Your neighbor’s grandchildren or a tennis partner’s nephews may likely be sporting an arm full of tattoos, but it’s just as probable that someone you know is showing off their new ink as well.
Body art is becoming increasingly popular with adults, including those in their silver years. According to The Seattle Times report, the Pew Research Center estimates that more than 40% of Americans between the ages of 26 and 40 have at least one tattoo. A 2010 study by the same organization found that 15% of those individuals in the baby boomer-plus age bracket have tattoos. This has prompted some to surmise that the stigma once associated with tattoos is fading.
Rob Burkhart, writing in the Jackson Citizen Patriot, found that tattoo artists in his region are seeing that “older adults are now more receptive to getting a tattoo because of the freedom that comes from retirement. Retirees no longer have to impress a boss or hold down a job.” He adds, “Others are at an age where they just don’t care what the world thinks anymore.”
Tattoo artist Robin Soles says one customer, an 83-year-old woman, told her she had wanted a tattoo her entire life. The customer asked for two roses on her chest, explaining that since her husband had died, there was now nothing blocking her from getting a tattoo. “She was so happy she gave us all hugs and told us that she loved us as she left,” Soles says.
Debbi Huffman, co-owner of Ye Olde Skull Shoppe in Michigan, says at least two older adults a month get a tattoo at her shop. “I’ve heard people say, ‘I don’t really have to care what other people think anymore. I’m at that age where it doesn’t matter. … It’s on my bucket list.’”
Bloggers at Flash Your Tattoo hold up Helen Lambin as “a perfect example how seniors can still pull off the cool look and attitude” with tattoos. “She thinks that her tattoos seem to help young people look at her as more of a person than some old lady with gray hair. It’s like a communication tool which helps bridge the generation gap.”
Of course, in some cultures outside North America, getting a tattoo for beautification or protection is a ritual. In some areas, the custom has fallen out of practice, but tattooed elders can still be seen.
Not everyone is hep to the trend, however. “Because I’m comfortably ensconced in this age group, I feel qualified to point out my main objection,” notes Celia Rivenbark, author of You Don’t Sweat Much for a Fat Girl, writing for McClatchy-Tribune News Service. She adds:
It should be pretty obvious: The truth is, when you get right down to it, the nursing home isn’t all that far away. Trust me: You’re going to feel like a mo-ron the first time that nursing assistant spots the giant red aorta wrapped in thorns right above your Depends.
“I get that it’s your body and if you wanna stupid it up, that’s your business,” quips Rivenbark, “but a series of stars shooting down both arms with the names of your children really doesn’t look any more appealing than that ‘Sexy Whore’ [tat] you wanted so many years ago as a teenager prowling Myrtle Beach.”
Seniors don’t typically get tattooed on a whim. Burkhart says that “older adults often turn to tattoos for sentimental value or to make a statement.” Judy Hitt was 68 when she was tattooed — along with other family members — with a purple ribbon to memorialize her daughter, Kathy Yeomans, who had died in January 2010 of pancreatic cancer.
If you are pondering the possibility of embracing a bit of body art, be aware that there may be health implications as well as a few raised eyebrows. As Burkhart observes, “The risks involved with tattooing are the same for all ages.” This can include risks of infections, allergic reactions or skin conditions such as granulomas, complications related to medications such as blood thinners, or possibly future complications when needing magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).