Skin-Deep Sacrifices

We’ve all walked down a string of shops before and passed that familiar looking tattoo parlor. It starts with the sound of constant buzzing from the motorized tattoo gun, as though a swarm of killer bees is stinging some unfortunate victim. Then you look through the window and see the typical glass case in front, housing various bone gauges and earrings while the top is littered with portfolio books. Dragons and resin skulls decorate the walls, and the muffled sounds of heavy metal are heard from inside, and you start to think about that tattoo you’ve wanted for years now. But all the quotes you’ve received are all so expensive and what if you get tired of it in a few years? It would be on you forever! That’s more commitment than marriage or buying a house. That is, unless you get it from Ephemeral Tattoos, a company that has designed a new ink that uses smaller molecules so the body can eventually absorb it into the immune system, creating professional temporary tattoos. They offer 3-month tattoos, 6-month tattoos, or (for “the braver ones”) an entire year. But if three months still seem too long, then you can always go back in and have them trace over it to have it removed immediately. And if you think this new fancy stuff must come with a higher cost, it’s less than standard tattooing. So there you have it! No more excuses or reasons to not get his name inked on your index finger or a woman’s leg tattooed on each side of your hairy armpit. If you guys break up or it’s too vulgar, it’ll just go away soon anyway. And with 36% of young Americans of ages between 18 to 25 to currently have at least one tattoo (Pew Research Center, 2017), that number will likely rise with the emergence of this new ink. Hail to the frivolous.

And while I can understand the convenience of real temporary tattoos in some situations, I can’t help but see this as a cultural loss. The point of body modification is that it’s meant to be a sacrifice. The mother whose son was shot in Iraq getting a memorial tattoo over her heart, a family crest on a man’s chest, a pentacle or a spirit animal on a shoulder, or a tramp stamp of the moon’s phases. It is a sacrifice of money, pain, blood, and skin. It’s not about regretting it when you get old because it’s faded or sagging like everything else on your body, or that the reason behind it may no longer be relevant in time, because how do you know that you’ll live to see that day? How do you know that you won’t die in a car crash tomorrow? It’s about living for today and commemorating that moment in your life and what it meant to you. Now, I can understand if a lover became extremely abusive to you and you’d like your tattoo that represented them to be gone forever, so you won’t have to think of them every time you see it. But that’s when you symbolically and physically turn it into something better by finding a decent cover-up tattoo artist. The same can be said if you simply had a change of heart or the original tattoo was poorly done.

Of course, I may be biased since I am heavily tatted. Getting inked on a monthly basis has caused me to understand the world of tattooing better than I ever thought existed, by just conversing with these artists and getting to know them. Once, I had the opportunity to watch my artist get tattooed by his friend, Maya Sialuk Jacobsen, from Oslo. Maya used to work with tattoo machines until over the years the vibrations from it destroyed her wrist. Her doctor told her “no more tattooing,” and so she changed her tools to the more indigenous style of hand tapping (when one stick taps another that has a needle attached with ink, over and over) and kept on with her passion. As Maya was inking my artist, I asked her what she loved most about her job. She smiled and said, “Popping that young boy’s cherry with his very first tattoo and all the courage he built up to get it. Then a year later, see him come back to get his girlfriend’s name on him. A couple of years go by, and he wants something else important to him on his shoulder, then another and so on, until one day I see him a grown man covered in the stages of his developing identity. Some of them I’ve done, and some by others, but knowing that my work was the beginning for him. That’s what I love.” Seeing her with the hand tapping technique reminded me of how in the old days of some cultures, tattoo artists were a kind of shaman. Before a battle, the warriors would come to them, and the tattoo artists chose the design and placement instead of the other way around, within a religious ceremony. Sometimes this was for the battle, and sometimes it was for the individual, as a rite of passage.

These rites of passages that we sacrifice our skin to are not passive aggressive, they’re scars. Battle wounds. Markers and milestones along the journey. Even a tiny unicorn above the ankle or a tribal armband has a story to tell and a right to its existence in our lives. Permanence should be feared; commitment is scary. But if our bodies always change, leaving all kinds of marks as we age, why can’t we be in control of some of those? And for that matter, why can’t they last even more permanent past our lives? Lately, I’ve been thinking of updating my will from having my body placed in an Earth burial to having my tattooed skin turned into drums -into music. Or hell, I’ve even thought about being taxidermized and passed around loved ones’ homes, forever scaring the snot out of them when they wake up in the middle of the night for a glass of water and forget I’m there. My hopes are that this unique new form of tattoo ink will be grouped with other temporary styles, like Henna, and not affect the culture and experience of getting inked. In all honesty, I believe it will be a phase and not change the ancient and ever-evolving culture of tattooing. That said, if you have a nice stash o’ cash and design in mind but not sure of its placement, then maybe have Ephemeral Tattoos continuously tattoo it on various places until it looks right, and then get it done permanently!

Reference:

Pew Research Center. (2017). Tattooed Gen Nexters. Retrieved from http://www.people-press.org/2007/01/09/a-portrait-of-generation-next/

Five Thirty Eight. (2014). Retrieved from  https://fivethirtyeight.com/datalab/how-many-people-regret-their-tattoos/     

Kansas Stanton

Kansas Stanton is a Naturalistic Neo-Pagan who resides in Seattle, Washington. He belongs to, and practices with, a local group of Reform Pagans and blogs at https://leavesontheroad.wordpress.com/. He also volunteers every year at the Esoteric Book Conference in Seattle and regularly attends various Pagan festivals and events.

He is a full-time student, earning his degree in Environmental Science and a Certificate in Sustainability, after which time he will move on to law school to receive his Juris Doctor in Environmental Law. When Kansas is not in class or working his job in the art industry, he also attends heavy metal concerts both locally and internationally. He is also a vegan outdoorsman who frequents the trails and whitewater rivers of the pacific northwest and loves to spend his time with friends over a cold, dark beer.

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4 Comments on “Skin-Deep Sacrifices

  1. While I can see the commercial appeal of the “ephemeral” tattoos, I agree that it seems a shame to reduce what was always a permanent commitment to something more temporary. I have several tattoos myself and while some of them may not be what I would choose to get today, they still recall who I was at the stage of life when I got them, and that’s important to me. They connect me to the past and to ideas and experiences that have been formative for who I am.

  2. I think it’s great and that the only temporary thing about them will probably be their temporary status. It will give the more timid souls a chance to “try it on” first. Not everyone is the dive right in type. Kind of like living together before you tie the knot.

    • I agree. While I too bemoan the idea of temporary tattoos on one level, I know from my own experience and those of countless others that people very often like having a tattoo, and after getting one soon get more.

      The data tell the same story. If people generally got one and stopped, there would be a lot of people with 1, and very few with 3, 4, or more. Yet we see the opposite, where there are plenty of people with multiple tattoos – for instance, for 18-29 yo, there are more people with many tattoos than just one. Similarly, the data in the linked article shows that only 0.08% of tattooed adults have a tattoo removal in a given year, suggesting that around 97% of tattoos are never significantly regretted.

      • Jon
  3. You’ve neatly summed up what I see as the immense personal (and cultural!) value of tattooing. There’s something about the power of the visceral that begs acknowledgment, honor, and care. Some might see ink as a kind of foreign, imposed, “manipulation,” of the body, but I think it’s worthwhile to see tattooing as one more kind of “art of the self” – like exercise, a special diet, or wearing of special jewelry.
    (I honestly love the idea of a tattooed-human-skin-drum. What a high honor, and what a great way for art to take on multiple “lives”!)

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