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Joseph Cramer, M.D.: Tattoos, the outdated fashion that never goes away

Published: Monday, April 1 2013 4:51 p.m. MDT

Call me a prude; call me anti-personal freedom of expression, but I do not enjoy tattoos.

I will grant you that they are a popular art form. We see walking canvases all the time. In fact, for some the whole body is a living, breathing, sweating mural.

Admittedly, the drawings may be colorful and intricate, but I am in favor of the natural look. Tattoos are too reminiscent of branding the herd.

There is the longtime tradition of mighty warriors decorating each other to be magically transformed into powerful, scary killing machines. In some far-away cultures, the ornamentations simultaneously allowed them to dress sharply for dinner.

To be fashionably attractive is a human quality dating back to hanging drilled shells around our ancestral necks. The challenge then and now is to keep up with the ever rapidly changing look. Every minute there is something newer than the moment before. Skirts rise and fall with the economy, or if there is a worldwide shortage of cloth. Ties shrink or expand with whim.

The swirl of glamour or manliness is so fickle that if you do nothing, you could be in and out of fashion and back in again by the time you cross the street. Every fall or spring or summer or winter there is a new show in New York or Paris.

Why subject yourself to a fad that is permanent and painful? Styles change; tattoos don’t. Most folks today would not feel comfortable in the look of the ’70s. It would be like never throwing away your puffy hair, psychedelic jacket and bell-bottoms. You wear them day in and day out. Sure, they are laundered just as if a person can shower, but the stains remain.

Admittedly, some of the walking landscapes are interesting, but I feel uncomfortable to stare as one would at a Rembrandt. I would also think that a living medium that bleeds or cries is different from hammering on an inanimate block of marble or painting a fresco in the non-thinking plaster.

There is the great likelihood that someday the tattoo will fade in popularity but not in color. It marks an era like a cave painting dates our forebears. Why draw on yourself in the first place? Is the intent to induce shock or draw awe? It is an interesting contradiction. Everyone wants to be noticed or feel wanted, then they hide behind the figurative faces, fowls or flora? It is as if an ambivalent, shy, insecure person craves the stage for recognition, but then acts a part in disguising makeup and costume. The direct attention is too stressful to bear.

The answer may be that the human poster or billboard is a suppressed preschool body painter. The white butcher paper on the easel was not enough. Perhaps they were told they couldn’t paint on themselves so it is perfectly reasonable that they do now.

Now imagine all the Asian language characters people carry with them forever. For all we know they are an ad for a Japanese tire company. It would be like someone unknowingly in Beijing having their flesh marked with the English words “crescent wrench.”

These words are not intended to insult anyone who now presently carries a tattoo, especially those with a long tribal tradition or massive biceps.

Nonetheless, I am particularly sensitive to body marks because every time I feast my eyes on newborn babies, their beauty is intoxicating. They are overwhelmingly gorgeous. The big eyes, the imitating smile, the smooth soft skin and the chubby cheeks all look fabulous in the original exterior.

Besides, when we are young the tattoo is a flower bud. When we age, it becomes a long-stem rose.

Joseph Cramer, M.D., is a fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics, practicing pediatrician for 30 years and an associate professor of pediatrics and hospitalist at the University of Utah and PCMC. He can be reached at jgcramermd@yahoo.com.

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