Should You Get Your First Tattoo in Midlife
Will it prove you’re a badass or is it just pathetic?
I distinctly remember the first time I noticed a tattoo. My mom was mortified.
I don’t remember my exact age, but given where we lived, I was probably 6 or 7. At this time in my childhood, we lived in a blue-collar town-home neighborhood, complete with an interwoven network of back allies that were perfect for both kids’ big wheel racing and adult block parties. I remember where we lived because I remember who had this tattoo, and that person was but a blip in our life, coincident with our short time living in this neighborhood.
The tattoo in question was a topless pin-up girl on the outside of his hairy forearm.
The tattoo was old, mostly greenish, and quite fuzzy, but for a 7-year old boy, a topless girl on a man’s forearm was a magically enticing force. It was a full-on tractor beam.
And boy did he like showing it to me — which was why my mom was mortified. Not so much by the illicit anatomy lesson, but because this was a guy that 7-year olds (or anybody) should NOT be hanging around. I didn’t know why exactly, but I knew my mom wanted me to stay away.
Tattoos are for Bad People(?)
My mom’s tactic for keeping me away from him was to throw shade on tattoos and the kind of person who gets one.
“Look at that gross thing…It’s all green and fuzzy…You know you have to live with that forever, right?…It just keeps getting uglier the older you get…Girls hate those things…No self-respecting man gets a tattoo.”
I couldn’t describe or even understand my feelings about it at the time, but looking back, I definitely thought he was a badass.
Who has the balls to walk around with a permanent picture of a naked lady on his arm? He can just look at it any time he wanted. It’s right there on his arm.
But as it turns out, he wasn’t badass at all. He was just bad.
Later in life, I learned why. He was a violent drunk and a wife and child-beater. Not someone that should influence a 7-year old.
My mom won that battle, but not in the way she imagined.
She convinced me that the problem was the tattoo. The tattoo was the signal, not of badassery, but of bad people.
“Stay away from tattoos and the people that get them. They are a signal of the kind of person you don’t want to be.”
Kudos to my mom for getting creative and using persuasion techniques that worked on me, rather than simply forbidding me to interact with him (which we all know has the opposite effect on young boys).
So the collateral damage to my psyche was that tattoos are bad and for bad people.
Which brings us to today in western culture, where everyone of every age and walk of life has tattoos.
I don’t, but my wife and daughter do.
Clearly, tattoos aren’t for bad people.
But do they make you a badass and is it appropriate to get your first as a midlifer?
What is a midlife badass?
Badass is a mindset — at any age, but especially at midlife.
It’s not an outward appearance. It’s not trying to fit in somewhere or with some younger crowd.
A badass certainly isn’t trying to appear younger than he is.
Healthy (physically and emotionally), yes. Younger, no.
Badass is a mindset that embraces who you are and where you’ve been and looks to keep growing and improving — and sharing.
Badass isn’t a tattoo, or a look, or a car, or a bank account.
It’s a mindset, not of defiance or wishing you were someone else, but knowing that where you’ve been has made you who you are. And who you are is someone that has inherent and immeasurable value in this world and more to give.
So should you get the tattoo?
That’s entirely up to you, but look in the mirror and ask yourself what its purpose is.
Is the purpose of that tattoo to say something about yourself, or about the world, or something meaningful in your life? To embrace the authentic you and the journey you’ve earned?
If so, then go for it.
The point is that you are at a time in your life where you’ve earned the right to be you. Well, the best version of you or the person you’re becoming.
At 52, I’m thinking about getting my first. If I do, it will be a “winter tree.” A tree without leaves that shows all of its unique, lopsided, underlying structure of trunk and limbs — some of which are dead, gnarled, or broken, and some of which are still full of life and vigor.
Why a tree without its leaves? Because the structure is the art. It is the metaphor for the authentic midlife self.
A summer tree with all of its leaves is, of course, also the tree, but it can be deceptive. Leaves not only hide the tree’s underlying structure but they make it harder to discern one tree from the next. A facade.
If you’re thinking about a tattoo because you think it will make you a badass, or make you look younger, or God-forbid impresses somebody, then save your money.
The tattoo doesn’t make you a midlife badass. You are a badass with the tattoo or without it. But getting a tattoo because you think you’ll look like a badass, or you want someone to think you are badass is just pathetic.
Now, reread this story and replace “tattoo” with “Corvette,” “Harley,” “hair plugs,” “cosmetic surgery,” “Rolex,” or “$10000 suit.” You’re welcome.