When I was 17, I hung out with a bunch of people who rode motorbikes and had tattoo parlours, as we called them back before they were art studios. One guy’s girlfriend was in the middle of a major project, a peacock that covered her back and shoulder. It was epic.
I just wanted a bee on my boob.
The tattooist, who thought of me as his kid sister, said no. So I didn’t get a bee on my boob when I was 17. In fact, I didn’t get my first tattoo until my early 30s, and I remember thinking, during those years in between, that I was really glad I never got the boob bee.
Now, closer to 50, and with a soft, fleshy landscape dotted in blue, red, green, pink and yellow ink, the truth is, I wouldn’t care if I got the boob bee. Granted it would be blotchy and stretched, and as faded as a pair of jeans, and it really had no meaning, but it would have been a true mark of my earliest rebellion – so much more interesting that memories of anorexia and whatnot.
The thing about tattoos is that you should never regret them. For reals.
I remember watching Miami Ink and everyone had a freaking story they wanted commemorated by a tattoo, and it drove me a little nuts. So when my tattooists have asked me, over the years, what my tattoos are about, I always want to come up with something truly significant, but all I’ve got is:
“So there’s this illustration, and I think it’s pretty.”
“My friend wanted to.”
I mean, does everything have to mean something? Is there anything wrong with a tattoo that has no meaning? You know, tattoo nihilism.
What’s wrong with just something that makes you smile, or laugh, or just reminds us that we were dickheads once?
People told me I would regret my tattoos, that my saggy tattooed arms would look like shit.
Even Cindy Ray, Australia’s first tattooed lady, warns people about aging tattoos.
“Tattoos look great when you’re young, but they too get old.”
Well, Cindy, let me tell you that the body ages, parts will sag, with or without tattoos, so don’t worry about it.
The thing about tattoos is that, ironically, they’re temporary. That is, the moment is temporary. However, the thing they remind you of is permanent – they remind you that you were drunk and dumb, totally into cartoons or skulls, loved the colour pink, loathed your mum, collected buttons, had a best friend who was bound to be in your life FOREVER, or were hooning around with your other, soon to be middle-aged, friend who wanted a matching piece of ink. Or maybe you just wanted to be badass.
One of my favourite tattoos isn’t that old but it’s faded as fuck. It’s across my belly and ribs and its condition serves as a reminder of the kilos I’ve lost, and gained, and lost, and gained. There’s a line of text from my favourite childhhood book that says: blahblablahblablahblahblah
Part of this tattoo looks so terrible! Should the tattooist have recommended a different placement? Maybe. A different font? Sure. Do I care? Not for a second. I remember the weeks leading up to the day I got it – I was so nervous. This was before girls in Melbourne were getting tatts on their wrists, sleeves or chests. I thought I was crossing over to a different world (I wasn’t), and I was about to change (I didn’t). I have no regrets at all.
Of course, there’s the unwritten rule that you should NEVER EVER get your partner’s name tattooed on your body. NEVER EVER. It will only lead to divorce and heartache – not regret, necessarily, but you don’t want to mess with that fate juju. Even after 24 years married to the same guy who I adore, I’m not game to try that because who doesn’t remember Johnny Depp’s Wynona Forever? That crazy cat.
I kind of like the idea of a regrettable tattoo. Not that I wish I had the name of an ex-lover tattooed on my lower back or anything. I mean…
But do I wish I got that boob bee back in 1987? A little. Although, it still lives with me, almost as if I did get it.