The Skin You’re In

For those of you who think tattoos are ugly, shameful, sinful, evil or otherwise horrifying, please stop reading now. Ok, don’t stop reading (I love my audience!), but please, let’s all try to get along.

I have noticed that young people have a lot more tattoos than I ever expected to see. Not only are the tattoos clearly on display, they are large and intricate. Many are beautiful and meaningful pieces of art, while others are, well … not. But beauty is in the eye of the beholder after all, so who am I to judge? I got my first tattoo at the age of eighteen, and now, almost exactly twenty years later, I’ve just had it covered up. It was faded and old and made me feel faded and old, which got me thinking about the new tattoo trends and how much things have changed.

Twenty years ago I walked into a tattoo studio on Queen Street West in Toronto, chose a tiny rose from the pictures on the wall, sat down and had my life changed forever. I loved my tattoo; it was bold, exciting, rebellious and pretty, just like I felt when I was 18. At the time, not many girls in my world were tattooed and I never thought that I would tire of the red petals or that they would fade away in style and intensity. But that’s the thing about tattoos — they fade. Styles have changed in the past 20 years, as have techniques and even inks. Artists can do so much more now and the results are breathtaking.

If I could tell my 18-year-old self something (well there’s a long list, but something about tattoos), all I would say is “think about it a bit longer.” I don’t regret any of my tattoos, and some serve as markers for moments in my life I want to remember, but I do wish I’d been more thoughtful with the designs. If you (or, GASP, your teen) are considering permanent ink, here’s some food for thought.

1. Tattoos are not clothes or hairstyles or pairs of shoes. You should consider your design for more time than you would spend shopping for a new look. Think of it more like plastic surgery; if you were choosing a new nose would you only spend 15 minutes picking the one you want?

2. Research your artist before the needle marks you for life. Artists all have unique styles and you need to find one that excels in the style you prefer. While my latest work could have been done by another artist whose schedule was open, I chose him because I like his work. Ask to see the artist’s book, check out his or her website, then meet and get to know the artist a little. It’s important that you share the same vision and that you trust the person who is going to be inking you.

3. Don’t just walk into the nearest shop and see who’s free to take walk-ins. You may get the best tattoo on the block, but the best artists have waiting lists for a reason. Start with friends’ recommendations, online reviews and artists’ websites. I have to wait three months to see my tattooist, but it’s worth it. Take that time to fine-tune your design and think carefully about placement.

4. Image is everything. Remember the mullet? Jelly shoes? Justin Bieber? They all seemed really cool at the time, but now they are, well, lame. If you really want a tattoo that says ‘Kickin’ it Gagnam Style’, try to consider that your tastes may change in 20 years. They may not, but think about it for a little longer. Of all my tattoos, I love the flowers the most. They are timeless, pretty, and I still appreciate them as much as I did when I was 20. Now my flowers look more realistic, more beautiful and more vibrant than the ones I had tattooed in the past. For my latest tattoo I picked something that I’ve always loved, that is a big part of who I am as a person and that I think best suits my body. Pinterest is a great place to start researching your tattoo design. Tattoo magazines also offer inspiration. Find lots of pictures of what you like and be clear in proving directions to your artist.

4) Location, location, location. I don’t personally think a tattoo on your face is cool, but that’s just me.  When deciding where to put a design, I have always acknowledged there might be times I would want to cover up my ink. I value the opportunity to cover them when I want. The art itself might also dictate the skin location you choose. For instance, there may not be enough room on your forearm for that portrait of your dog, so your back or shoulder might be a better spot.


5) It hurts. That’s the rite of passage, so be prepared to sit still for a few hours and suck it up.

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