?  Then again, where’s the line between one who wears tattoos and a woman putting on discreet shades of makeup before work?  Is it a slippery slope from one to the other?  These aren’t rhetorical questions, I’d be very interested to discover more about what the thought/emotional process is in those who elect to get tattoos.  In the meantime, the Washington Post Magazine’s editors certainly chose an apt title, “Tattoos Go Deeper Than You Might Think”