Divorce tattoos: a worrying trend
"Life goes on."
Heard the story about the woman who gets a star, heart or butterfly tattoo after her divorce to signify her new life? Of Course. That's fairly standard. But the new divorce tattoo trend is a tad more disturbing. Young women are now inking what some might call dark messages in large letters across their skin. Perhaps the initial thought was to inspire and encourage them to get through what would be a tough time, but what is left is a permanent reminder of emotional turmoil. Almost like a battle scar. They then post their new tattoo on social media platforms such as Tumblr, Pinterest and Instagram with the hashtag divorcetattoo. Is this normal behaviour or a worrying trend?
Some of the tattoos are positive, such as "Free yourself", but others can be quite depressing. With phrases such as "Sometimes you need to let things go" and "Always a lesson never a failure", are they permanently marking their transient, fragile emotional state onto their body? Is the tattoo going to remind them of the pain they went through for the rest of their life?
Getting a tattoo is a personal decision and one that should be made with a clear head. But when you are making that decision with the heavy fog of divorce clouding your mind, is the wrong choice inevitable?
George*, who works at a tattoo parlour in Sydney, says he and his colleagues often try to dissuade people from getting tattoos they might regret.
"A lot of women come in for divorce tatts," he says. "It used to be a star or heart, but now we’re seeing women ask for a saying instead."
From time to time, they even get someone who wants a tattoo of their ex-husband’s name, "but we definitely try and talk them out of that!" George says.
Do men ever ask for an expression to herald the end of their relationship?
"No," he says. "Only women. A lot of the time it’s harmless – something uplifting and cute that will make them feel happy, but you do get people in who want something quite negative written on their shoulder and are adamant about it. The most popular are things like 'This too shall pass', or the Bible phrase, Philippians 4:13, 'I can do all things through Him who gives me strength'."
They do not want the phrase to be small or hidden either. "We’re talking large letters on their backs, shoulders and inner forearms," George says.
Not exactly something you can hide from a new partner without having to go through the whole story of your divorce. But is that the point? Some people consider tattoos as telling the tale of their life, and if that is the case then perhaps a momentous occasion such as a divorce should be documented.
Kate, 39, came out of a marriage in whichshe suffered domestic violence.
"I got the tattoo after he was arrested," she says. Her tattoo is a Celtic symbol with three bars that mean survivor, strength and unity.
"Every time I look at my wrist I’m reminded of it as a learning experience," Kate, who is now happy in another relationship, says. "Life throws you lemons and you have to keep moving through. It also helps me to help others. I often get asked what it means and when I tell them, I’ve had women break down and share that they were going through domestic violence too, and I’ve been able to help them."
The thing about tattoos is that they are permanent. Removing them costs thousands of dollars, takes months, and does not always completely work. So committing a large space on your body to a phrase that may only apply for a relatively short time is concerning. Instead of being inspiring and helping to get through the hard times, it could bring negative reminders back into play. Repeatedly. Forever. And what happens when you find a new partner? Or get another, bigger, more painful divorce?
Perhaps we should all take a leaf out of Cher’s book. The rumour is that every time she went out with a guy, she would tattoo his name on her bottom. When they broke up, she would cover it with a rose, creating a rose garden. That has got to be less emotionally painful and much prettier than getting a #divorcetattoo and posting it on social media.
*Not his real name.