Anna Sadovskaya: Tatted up for commitment

By Anna Sadovskaya, Fine Arts Columnist
Published October 8, 2012

Peeking out from underneath her coral sundress was a long, fiery dagger.

It was casually placed, adding a touch of danger to her otherwise pastel outfit. The blade swept up her neck, edging dangerously close to her cropped head. Stray ivy, wound around the hilt, crept across her shoulder blades, seemingly growing from her skin.

Fearlessly demonstrating mythical prowess, the tattoo shone as a beacon of rebellion, an homage to those brave enough to take the plunge and commit to something — anything — for longer than a second.

“No” is the way conversations always end when it comes to body art. “No, Anna,” my mom would say, throwing me the evil eye. And even though I’ve always wanted a small, simple tattoo, they’re all fiery, ivy-clad daggers to my parents.

Negative associations with body art started long before prison gang tats and biker ink. Associated with folklore and racism, body art has been generally cast off as a delinquent identifier since the 19th century in North America and Europe. But tattoos go back further than that — all the way to Neolithic times, when they were used as a healing technique, a Eurasian practice mimicking acupuncture.

Now widespread, the art of tattooing is embraced and encouraged by younger generations. Redefining the art, professional tattoo artists boast high-quality indelible ink and painless procedures. Whether it’s a drunken dare, a meaningful symbol or an “I’m really bored, am I boring? Oh god, I am,” getting to a tattoo parlor has never been simpler. And committing to ink is a lot easier when you don’t know what permanence feels like.

“I think I want a butterfly flying over a rainbow,” said some girl, somewhere. And now she has that exact image emblazoned on her lower back.

“Can I get the number 42? Yeah, like, I’m the answer to life. Get it?” said my friend the other day. Now he has a magenta 42 on his calf.

You can get whatever you can imagine designed on your skin as a permanent reflection of the way you felt in a single moment — therein lies the problem.

“Anna, I’m going to tell you something really, really important,” said my mother’s coworker, fanning herself from the August heat. She whispered to me the secret location of her tattoo, a green fairy she got over 20 years ago.

“It’s so important that you never get a tattoo, because someday you’re going to look at it and think, ‘Good God, I’m an idiot.’ ” I teetered from the alcohol on her breath and smiled, excusing myself from the patio. My mother knows how to throw parties, but she won’t allow a tattoo.

There are plenty of semi-permanent things in life: black hair dye, knock-off Sharpie markers and your Facebook relationship status. But tattoos are an embodiment of eternal vows. They don’t get up and leave when your skin starts to sag and your wrinkles increase. They stay with you until the end, going through the wear and tear of life along with you.

Eternal companions, tattoos become a source of terror for some: picking the right design, placement, colors. All of a sudden, you’re tearing out your hair, worried that your future workplace will one day host a beach volleyball tournament and everyone will see your love for dolphins on your upper thigh.

Suddenly, it’s less of a personal choice than a statement: Getting something lame is only acceptable if it’s ironic. Tattooing your mom’s name is not ironic. Coming up with a coolness factor adds to the stress. It’s much easier to keep getting those 25-cent temporary tats while you get your shit together.

Tattoos are a relationship. And in the monogamy-fearing culture of University students, it’s a surprise that tattoos are so prominent. Are you really going to love Justin Bieber in 15 years? I sincerely hope not. But something continues to draw people to ink. Whether due to street cred or for bragging rights, tattoos are becoming less of a taboo and more of an art form.

I have a secret: I’m going to go against my mom’s wishes and get a tattoo. I’ve always wanted a tattoo of the snake eating an elephant from Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s “The Little Prince.” That’s all I’ve wanted — a small, simple snake eating an elephant. And even though it looks like a hat, and maybe no one else will get it, like any other relationship, I’m willing to take the next step — I’m committing to commitment and I’m not going back.