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Tatt's the way you want it


Man Scape

A journalist for 20 years and a man for longer, Richard Hughes would never, ever use canned shaving foam.

View more entries from Man Scape

Designs that are well thought out and intensely personal can require significant upkeep.

Designs that are well thought out and intensely personal can require significant upkeep.

It takes summer to get a real picture of just how many people have them. In the wet and (relative) cold of a big city winter you'll spot the odd one peeping out of a collar or cuff, but it's only when the weather warms up and the clothes come off that you really get it.

It seems everyone has a tattoo somewhere. Heels and calves to backs and necks and arms, to places unseen. As I've noted before, how ironic that something meant to make you stand out in a crowd has become so commonplace.

A while ago in this blog, I had this to say about them: "My opinion? They’re stupid, pointless, ugly, ubiquitous, mundane, and a hostage to fortune. If you want body art, buy a Texta."

I kind of still think I was right  - but as with Ronnie Reagan, who once said, when he was proved to have been lying about his dealings with Hezbollah: "My heart and my best intentions still tell me that's true, but the facts and the evidence tell me it is not."

St Paul saw the light just down the road from where Bonzo's favourite bombers now hang out and I've had a bit of a conversion too. It happened like this . . .

I was watching the Graham Norton Show. Channel Ten, the other Sunday night. Comedian Bill Bailey was on.

"I've always been hairy, even as a little kid," Bailey said. "I was like a Tribble. It stopped me getting tattoos. I really wanted tattoos when I was a teenager, as a rite of passage.

"So I went to a tattooist and he looked at all the hair and he said 'The only thing that would work on you would be something you glimpse in a forest, like a panther trapped in a thicket or a woodman's cottage'."

Lots of hair

Men are hairy - in fact, if you look back over the topics of this blog, most of what I've written about is men's hair. And there are still some areas I've yet to have a crack at (no pun intended). We have lots of it, in lots of different places.

Many, many men are getting tattoos and many, many men are hairy, especially in the very places - the arms and legs and chest - where body art is best dispayed.

What do they do? Surely being hirsute can't be an impediment to getting inked - if it was, there'd be far fewer tattooed men - unless they all had designs featuring panthers or cottages. So how you deal with the hair?

Paul's in his 40s, he's got a high-profile job in corporate PR, he's got body art he's very proud of, and he's hairy.

"I keep my arms clean from hair because tattoos are art and art should be seen," he told me. "I use a body trimmer once a fortnight, then shave with a razor and cream."

I might sound stupid but the simplicity and straightforwardness shocked me a bit. I was expecting secrets and potions. Some sort of depilatory cream specially formulated for the hairy tattooed gentleman.

But no, a body trimmer and a shaving razor. It's not like I'd cracked the secrets of the universe, but I was knocked a little bit sideways by the lack of complexity or arcana. And if that was a minor revelation, what he had to say next - and the passion he displayed - changed my opinion about tattoos entirely.

Five years in the making

"I was a late bloomer," Paul admitted. "I started getting them in my 30s. When other men were spending their money on clubbing or cars, I spent mine on tattoos.

"The process is very enjoyable. Mine have been four to five years in the making. A good tattoo artist will do a consultation, look at your body form and ask what sort of imagery you're after, look at styles, then freehand draw with Texta on your body before starting to ink."

Paul was obviously proud of his tattoos. They mean a lot to him. He hadn't chosen them in haste and he didn't seem likely to regret getting them.

That's still my objection to most tattoos - they'll last as long you will - and it seems to me too few people choose them with care.

"It's lots of work [but] if you just walk in to the sort of tattooist where you can pick a pattern off the wall then you're asking for trouble," he said.

Paul's tattoos cover his arms and chest but they are very much not the footballer's friend - the 'sleeve'. They're 'meaningful', he says. Patterns and words that matter to him now and given that he was old enough to think hard about it to begin with and took the time time to achieve the art he was after, not something he seems likely to ever regret.

Why jump on the tattoo bandwagon? Disfiguring yourself for the sake of fashion or a passing fad seems foolish, but getting something you can live with, something you'll always be proud of, seems worth all of the time and trouble in the world.

Stupid, pointless, ugly and ubiquitous still pretty much sums up what I feel about tattoos, but Paul made me think about those few whose body art is part of them. Not just skin deep, but soul deep.

