What Do Tattoos Say About Us?

Credits: Photo - Sarah G. Schmidt, Styling - Sarah G. Schmidt, Location - Sarah G Schmidt's home


Tattoos are everywhere. No longer do actors, models and common people have to hide their ink for every role or runway. As society we have accepted them as more commonplace and not just for sailors and inmates. Thank goodness. I have tattoos but I have limited experience with my sea legs and I’m likely not fit to survive prison life.

Tattoos are body brands. My earliest references are marked cattle and ritual marked tribal communities. Whatever the reference you muster we can likely agree that they are marks-to-skin for forever.

The decision to get ink starts as a reflection or illustration of a part of you – perhaps a milestone or a who or where you are at certain period in time - and then they become a whole part of you. You wear them and unlike my heels after a long day you can’t take them off (except for those regretful, laser removal inclined folks). It can be quite the expression both inner and obviously outer. They are a body modification that both help form and reflect identity. Double whammy.

I spend most of my professional time examining identity. That ranges from corporate branding all the way to personal style. Identity, business or personal, has the same basic principals. If you (or your company) showcase who you truly are and why that’s uniquely beautiful eventually people will see you for the real you. If they like you after all that, super. If not, you’re better off without that person because they don’t get it. Am I right? 

But what happens when you alter that identity? What happens when you change your look, evolve your product, or get a tattoo? Does that change get noticed? Do your supporters evolve with you or do you lose them? In other words, is that change understood as a genuine evolution or just whacked out indulgence? Or maybe more important, do they even care?

As with many societal shifts, I want to see the range of response. I ask myself, “Do people care?” I will check in with young people and more aged people. I am happy to report that the young people are generally accepting. We should note and celebrate this more often when it comes to the way people look. Kids like variety, colour and confidence. From my experience, kids tend to be curious about appearances first. Second they want to know more about it. If you can satisfy both in a kind, positive light, they’re okay with it.

Something happens as we age. As we get older that curiosity and wonder shifts to judgment. That judgment can be either positive or negative. Let’s be frank, judgment is made with tattoos. It’s fascinating to consider what we think about a person can be triggered by seeing (or not seeing) ink. Personally, those that know me well, accept my tattoos as a form of self-expression. Those that don’t, to be honest, I give zero shits.

Tattoos are quite the paradox. They are public expressions of things that are very private. While you can plainly see them, it can be rude to ask about them. Tattoos remind me of the expression, “She wears her heart on her sleeve.” Or should I say, “She tattoos her feelings on her body.” That rings true for me and is pretty rad. But I caution against assuming that’s true for all. Don’t be gross. Be kind if curious.

While I will be quick to encourage trying a new silhouette or statement shoe on pretty much any person, I have very little to say about others choice to get – or not get - tattoos. My choice for silence is shocking, right?  I believe some things are so personal that it’s not a choice of fashion; it’s a matter of personal style. I respect that fully. In the case of tattoos, it’s certainly more permanent than any statement shoe.