Thursday, June 28, 2007

Women & Tatts

It all comes down to Cher. Back in 1972 when she was 27 years old and newly separated from Sonny, she got her first tattoo:
"I thought it would be something different, a statement of freedom. Good girls didn't have tattoos then, no one was doing it...It was really the first step of an experiment to state making decisions on my own....I had made so few real decisions that I was bound to be bad at it. I was right."
Now all the A-list (and A-wannabe) celebrities are inking their bodies. The tattoo has become a female fashion accessory, rather than the rite of passage. It's no longer taboo, but still a little risque– different but accepted. It's almost difficult to name an actress who hasn't got a tatt. Everybody's doing it, from girl-next-door Jennifer Aniston to Bay-babe Pamela Anderson.

The subject matter of body art has undergone a revolution of sorts. The old stereotype of sailors and marines – and who doesn't know an aging WWII veteran with a blurry rendering on his bicep – are of a generation who never dreamed of finding their own name tattooed across the flesh of their stateside sweetheart. Today that's all changed. Women are elbowing out young men to get in the door of the tattoo parlor. In a recent survey, 22% of the UMass undergraduate women sports a tatt, twice the rate of the male students.

While "Mom" and the names of sexual partners still rank high in frequency and gang symbols are widespread amongst the prison-bound populace, the upsurge is in young women. Estimates are as high as 36% of all American women ages 21-32 now sport a tattoo. They seem to be indulging in tattooing as more of a journal of sorts. And the celebrity women are no exception. According to Angelina Jolie:
"Usually all my tattoos came at good times. A tattoo is something permanent when you've made a self-discovery, or something you've come to a conclusion about."
Okay, not counting the blue-tongued dragon she got when she was drunk and dropped trou in Australia a few years back (now covered by the black cross/dagger handle). Perhaps the most prominently tattooed actress today, Jolie has 13 tatts at last count and several older ones that were converted or removed. She has stated she’s just a “punk kid with tattoos” at heart, but dressed and strutting the red carpet, she is radiating more of a regal tribal look these days.

Some stars go so far as wearing it, literally, on their wrist. Not satisfied with a cement star in the sidewalk, Eva Longoria and Ashlee Simpson both sport small black outlined stars on their left wrists. Victoria Beckham has five stars on her lower back. Perhaps it’s part of the Michelin rating system?

And then there are those who want to commemorate their childhood. Nicole Richie sports a pair of ballerina slippers, as if her father’s composing Ballerina Girl for her wasn’t enough. But the little pair of angel wings on her back? You decide. Christina Ricci decided on having Aslan, the lion god of Narnia tattooed onto her left scapula to symbolize her emancipation from a hellish childhood – and seven more to go with it.

And then there are those fans that just go in for having the star himself as the tattoo: elaborate celebrity images are getting more and more popular. Reminds one a bit of those edible photographic sheet cakes.

This young female demographic is characterized by a certain exuberance of spirit that settles down as it approaches strapless wedding gowns and steady jobs. And tattoo removal. In the good old days, you died with your tattoos. Or you traded them in for horrific scars. Before the advent of lasers, a variety of treatments were tried: dermabrasion or skin sanding, X-ray treatments, chemical peel, liquid nitrogen, dry ice or CO2 'snow,' flesh-colored over-tattooing. The most common method? Surgical excision and skin grafting of the hole left behind. It wasn’t pretty.

The advent of medical laser technology has changed all that. Tattoos are created by placing drops of ink under the skin via a needle (hopefully). A Q-switched Nd: YAG laser is the one most often used to remove tattoos and other pigmented or discolored skin. The high-intensity light beam penetrates the dermis and is absorbed by the ink, vaporizing the pigment colors. It feels like rubber bands snapping against the skin. Hard. Over and over. The lymphatic system (the body’s natural filtering system) clears the dissolved particles of ink pigment. A tattoo that cost a few hundred dollars could require several thousand dollars and many laser sessions to remove.

Bright green, yellow and red inks are most difficult to remove. A new tattoo technology is available starting this fall called Freedom-2, a type of ink encapsulated in beads and designed to break up after one treatment with a special laser. It will be interesting to see if this 'removable' tattoo changes what and how often people adorn their bodies with images.

Tattoo removal clinic chains are making their mark or erasing it, so to speak: Dr. Tattoff, Tat2BeGone and Tattoo MD sprung into being on the West coast. Many states don't regulate tattooists or tattoo parlors, but do regulate medical lasers. These tattoo removal clinic chains are most often staffed by nurses. In other locales laser removal is supervised by physicians: plastic surgeons, dermatologists, or practically any physician with a laser payment to make.

Angelina Jolie has spent time in the doctor's procedure room: ex-husband Billy Bob's moniker has been lasered and the real estate tattooed over with the longitude and latitude of each of her four children. And Cher? At 61, she now thinks tattoos are "just plain stupid" and is in the process of getting them all removed.

In the final analysis, young women getting tattooed may be all about empowerment.

And power is really sexy.

What do you think? Click on the envelope icon and send us your thoughts.


(Okay, this last tattoo is made up.)


Want This Look? A professional tattoo can be had for under $100, and one that costs a few hundred dollars could require several thousand dollars and many laser sessions to remove. Dr. Tattoff charges $39 per square inch of tattoo for each treatment. Full removal takes an average of eight treatments, spaced at least a month apart, using different Q-switched lasers for different-colored inks.

3 comments:

Rory said...

It can be tough to get a job as well.http://www.chicagotribune.com/business/la-fi-tattoo5jul05,0,6766373.story?coll=chi-bizfront-hed

What are some of the more outrageous pieces of body art work people put on their canvases?

ANNE said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
ANNE said...

I think "Puff the Magic Dragon" takes the prize. Outrageous is an understatement! Tell me what you think: http://allthingscool.wordpress.com/2008/03/11/puff-the-magic-dragon/