Tattoos. We could go on and on. And we have. But how much effort and time would you put into them? Hours and minutes, or years and decades? And what do you do about body hair?

136 comments so far

  • I don't have a single tat and yet I still feel like an individual. I don't feel the need to get one and I don't have a problem with them as such. What I do have a problem with is the way someone will have for example a polynesian swirl on one arm, a Japanese character on his pec, angels wings on his back and barbed wire round his bicep. He may see it all as art and they may be well done but there is no meaning to mixing up all those art forms - yet this is what we see all the time. Its ugly. There is no other way of saying it.

    Tat's done in a coordinated thought out way can be beautiful and artistic (although I still have a problem with their permanence as tastes change both by the inked and by the viewer). Why do people do such terrible things to their body?

    Uninked and Happy
    Date and time
    February 26, 2013, 2:27PM
    • Well said, I quite like tatts although i dont have many and would love more, BUT, the biggest problem i have is seeing so many people out the with just terrible artwork and mismatching designs inked on in randon places which appears to have no thought of layout or anything, this is what gives tattoos a bad name.

      Date and time
      February 26, 2013, 3:29PM
    • 'No meaning' according to who? You?
      Why does they have to 'mean' anything at all? What business is it of yours why someone else has chose the art that they have chosen?
      Why do you wear the hairstyle that you have? Why do you drive the car that you drive?

      Date and time
      February 26, 2013, 4:36PM
    • Agree entirely Neddysmith on the mismatch issue, if you are going to go for more than a single tatt, you should plan in advance and try and maintain some stylistic integrity. I have 17 sak yant (Thai traditional tattoos on my back and upper arms - each has a meaning and before getting any new ones I photoshop them onto a picture of my back and arms to see how they will integrate with what I already have. If they look duff I try something else. Working on the next three now :-)

      Date and time
      February 26, 2013, 4:38PM
    • @Skidmark

      I'm not sure if you are being perverse or argumentative but I think you are being unnecessarily sensitive. Those that have tats that they are showing off are asking those that are viewing to see them and judge them. What we are saying are that those that have tats that are not coordinated nor well done are not artwork and are plain ugly. They may have meaning to the person (and I sincerely hope they do although I doubt it in many cases) but to the viewer, as the body canvas walks by, it just looks a mess and we can only think "Looser".

      Uninked and Happy
      Date and time
      February 26, 2013, 5:47PM
    • I have different styles, to you they would have no meaning but they represent different countries I have lived in and their native art

      Tyrone Biggums
      Date and time
      February 27, 2013, 7:03AM
    • I have lots of amazing memories and experiences too. I don't need a tattoo to remind me of them though, they are firmly in my memory. I don't care what others do, but I can't think of anything I want tattooed on my body for the rest of my life!!

      Date and time
      February 27, 2013, 12:32PM
    • We don't care if you don't have tatts. The articles not about you.
      It's about tattoos and the people who have them.
      Not everything is about you and your need for acceptance.

      Concerned Aussie
      Western Sydney.
      Date and time
      January 06, 2015, 4:56PM
  • Interesting article.
    I think the real story is a comparison of 35+ years ago compared to today ie who gets tattoos & why?
    35+ years ago criminals, delinquents & blue collar workers got them as part of their group.
    You were from the wrong side of the tracks, so to speak.
    People who didn't get tattoos eyed them in almost disgust.

    Now, they are as commonplace as sunglasses eg nearly everyone has some.

    I wonder how tattoos will impact trends in the next decade, coz I never would have guessed it would be as it is now.

    BtW. I have upper arm murals which are now 35 years old. I have regretted them for 30 years.
    Although my family and friends never seemed to have regretted theirs, and some still get more, some people I know who have tattoos and say they still love them are liars...

    So far, I have successfully warned my sons from the idea of getting tattoos.
    Yes, they are forever.

    Gee Emm
    Date and time
    February 26, 2013, 2:38PM
    • I still haven't lost the reaction I had from 35+ years ago - extensive ink is ugly to me, I turn my eyes away from them, and judge the wearer badly. A lot of ink is a big regret waiting to happen.

      Date and time
      February 27, 2013, 6:44AM

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