More and more people are getting tattoos, so perhaps it is not surprising that more and more people are getting tattoos removed.
This near-permanent form of body art demands dedication. You have to go through pain to receive a tattoo, and then you also have to feel devoted to the tattooed image, which will draw all sorts of attention your way. The message a tattoo conveys is seen as your message.
Many people find that eventually a tattoo they once felt very enamored of no longer feels like it belongs on their skin. This is particularly true of tattoos acquired when very young or very drunk. Other sorts of tattoos carry a stigma with them — gang or prison tattoos fall into this category.
Then there are the tattoos that proclaim the name of the object of one’s affections. The shelf-life of such tattoos obviously lasts only as long as the relationship. A tattoo artist tells me of a woman who comes to see him every time she changes boyfriends: She has a string of men’s names down her arm, and she just gets the last one crossed out before adding the new one.
A misspelling is always a danger: In 1999, a Michigan man attempted to sue his tattooist for $25,000 in damages for spelling “villain” as “villian,” leading him to undergo plastic surgery and humiliation. When you’re getting a tattoo as an identity-affirming status symbol, a mistake like that is hard to live down.
In these days of serial marriages, the tattooed wedding ring pictured in British Vogue in December 1997 must be the most blindly fate-tempting, foolhardy tattoo ever dreamed up.
Pain notwithstanding, getting a tattoo is much easier and less costly than getting rid of one. It is possible to remove or alter a tattoo, but removal is expensive, sometimes only partially effective, usually painful, and alteration, unless expertly done, can leave a result that resembles a bad doodle.
It is an obvious and straightforward equation: Tattooists are busier than ever, and so are the clinics that offer removals. A friend who works in a U.K. tattoo removal clinic describes the clients that keep their waiting room packed: lots of men with tattooed forearms who are from rough backgrounds but have become respectable businessmen; plenty of young girls with tattoos on their breasts; seemingly prim and proper middle-aged women with tattoos that reveal a very different, lowlife past; Indian women who want extensive tribal tattoos removed; a few teenagers with tattoos on their faces or necks; and young men with crude, badly done amateur tattoos like those done in prison.
A tattoo that took 15 minutes to put on can take hours to remove. I’ve talked to people who spend their lives wearing long-sleeved shirts and camouflaging themselves with makeup rather than go through the ordeal. If you wait long enough, though, most tattoos do fade. And then there are the temporary kid tattoos; these look more realistic all the time.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t get a tattoo. I’m merely suggesting that it’s a decoration deserving of long and careful advance deliberation. And avoid writing anyone’s name on your skin: I’d say that’s a pretty good rule of thumb. Except maybe “Mother” . . .