Young People Ask . . .
Should I Get a Tattoo?
“Some tattoos are cute. They are very artistic.”—Jalene.*
“I dreamed about my first tattoo for two years.”—Michelle.
TATTOOS are everywhere—or so it seems. Rock stars, sports figures, fashion models, and movie stars flaunt them. Many teenagers have followed suit, proudly displaying tattoos on their shoulders, hands, waists, and ankles. Andrew contends: “Tattoos are cool. Having one or not is a personal choice.”
Says the World Book Encyclopedia: “Tattooing is the practice of making permanent designs on the body. It is done by pricking small holes in the skin with a sharpened stick, bone, or needle that has been dipped in pigments with natural colors.”
Although exact statistics are hard to come by, one source estimates that 25 percent of all 15- to 25-year-olds in the United States have a tattoo. Sandy says: “It’s the popular thing to do.” Why are tattoos so appealing to some youths?
Why So Popular?
For some, a tattoo is a way of making a grand romantic gesture. Michelle relates: “On his ankle my brother has the name of a girl he used to go out with.” The problem? “He’s not dating her anymore.” According to Teen magazine, “doctors estimate that more than 30 percent of all tattoo removal is done on teen girls who want the name of an ex-boyfriend taken off.”
Some youths view tattoos as works of art. Others see them as symbols of independence. “I’m in charge of my life,” proclaimed Josie, adding that getting a tattoo was “the only life decision I’ve ever made.” Tattooing allows some youths to experiment—to feel they have control over their appearance. Tattoos can also serve as a symbol of rebellion or of alternative life-styles. Some tattoos thus contain obscene words and drawings or provocative slogans.
The majority of youths, however, may simply have become caught up in a fad. But just because it seems as if everyone is getting tattooed, does it mean that you should?
The Ancient Art of Tattooing
Tattooing is by no means a modern practice. Tattoo-bearing Egyptian and Libyan mummies have been found that date back hundreds of years before the time of Christ. Tattooed mummies have also been found in South America. Many of the tattooed images were directly related to the worship of pagan gods. According to researcher Steve Gilbert, “the earliest known tattoo that is a picture of something, rather than an abstract pattern, represents the god Bes. In Egyptian mythology Bes is the lascivious god of revelry.”
Significantly, the Mosaic Law forbade God’s people to tattoo themselves. Said Leviticus 19:28: “You must not make cuts in your flesh for a deceased soul, and you must not put tattoo marking upon yourselves. I am Jehovah.” Pagan worshipers, such as the Egyptians, tattooed the names or symbols of their deities on their breast or arms. By complying with Jehovah’s ban on tattoo markings, the Israelites would stand out as different from other nations.—Deuteronomy 14:1, 2.
While Christians today are not under the Law of Moses, the prohibition it laid on tattooing is sobering. (Ephesians 2:15; Colossians 2:14, 15) If you are a Christian, you would certainly not want to make markings on your body—even temporarily—that smack of paganism or false worship.—2 Corinthians 6:15-18.
There are also health concerns you should consider. Dr. Robert Tomsick, an associate professor of dermatology, comments: “What you’re doing is breaking the skin and introducing pigmented material into the area. Even though the needle only goes in a little way, anytime you break the skin, you have a risk of bacterial or viral infection. I think [getting a tattoo] is generally a risky thing to do.” Dr. Tomsick continues: “Once pigment is in, even if there’s no infection, there’s always the chance of contact allergies, dermatitis and allergic reactions that can cause skin to get red, swollen, crusty and itchy.”
Despite the intended permanence of tattoos, various methods are used in attempts to remove them: Laser removal (burning the tattoo away), surgical removal (cutting the tattoo away), dermabrasion (sanding the skin with a wire brush to remove the epidermis and dermis), salabrasion (using a salt solution to soak the tattooed skin), and scarification (removing the tattoo with an acid solution and creating a scar in its place). These methods are expensive and can be painful. “It’s more painful to have a tattoo removed by laser than to get the original tattoo,” says Teen magazine.
What Will Others Think?
You should also give serious thought to how others might feel about your wearing a tattoo, as many react negatively. (1 Corinthians 10:29-33) On a whim, Li, a woman in Taiwan, got a tattoo at age 16. Now she is a 21-year-old office worker. “It bothers me the way my co-workers stare at the tattoo,” Li admits. British mental-health worker Theodore Dalrymple says that to many people, tattoos “are often the visible sign that a man . . . belongs to a violent, brutal, antisocial, and criminalized subculture.”
An article in American Demographics magazine similarly observed: “It is clear that most Americans consider it risky to have visible body art. Eighty-five percent [of youths] agree with the statement, ‘people who have visible tattoos . . . should realize that this form of self-expression is likely to create obstacles in their career or personal relationships.’”
Consider also whether choosing to get a tattoo would enhance or undermine your claim of being a Christian. Could it be a “cause for stumbling” others? (2 Corinthians 6:3) True, some youths have had their tattoos placed on hidden areas of the body. Even their parents may not know about these secret tattoos. But beware! An emergency trip to the doctor or simply taking a shower at school could make your secret common knowledge! Better it is to “conduct ourselves honestly in all things,” avoiding foolish deception.—Hebrews 13:18.
Like all fads, tattoos may lose their appeal over time. Really, is there any garment—whether a pair of jeans, a shirt, a dress, or a pair of shoes—that you love so much that you would commit to wearing it for the rest of your life? Of course not! Styles, cuts, and colors change. Unlike a piece of clothing, however, tattoos are hard to shed. Besides, what is “cool” to you when you are 16 might not be very appealing when you are 30.
Many have come to regret making permanent alterations to their appearance. “I got a tattoo before learning about Jehovah,” relates Amy. “I try to keep it covered. When others in the congregation happen to see it, I feel embarrassed.” The message? Think before you ink. Don’t make a decision that you may regret later.
Some of the names have been changed.
[Picture on page 26]
Tattoos are often associated with rebellious life-styles
[Picture on page 26]
In time, many regret getting a tattoo
[Picture on page 27]
Think before you ink