Black Ink, Red Flag: Tattoos Are A Sign Of Trouble

There’s a girl in my gym absolutely covered in tats.  Well, more accurately, there are at least 15 girls in my gym absolutely covered in tats.  This one just happens to have the most spectacular ass of the bunch, in no small part due to the fact that ass exercises make up the near-entirety of her routine.  I believe I saw her doing light skullcrushers once, but it was in between supersets of glute bridges and mule kicks.

She’s crazy.

Many heavily tattooed girls are.

To get tattooed – heavily, more ink than skin, covered in tattoos – you have to go through a significant amount of pain.  I’ve often been told by inkwomen the world over that the pain becomes a fast addiction – that once they got their first taste of the needle, they couldn’t wait to repeat the process.  That the pain makes them feel alive.

What’s wrong with that?

What’s wrong with that is not the oft-cited rationalization shared by cutters of “I feel numb normally, so the pain just lets me feel something.”  Asking a cutter/human canvas why they feel numb is a red herring, because if they were simply searching for a hypercharged exit from their adolescent ennui via physical sensation they’d masturbate more.  Or take up jogging.

The pain itself is the message, not the escape the pain brings.  The pain itself tells the observer and reminds the canvas that she hates herself enough to deserve the pain, which is why it brings her temporary mental relief: the overwhelming sensation of acute pain brought on by the needle or the cutting implement aligns her physical state with her own self-image, thus perversely lifting her emotional state by eliminating any uncomfortable discordant thought.  There are, after all, two ways to match her self-esteem to her general frame: she can raise the former, which is difficult, or she can trash the latter.

What if tattoos didn’t hurt?  Would they still be a signal of low self-image?1 Stay tuned.

1. Hint: yes.

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One Comment on “Black Ink, Red Flag: Tattoos Are A Sign Of Trouble”

  1. Interesting, I look forward to reading more. I think you largely hit the nail of the head, so to speak, regarding the psychological basis for tattoos/cutting. The cliche rationalization of “it just makes me feel alive” doesn’t really hold up, as there are plenty of ways to generate intense sensation (as you mention, masturbation, strenuous exercise) that aren’t painful or self-harming.

    At the same time, though, I think there may be something to the idea that the extreme isolation from pain and even moderate discomfort (always being in climate controlled buildings and vehicles, for instance) afforded by contemporary life may be messing us up. During our evolutionary past, pain of varying degrees was a commonplace, frequent part of everyday life. It’s very “normal” to our innate psychology.

    Being too comfortable may be one contributing factor for why affluent, “advantaged” people, in particular, tend to be so unhappy and so likely to suffer from mental health issues. Pain-inducing activities like tattooing may be an attempt to self-medicate against the ennui of an overly safe, physically and emotionally detached way of life.

    I see it as being similar to the hygiene hypothesis regarding rising allergy rates. The body “needs” to be exposed to a significant amount of pathogens/parasites/etc. in order for the immune system to function correctly. We didn’t evolve for the sterilized, squeaky-clean environments that are the norm today. Somewhat ironically, being too clean is making us sicker.

    Similarly, being too comfortable may be making us less happy. We need some pain to give life perspective and to prevent the mind from fixating on our petty little problems. To an extent, being depressed is a luxury that people with real, life and death problems don’t have the time or energy to take part in.


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