Why Do We Really Get Tattoos?: A dimwitted theory by a fashion commentator

Warning: If you aren’t in the mood for a long-winded rant, you might want to skip this post. Being labelled as a member of a “sick and twisted cult” made it hard for me to hold back.

I ran across this article about a month ago and starting drafting a lengthy comment, but realized that it would quickly be lost and buried among the other 4000+ comments on the site, so I shelved it for a new blog post.

Simon Doonan might just give Lisa Khoury a run for her money when it comes to insulting tattoo articles. His latest opens with a brief story about a recent trip to Florida where he felt like the only person on the beach without tattoos. Rather than stating this in simple terms, he crafted the following statement:

I am the only personage on the beach whose epidermis is unadorned with tattoos. Everyone is inked up except moi.”

I’m not sure if he is going for humor here, but everything about this statement comes off as smug and condescending to me and sets the tone for the rest of the article. The use of the word personage alone was enough to give me pause, but he is obviously trying hard to sound sophisticated and witty. I guess I can forgive him for mistakenly thinking tattoo ink is applied to the epidermis, but the rest of the statement is extremely annoying.

According to the FDA, more than 45 million Americans are now tatted up. This past weekend, they all hit the Florida beaches and pointed jeering tattooed fingers at yours truly. To these folks I am a combo of loser and nemesis, a rebellious nonparticipant in their sick and twisted cult.

2 years ago, I was in this exact same situation while visiting the Jersey Shore. It was just before I started getting tattooed and I really did feel like the only person on the beach without a tattoo. But, not once did I feel like any of the tattooed people were looking down at me or pointing fingers at me for being ink free. Not once did I feel like a loser, nemesis or an outsider to their “cult”. This is a blatantly false assumption on the author’s part, because he, like many others, feels like he is capable of reading the minds of everyone who has a tattoo.

He then goes on to call himself a hero and “the last heroic holdout”, for bucking the trend and refusing to get inked. I’m sorry, but not doing something doesn’t make you a hero. And not doing something just so you can brag about it and call yourself a hero, makes you a douchebag.

Next up is more, made up, over-simplified, nonsense and assumptions about the reasons why people used get tattoos and how that meaning has been lost in recent years.

In the past there was one reason, and one reason only, to ink up: A tattoo confirmed your status as a scary outsider rebel carny outlaw sociopath. “Don’t mess with me because I am insane,” was the intended message.

Cut to today: Having a tattoo has lost its original meaning. Having a tattoo now has no meaning. Having a tattoo means that you have a tattoo.

I’ll get back to that later, but first I need to talk about the 4 “compelling reasons” the author gives for not getting a tattoo, written in various languages, presumably as another failed attempt to show his wit.

1. Tempus fugit
2. Money fugit, too

The first 2 go hand-in-hand. Tattoos are a waste of time and money. But can’t this argument be used against just about any hobby? People spend their time and money on whatever it is that makes them happy. Some people play golf every weekend, and spend thousands on clubs, lessons and memberships to the country club. Some spend every free moment of their time restoring old cars that they never have any intention of driving. Yet another group of people feel the need to spend $39,000 on a Backpack or $12,000 for a jacket, as Mr. Doonan previously wrote about. How can you criticize people for spending their money on tattoos when so much money is spent on clothing and accessories?

3. Wilkommen, bienvenue Hep C
With a mix French and incorrectly spelled German, he brings up Hep C which is virtually non-existent in professional tattoo shops. I’m still not convinced.

4. Pain
For this argument he talks about inmates on his favorite TV show, Lock-Up and how they were in pain during their tattoos.

What did I learn from reading this paragraph?

Tattoos hurt, hardened criminals are capable of feeling physical pain, and Simon Doonan spends way too much time watching Lock-Up on MSNBC. What I still haven’t seen is a compelling reason not to get a tattoo.

Finally, we get to the point where Simon reveals his theory on tattoos.

Here is my theory: Tattooing is no longer just tattooing. It’s a culturally sanctioned form of delicate cutting. Participants, i.e. everyone on Earth apart from me, are seeking an antidote to the numbed feelings and detachment that result from their idiotically screen-centered lives. If you look at Facebook, play video games and online Scrabble, and/or scour Slate 24 hours a day, you will eventually reach a freaky plateau of desensitized unreality. You will crave the enlivening, awakening, back-to-reality release which comes from the jabbing pain of a tattoo needle.

In my opinion, this little theory of his could not be further from the truth. If someone was truly looking for a way to inflict pain upon themselves to snap them back to reality, why the hell would they choose to do it with a method that left permanent ink on their skin? Why would a person spend time seeking out an artist, researching designs and possibly waiting months for an appointment, just because they crave the pain of getting tattooed? There are much easier, cheaper and far less permanent ways to inflict pain on yourself. If it was truly just about the pain, why not use a tattoo machine with no ink? You could go over the same area as many times as you like and never have to worry about running out of skin real estate.

The reason that I have not fallen down the rabbit hole and paid thousands of dollars to have the word SCRANTON writ large across my botty, is because I do not lead a screen-centered life. I barely know how to turn on my computer, and I carry my phone only when I am expecting bad news.

This is where things get really confusing and the nonsense is really laid on thick. So, Simon Doonan is technologically inept, and that is why he hasn’t “fallen down the rabbit hole” and gotten tattooed. How does this make any sense at all? I guess all of those “hardened psychopathic death row inmates” also lead screen centered lives, which is what lead them to get tattooed. That makes perfect sense to me.

I would like to end by talking about the idea that tattoos have lost their original meaning because they no longer mark you as a “scary outsider rebel carny outlaw sociopath”

To me, this is the best thing that has happened to the tattoo industry since the invention of the electric tattoo machine. It has opened up the idea of tattoos to a vastly larger audience than before. I did not get tattooed with the intention of turning myself into a scary rebel and the fact that these stigmas have begun to fade over time is one of the reason I have tattoos today.

The other issue I have with a statement like this is the fact that the original meaning of the tattoo was not a rebellious one. They were used in rituals, used as a form of healing, and used for purely ornamental purposes. The first tattoos in the U.S. appeared on sailors after they encountered the native people of the South Pacific. Nowhere in history can I find an account of tattoos being used for the purpose of marking oneself as an outsider.

If you decided to get a tattoo with that intention in mind, sorry to break it to you, but you are 30 years too late. Tattoos today are everywhere and no longer automatically mark you as a second class citizen, at least in the eyes of most rational human beings. If you truly want a tattoo to declare your insanity to the world, I would recommend getting one across your forehead that says, “Don’t mess with me because I am insane.” I think that would send the intended message.

The rest of us, who just happen to like tattoos, will continue to get inked while leading normal, productive lives just like everyone else.


  1. Nikki says

    Non tattooed people care if you have tattoos, Tattooed people on the other hand could care less if you don’t have them. I don’t judge someone on the beach for their lack of tattoos, truthfully I barely notice, or maybe I notice them because they are staring at me like an idiot due to my tattoos…

  2. branwyn says

    What an odd gentleman the author of the article discussed in this post seems to be, his paranoia, feelings of alienation and being ‘clean’ among the contaminated, his use of made up words and delusions of grandure smack of some major mental illnesses. I have encountered people like him onwards I worked during my psych.nurse placement

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