Think before you ink

Dane Swan: AFL star, Collingwood legend, Brownlow Medal winner, Premiership player, role model and covered in tattoos.

Talking about the latest addition to his collection of "body art" the other day, he revealed the thinking behind it: "I had no room left on my arms, so I just thought I'd get the whole leg done this time.'' And he's not finished, either. "There are a few others I'd like to get. I want to get one inside my ear.''

Maybe Swan'll end up going as far as the world's officially most tattooed man. According to Guinness World Records 2012, that person is Lucky Diamond Rich. Apparently Lucky’s body was completely covered with tattoos, so he went for a 100% covering of black ink. On top of that he's added more designs in various colours. Parts of his body are now covered three times over. Wikipedia reveals that the coverage includes “the inside of his foreskin, mouth and ears''. Best of all, although he was born a Kiwi he calls Australia home.

Sports stars, pop stars, film stars - they're all doing it and, like Swan and Lucky, they're none of them content with the odd one or two. They can't seem to stop.

I remember when one kid at school tattooed his own, three-letter name on to his arm with a needle, AND SPELT IT WRONG.

Although tattoos are still linked in the public mind with criminality, Swan and other role models - the likes of Dennis Rodman, David Beckham, Robbie Williams, Michael Clarke, Angelina Bloody Jolie and now pretty much every young cricketer/football player in the country - have made tattooing acceptable.

When I was a lad you knew where you stood. Tattoos were for skinheads, merchant seamen, south sea cannibals in the movies, ex-cons and questionable types you only saw out at night in certain parts of the big city.

But egged on by the likes of Swan and Beckham, the young and the not-so-young are turning to multiple tattoos as an accessible form of fashion statement, turning their bodies into walking works of art that chronicle their lives and loves, their successes and failures in a unique and permanent way.

Tattoos fade of course and never look that great for long but once you’ve got them they’re there for life. And things change, life moves on, allegiances shift. What seemed a bright idea when you’re 18 might not seem quite so smart when you’re 81.

We’ve all heard stories of celebrities having to correct/erase/artfully rework their tattoos when something changes, but it’s not just the rich and famous who fall victim to some simple errors.

I remember when one kid at school tattooed his own, three-letter name on to his arm with a needle, and spelt it wrong.

A quick look at the internet reveals a cavalcade of crap spelling and punctuation. But this is art, you say. Free expression. This is no place for the rules of English. Of course not. So explain these indelible expressions of individuality:  “Only God will Juge Me”, "To Young To live, To Fast To Die", "I'm Awsome!" "Fuck the Systsem" and, across someone’s knuckles, one letter for each, “Your Next”.

A boss of mine never rolled his sleeves up because of the mementoes of a misspent youth on his forearm. He never wanted us to see them. And this wasn’t in a hospital, or high finance, it was the music business.

A friend was so chagrined by his, felt so limited by what he’d done to himself as a teenager, that he ended up getting them removed.

Getting tattoos in the first place might hurt a bit; even Dane Swan, who has to be pretty tough, admitted that getting his leg tattooed “was not pleasant at all''. And they cost too. But the money and the pain and the time it takes to get them are nothing compared with what it takes to get rid of them.

I asked Dr Alice Teska a cosmetic physician at the Skin Temple spa in Melbourne about getting tattoos removed, and the news isn’t good. “It takes at least a year, if not two years to remove a tattoo completely,” she says.  “The more complex the colours are, the longer the removal process as green and blue inks are much slower than black and red. The cost will depend on the size of the tattoo, as well as the type of laser used to remove it.  Treatments will vary from about $150-$800 per session. Black tattoos may respond the fastest but they are also the most painful to do. Removing a black tattoo is one of the most painful procedures done, so some people will require anaesthetic”

Dr Teska sees lots of people for tattoo removal and the numbers are increasing. “People really don’t want to be stigmatised by their body ‘art’, regardless of how tastefully or otherwise done it is,” she says. “They just don’t want to have people they meet in the future asking them about something that really was only relevant 20 or more years earlier.”

So why do it? Standing out from the crowd, being an individual, expressing yourself. All good valid reasons. If you want them, go ahead; it’s your body after all. My opinion? They’re stupid, pointless, ugly, ubiquitous, mundane, and a hostage to fortune.

If you want body art buy a Texta. But who am I to stop you. All I can advise is that you think. It might not be just God who Juge’s you. Imagine your 40-year-old self, or your 75-year-old self. Will the older, wiser you really want their old person’s saggy skin covered in misspelt, badly rhymed poems to long-lost loves or pledges of allegiance to well-left-alone causes? Of course they won’t. Tattoos? Really not awsome.

What about you. Have you the body art blues? Have you acted on them? Or do you think before you ink - and then do it some more?

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