Inquiring about Tattoos

Bomber_TattooWhen touring a castle in Wales with my 12-year-old daughter, I saw a young lad with this tattoo on his leg (he was wearing shorts).  To my daughter’s dismay (though she is used to this behavior in me), I walked up to the man and asked him what his tattoo meant.  And sure enough, he was glad to share that his tattoo was in memory of his grandfather who died in World War II fighting as a bomber pilot.  Oh, and the words on the tattoo are from Laurence Binyon’s WWI poem “For the Fallen” and for info on the flowers, see here.

I learn a great deal when I ask strangers about their tattoos. I love asking. I feel that if the person’s tattoo is on a visible part of their body, then the person is very willing to discuss it, if asked politely.  And indeed, that has been my experience.

But not every reader may agree with my position.  You may disagree philosophically (ethically or socially) or because you are more shy than I am.

Share your opinion in the poll below, and elaborate in the comments.


Filed under Philosophy & Religion

7 responses to “Inquiring about Tattoos

  1. I believe tattoos are a visible expression of the wearers personality. As tattoos have increased in popularity and become more socially acceptable, it also seems more natural to ask people about their interesting body art. Asking about a tattoo and it’s meaning is a way to express genuine interest in a person and an opportunity to know them deeper.

  2. @ Melanie,
    Thank you so much for sharing — I think you are right. But there is a different spin which I hope to explore later.

  3. Earnest

    When I see patients, of necessity I often see tattoos. I often comment to the patient if I find their art “tasteful” or “inspiring”. I remain silent if the opposite is true. I generally don’t ask about the stories, usually because of time limits for a patient encounter.

  4. @ Earnest:
    Me too Earnest. I only ask if I find the tattoo interesting. Tasteless, generic stuff is never something I ask about. And I only ask when I have time. See my next post.

  5. I accept that tattoos are becoming part of the social norm, and I am trying to get used to them. I appreciate that they are a common means of self-expression now. But I have not been able to get rid of the squick factor in the back of my mind about them. So I will almost never initiate a conversation about someone’s body art; it’s just too uncomfortable a conversation for me.

  6. Earnest

    @ ubi:

    That is the main reason why I don’t have one myself. I make assumptions myself when I see a tattoo on someone’s skin compared to when the skin remains unmarked. It seems to brand someone as, if you will, “below upper class”. If you have a tattoo, try as I might, I find myself unable to avoid making classist assumptions about you.

  7. @ ubi,
    You have struck some interesting points that I am already pursuing. In my next post on “Tattoos and Real Meaning” I touch on a bit. But next I am working on interviewing tattooed folks to make some other points. Please join in then too.

    This post was a test weather balloon.

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