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Making Sense: On Parents and Tattoos

Making Sense: On Parents and Tattoos

Guides6 min Read

In this article, we take on the eternal adversary to tattoo - mom and dad. Making sense of the aversion to ink and finding a way to speak and act on it.

There seems to be no easy way, no cookie cutter speech template for breaking this devastating news to one’s folks… nor should there be! Nothing worth doing is easy, and the sacrifices we make to carve something upon our skin already includes pain, time, money, and in some regions of the world - freedom to enter public pools. In some cases, it may include prejudice ranging from not-so-random bag checks to hurdles in the job market. So, is it so surprising that one more important sacrifice be asked of us?

Cat and Elli aka another_beautiful_day_official

Regardless of our personal reasons for choosing to be inked, it would be wise to spend a solemn moment pondering the price we pay to have this desire fulfilled; and also to consider that mysterious, prevailing urge compelling us to go ahead in spite of the costs. This dialogue may play an important role in molding one’s attitude when eventually confronted by naysayers which are usually in the form of parental units.

Why did you have to go ruin your skin? It looked better before!
Did you have to get something so big and noticeable? The tinier the better, in fact, none is the best!
Wouldn’t it be better to have more negative space? Stop getting more for god’s sake!

How do you deal with these most common of complaints and comments?

Emily Boring

Trusty approaches include:

1. Hold your ground: Agree to disagree on what constitutes what beauty looks like. There is no need to invalidate another’s sense of beauty, but by that same token, one should be firm with what is considered beautiful to oneself. That is a crucial element of self-worth, be it with tattoos, style of dressing, or romantic interests.

2. Be Practical: Start off with a less visible area and gradually escalate. If you have conservative parents and the incompatible ambition to be fully covered, it may be a practical route to start on the torso or lower body where less daylight is seen. This could be more palatable (or hidden) for the folks and certain occupations, and will loosen those uptight screws over time while you inch closer and closer towards visible areas. Human beings have a remarkable tendency to adapt to changes, but also a remarkable tendency to be repulsed by sudden, overt changes. Be strategic.

3. Show you care: Ask for input! A large part of the animosity parents (and partners) have towards tattoos comes from the sentiment of betrayal and being excluded from an important decision, though it is unlikely that they will admit it. You’d give mom and dad a heads up before having a child (which also happens to be rather permanent), so it really isn’t that unreasonable to give them the same courtesy before altering your appearance permanently. A smooth and suave way to perform said heads up is simply to ask for their opinion and suggestion. Picture this: While having a leisurely cup of coffee on a sunny weekend, you break the decision to the more agreeable one of them (one-on-one is only fair) that you’re planning on getting a tattoo to commemorate an important event in your life, and ask for inspiration on how best to manifest it in ink. Boom. In one smooth swipe, you have made it clear that it has been decided, yet at the same time, you’re asking out of respect for their role as your parent, and for guidance and insight. Sure, it’s probably not going to be followed by overwhelming support perhaps, but it could work very well to contain whatever initial objections that would be triggered reflexively by the feeling of exclusion.

Yves aka the_yvesdropper

Looks aside, many brave souls seeking to be engraved will likely encounter emphatic disagreements in the form of heartfelt (even tearful) laments of “I just don’t get why you would want to ruin your beautiful skin!” The inability to understand why one would voluntarily get stabbed a million times and risk the possibility of infection and complications in recovery is not totally unfathomable. It’d be absolutely terrible to contract a pathogen through recycled needles or lousy hygiene. Hence it is of utmost importance to ensure that the studio or artist takes their hygiene standards seriously and professionally. There are plenty of resources available regarding these points so it is quite easy to clear this requirement. This will also help in getting others who may disagree with your choice to feel more comfortable.

Nelsan Binnie

The pain and suffering part is another ballgame. As we’ve agreed in the beginning - nothing really worth doing is easy and comfortable. I tend to see the prolonged discomfort and pain as an absolutely crucial part of the tattoo process. I am all for people having the freedom to do unto themselves so long as no others are hurt, but perhaps we’d all be a little better off with personal constraints to consider before hasty decisions. Having the “man, is this gonna be worth 3 hours of pain?” nagging at us via the most instinctive fear of pain might just put off the questionable urge of having that Hey There Delilah verse done in cursive across the chest (no judgments though, bro). The gravity of a decision speaks for itself when one is willing to sit through hours of mild to intense suffering in order to bring it to fruition. You have to really want it to deal with the pain, and this is something you can remind your parents, or partners, of when talking to them about this decision.

Tess Holliday

So, how does one assuage the tender pangs of a worried mother, or perhaps address the protective concerns that “tainted skin” may affect job prospects?

1. Prep Work: Show that you are fully informed, be it through the knowledge of possible health risks and proper research for the studio/artist of choice, or in expressing your awareness and willingness to put up with the pain. This display of forethought and preparation dispels the conception that your decision is merely a hasty and rash impulse. Add a sprinkle of appreciation for the concern and you’ll soothe even the most hypochondriac mother.

2. Pragmatism: That’s right, war tactics. If you can’t convince them from the get-go, make concessions and choose your battles. Specifically, for job concerns (say, those of you who want to teach English in Japan), such concessions may prove to be crucial. You also don’t want to be limited to long sleeves and pants in the equatorial heat and humidity of Singapore while handling a class of 15 hyperactive ten-year-olds.

Ruben aka rubythabandit

Coming from a traditional Asian upbringing, I feel the need to address the cultural and religious implications that may clash with one’s decision to be inked. We’ve learned from the cultural heritage of tattooing that these etchings can have very tangible meanings and dire connotations. Through a variation in interpretation then, a blessing may be seen as a curse.

An ethnically Chinese colleague from Malaysia tells me that her mother, who’s typically averse to tattoos in general, would absolutely forbid any of her siblings to tattoo a figure on their backs. She believes that such a tattoo will gradually possess its wearer and drain away the sovereignty of the person. As ridiculous and superstitious as this may sound to some, it is part and parcel with the symbolic power and mystery of the tattoo heritage.

TJ aka renegades_

As such, for someone who respects the guiding wisdom and identity bestowed upon us through cultures and traditions, but nevertheless questions its rules and practices with a critical eye - I offer no answers but questions. It is not always procrastination to leave problems unsolved, especially in a world with far fewer foolish questions than foolish answers. The personal dialogues that will be elicited through such contentions will prove valuable in the understanding of our individual selves, our cultural identities, and our relationship with tattoos. A tattoo is not merely a logical or technical discipline; there is the important aspect of expression that extends beyond the realm of logic and rationality. When you feel all efforts to justify this ineffable compulsion is futile, remember to turn your attention towards exploring the workings of the psyche. It’s on you to listen to your inner being reveal what is required for its nourishment, and if that includes tattoos, you have every right to embrace that mode of expression. Your body is your own.

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