Tattoos: from rebel to conformist

Who decides where to draw the line?

When Vernon personal trainer Stacy Fuhr completed her first sprint triathlon in May 2002, she celebrated by getting a tiny red and orange sunburst tattoed inside her right ankle.

“It represents my accomplishment of something I was very nervous to attempt. It reminds me I can do anything if I put my mind to it and prepare properly.”

And, she’s not alone. More and more women are expressing themselves with skin art in various forms. At 65, Silver Star resident Patti Wild hiked the 780-kilometre Camino de Santiago trail in Spain.

“I promised myself if I finished I would get a tattoo of the shell of St. James, the symbol of the route, on the outside of my ankle. Every time I look at it I am forever grateful for my feet that allowed me to complete that incredible journey.”

Women today are increasingly becoming more comfortable in their own skin, unafraid to express themselves, revel in their successes and demonstrate their inner strength by succumbing to the tattoo artist’s needle.

I kept wondering if I should follow suit, be brave, make the game-changing move. Except for one huge problem. I’m terrified of needles. Sure I get shots for flu and travelling, but those are necessary. This was not.

I figured if I wanted a tattoo I should go to the best. So a few years ago, when I was 65, during a visit to San Francisco, I strolled into an iconic joint, Lyle Tuttle’s Tattoo and Museum. Inspired at the age of 10 by the tattoos of the servicemen returning from WWII, Tuttle later opened his shop in 1949 in the trendy North Beach area. I loved the choices of designs plastered floor to ceiling on the walls, but watching men and women in the process of being inked made my stomach turn. No tat for me.

But, look around. Apparently, lots of women have braved the painful experience. And, the cost. Sure those tiny tats often preferred by mature women can be completed quickly with minimal discomfort and are reasonably priced but what about those entire-arm or leg designs? It seems younger women are willing to up the ante and pay the price. Called sleeves, covering an entire appendage, usually, one arm, the intricate and often colourful designs are completed over several sessions and can cost up to $4,000. I’d rather have a trip abroad but to each his own.

“Each session takes two to three weeks to heal,” says Mikaela Decoffe, 25, from Vernon’s Just for You Salon as she shows me her fully-decorated right arm.

“It makes me feel empowered, artsy and a bit badass,” she says with a grin.

Her colleague Helene Smidesang, 24, has chosen to place her mother’s lips and the names and birthdates of family members on her arm. “I’m not very verbal. This is the way I show my love,” she says. While I appreciate the art and the sentiment, I have to draw the line at the sleeve concept. Maybe it’s the idea of all that needle time or perhaps how they might feel about a possibly wrinkled sleeve fifty years from now. Or, what if they want a job in a more conservative industry?

Tattoos remain a contentious issue, a rite of passage, a topic of heated discussions in coffee shops, bars and around kitchen tables. While most of us have come a long way from associating tattoos with criminals or biker gangs, I’ve got to say I still prefer the understated elegance of a tiny hummingbird discreetly peeking out from just below the bikini line. Maybe when I’m 80.

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