If you do not like tattoos, do not look at them - Argus Monday 10th August 2015

Posted Monday 21st September 2015   By Ericka Waller

SO I was in a tattoo parlour in Kemp Town waiting to get some work done. There were two other girls in there with me. One was a voluptuous blonde sitting in her bra, chatting away excitedly. Next to her was a slim, quiet brunette, clutching her shirt to her shoulders. She had booked in for a back tattoo and the artist was telling her she would have to remove the shirt first. She looked nervous, and as she shed her top, I saw why. She was covered in scars from self-harm. “Don’t worry” she said “It was just a bout of depression.”

I tried to rearrange my face from pity to indifference, as if I had not noticed.

And then on the end bench, was me. I was having a full sleeve tattoo done. Why?

Because I have battled with my own anxiety issues. I have looked in the mirror and hated who I saw.

Three large children left me scarred and ‘imperfect’.

For a long time I bought creams and wraps and tried to make my body one flawless piece.

Then I realised it was never going to happen, and that is when I saw my true beauty.

My body can tell you all sorts of stories. Having a tattoo is a scar I chose to wear.

Next to me, the girl went on to explain that it was having her first tattoo done that stopped her from self-harming.

She made a promise to herself that the day it was done was the last day she harmed, and she stuck to it.

One in five British people have tattoos, and the trend is growing. The first tattoo I ever saw was on my grandad’s arm.

He had ‘Hilda’ proudly displayed under his regimental badge. I remember it well, because my grandma is called Kathleen, not Hilda.

We were never allowed to ask about it, so for a long time I thought it was the name of a famous battle he was in.

A lot of the older boys in my town have tattoos courtesy of the converted mobile ambulance that pulled up outside the pub at 11pm on a Friday night and could do ‘anything you liked for a tenner’.

My friend Terry still dearly regrets his ‘love and hat’ knuckle inking, since that industrial accident (that cost him a finger).

David Beckham has 41 tattoos, to date. He has been voted sexiest man alive Lord knows how many times. But on the street, non-famous people are hindered by their henna.

A report last year for the British Sociological Association (BSA) found that managers frequently expressed negative views about their noticeably tattooed staff. Words like ‘untidy’ ‘unsavoury’ and ‘repugnant’ were used to describe tattooed people.

In Japan it’s common for tats to be banned from workplaces, gyms and even water parks.

In the British military, you still cannot have tattoos on your hands. In the US army, you cannot have them on your lower arms, lower legs or above the neckline. Samantha Cameron would not be able to join the regiment with the ‘cheeky’ dolphin she had done on her foot.

My friend Maurice remembers his ‘para’ mates having a few jars before ironing off a tattoo so they could go on a decent mission.

Tattoos are often deeply personal to the wearer.

The choice to have tattoos them done doesn’t come lightly (unless drunk). For them to be prejudged by others who have zero understanding of their meaning is yet another sad example of our hypercritical society.

I have friends who have feathers for grief, cyclists who have ‘come on legs’ to motivate them. My own tattoo bears an 'A' engraved in a tree for someone I loved and lost.

Who are people to judge me on this?

As a nation we provide everything people need to practise their beliefs, mosques, temples, churches, yet we cannot accept people who choose to wear their belief as a sleeve.

A tattoo is no different to a burqa or a habit. It is an expression of who we are.

Telling those of us with tattoos to cover up is a foolhardy way to feel in control of us.

They fact we chose to mark ourselves shows we know far more about control.

The only thing we can command are our bodies and our minds. My tattoos give me strength. They remind me where I have been and where I am going and who I want to be .

If you don’t like them don’t look at them.

Tattoos are in fashion, and they are not going anywhere any time soon. They are no longer just for punks and pop stars. Dislike and disapproval will not make them fade away. We need embrace this development, like we did with mobile phones and electric showers.

Because beauty after all is only skin deep.

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