Friday, July 18, 2014

A Living Canvas

Dear Readers,

Growing up I was always told that the body was the temple of the Lord.  Given how my body looks these days, I thought that the temple needed a little decoration.  I have three tattoos.  The first one I got in 2006.  The next two I got this year; one in March on my anniversary and one yesterday.  I have a few more on my list of what I want to get before the decorating is done.  Now if I could only hire an interior decorator to fix up my spinal issues then I'd be all set!  Tattoos are much more common now than they have ever been before.  According to the FDA, 45 million Americans have gotten ink done.  The most common age group to have tattoos is the 30-39 year old age bracket, one which I fit comfortably in.  What surprised me is the fact that statistically, more women have tattoos than men in the United States, at least according to one poll.  What I'd like to look at today is a brief history of the art form we call tattooing.  I do mean a brief look since to do it full justice I would have to write a book.

The first person that we know of that has a tattoo is Otzi the Iceman who dates from 4,000-5,000 B.C.  I'm not sure what drove him to do it.  I doubt it was purely cosmetic reasons like a lot of people do today.  Who knows.  Celtic tribes enjoyed tattoos as did the Germans.  Tattoos were often common in the Pacific Islands as well as Egypt and even China.  Many arguments against getting tattoos are religious in nature.  The Old Testament makes a reference to tattoos when it says "Ye shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print any marks upon you. I am the Lord." (Leviticus 19:28) I find it amusing that the next verse says "Do not prostitute thy daughter and cause her to become a whore."  I wonder if that is why so many of the super religious people think that way about women with tattoos?  Those who use religion to criticize people with tattoos often fail to apply about 300 other verses to thinks that they are doing wrong in their own lives.  I believe we call that hypocrisy.  To be fair, the New Testament doesn't mention tattoos at all.  Now I doubt Jesus would have gotten one, but I'm pretty sure he'd still love someone who had them.  Just saying.

Here in the United States, tattoos were long seen as something that sailors, criminals, or women of ill repute did.  The regular guy or gal on the street stayed away from the needle.  American sailors were issued formal papers as a means to avoid impressment into the Royal Navy.  As there were no photographs or birth certificates back then, they listed birthmarks, scars, height, weight, and, you guessed it, tattoos!  We can probably take this to mean that sailors, even back then, liked the tattoos.  Tattoo historians have identified a German immigrant named Martin Hildebrandt as the first professional tattoo artist in the United States.  He operated during the Civil War era and did a lot of work on soldiers.  Some prostitutes in the Old West also sported some ink.  I wonder if they charged extra for the added.........scenery.

They still were not common place among the general public until much later though.  In 1902, the US Navy issued a new regulation that said that no sailor or recruit could sport a tattoo of a naked lady.  For a regulation to be issued, you know it had to be a problem!  Tattoos slowly began to hit the mainstream after World War 2.  Plenty of the 16 million servicemen and women during the war came home with some ink.  Finally by the 1970s, it became socially acceptable (albeit only slightly) for people to begin to have some body art.  But forty years removed from that, and people with tattoos are still subjected to death glares by some members of society.  TV shows such as Miami Ink, LA Ink, NY Ink, London Ink (you get the idea) have spread their popularity and also have made tattoos so common that a lot of people don't bat an eye any more when they see one.  The funny thing is that a lot of people are surprised to know that I have any.  I guess they think it doesn't fit my personality.  I happen to think it suits me just fine.

My name is Lee Hutch and I am a Half Tattooed Historian who will make a deal with people who don't like tattoos.  If you don't tell me what to do with my body, I won't tell you what to do with yours.  Sounds fair to me!  I happen to like girls with tattoos as I am partial to the pin-up girl/burlesque look.  Especially if she has red hair!

(And please, no anti-tattoo comments.)

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