Tattoo of the Week

DSCN8607, originally uploaded by Prince of Petworth.

I was very proud of myself for guessing that this script was Sanskrit. I have to say asking strangers to photograph their tattoos has not gotten any easier. Fortunately this woman was super nice. The tattoo is the last two lines of the Mangala mantra. It basically means, “May all beings be happy and free, Om shanti, shanti, shanti.”

Now I have a serious question. As is hopefully obvious, I’m a big fan of tattoos. I know lots of folks out there don’t like them and that is cool. But for the folks that do have them, I’ve always wondered about tattoos on the back. So I’m seriously curious, what pleasure do you get out of a tattoo on your back if you can’t see it?

33 Comment

  • Droz: What’s your major?
    Sanskrit Major: Sanskrit.
    Droz: Sanskrit. You’re majoring in a 5000 year-old dead language?
    Sanskrit Major: Yeah.

  • I have a tattoo on the back of my neck and the back of my right bicep, perverse?

  • @Ben: i love you for quoting PCU

  • I second the enjoyment of the PCU quote. Great movie. (side note: Is it just me or does Piven look older in PCU than he does in Entourage?…this could be a dead topic in entertainment circles, but I generally steer clear of those).

    As for tattoos, mine are in front of me and face me:

    however, I tend to side with the idea that tattoos are (well, should be) very personal things, and if you want to advertise something to others via your back, go for it. Or, in some cases, if you’re of the body as canvas school of thought, then it works as well.

    This, of course, leaves out the people who decided to get one at 2am while on a bender, but, hey it’s a memory!

  • There is the obvious answer of style. Maybe the same reason people wear shits that have print on the back. That will always play a role. I also know that, unlike that tattoo across the belly (most likely “thuglife”), the one on the upper back is unlikely to be altered when I get old and fat. It is a relatively lean part of the body and will likely stay that way.

    The other answer might be symbolic. If it is a tattoo with personal meaning, having it placed across the top of your back suggests bearing the weight of its message on your shoulders.

    And to continue the PCU quote: “the best I can do is Latin.”

  • Well, the easy answer is the pragmatic one: The back is the largest and flattest area (canvas) on the body.

  • im glad that my tattoo, or tramp stamp, if you will, is out of sight and out of mind… its like a surprise everytime someone asks me about it (yes, i get a case of plumbers crack every now and then) or when im flexing in the mirror before a shower and catch a glimpse (“hey what the f…oh, right…forgot about that!”). i want more, but the thought of seeing something on my person everyday for the rest of my life is kind of scary. i would probably do more on my back and then go from there!

    side note, if i were to continue my existing lower back tattoo up to at least mid back, would it still be a tramp stamp?

  • Oy, tramp stamp. I hate that term.

    I have a tattoo on the back of my neck, and as christopher says, it’s a nice surprise occasionally, because I usually forget that it’s there.

  • I have three tattoos and, I’ve had them for so long, I don’t even notice them anymore. It’s like they’re birthmarks or moles or something. One is on the back of my shoulder and, as the others have said, it’s a surprise when someone asks about it. When I was in grad school, I taught undergraduate economics, and occasionally my shoulder tat would peek out of my shirt while I was at the board with my back to the class. I always knew when that would happen because I could hear my students whispering to each other, like it was some big scandal that a TA would be tattooed.

  • I’m soooooo hip: I have a tattoo in a dead language that can be read only by scholars; hell, I don’t even know what it really says.

    I don’t care for tattoos (I’m not going to wear the same hairstyle, glasses, or clothes for the rest of my life, which is why I don’t like the permanence of tattoos), but if you have a message to say, have it in the common language we do use, so that we can all read it and, perhaps, be inspired by it!

  • Both of my tattoos are on my back for pretty much all the reasons listed. Nice surprise, biggest canvas, easiest to hide on job interviews.

    And as far as asking to take a picture of someones tattoo, most are probably going to say yes so don’t worry too much about it. I find that most people I’ve talked to are really passionate about their tattoos and are more then happy to show them off when asked nicely.

  • Both of my tattoos are on my back because they were the appropriate places to put them. I have a plan for a quarter sleeve, so it’s not that I want to hide them that they’re there… it’s just where they’re meant to be (a small one between my shoulder blades, and a large one cover the bottom half of my back).

  • SPS,

    An labhraíonn tú Gaeilge?

  • If some of you have tattoos that you have forgotten all about, would you do it again? Full disclosure: I have no tattoos. I have an interesting story from this morning about a 14 y/o with tattoos. It’s a bit off topic for this post. But a telling story nonetheless. I’ll wait to an interesting post comes up and tell it.

  • Nate – come on now. That’s such a tease. If your story is about tattoos, then this is the most appropriate place to share your story! Please tell!! I’m bored at work!

  • Pop, I’d let you photograph my tattoos!

  • @sps: Piven definitely looks older in PCU because he has more hair now than he did back then.

  • This really is somewhat off topic. But since you asked.

    I am sitting next to a young boy (14 y/o) on the bus (64 Southbound) this morning. I look down and his arms are filled with tattoos. RIP Daddy. His mom’s name. His granddad’s name. A dagger or some sort of weapon. First off, I did not know they allowed 14y/o to get tattoos. So as the bus comes to a stop, his mom and two other kids in tow get off the bus. She turns and asks him where he was going. In other words, she didn’t know where he was going at 8AM. He hands her something.

    I swear this woman was no more than 30. Anyway, I ask him if his mom knows he has the tattoos. He said yes. I gently told him it would be hard for him to get a job when he got older. He shrugged. I then asked him where he was going as he had no books, no uniform, etc. He was not going to school. He said he used to go to Roosevelt and now he is going to go to Spingarn. The only question is: where was he headed this morning?
    And why would his mom leave him on the bus headed nowhere like this?

    As for the RIP tattoo, the boy’s daddy was killed when he was only 13. The level of violence and dysfunction in these kids’ lives never ceases to amaze me. Growing up in a small town didn’t prepare me for this.

  • Thanks for the story Nate. Very entertaining….and strange at the same time. Its crazy to me that children out there have tattoos. Do these kids get these with the permission of their parents or do they just go to a tattoo parlor and get it done becuase they are paying customers? Blows my mind. One of my friends (from philly suburb in Jersey) got a tattoo in 6th grade. He was 12. He and his dad decided it would be a great idea for some reason. They got scorpians on their feet. At school, the teacher didn’t believe it was real and insisted he wash it off. Needless to say it never washed off. He’s got a few more today – but I mean really, 12 years old? With your father? As if you really understand that it will be with you for the rest of your life. I’m not saying tattoos are bad, I just don’t think they belong on the body of someone under the age of 18.

  • @Nate: way to be critical of strangers

  • obviously y’all have never heard of bootleg tattoo parlors… people have em up in their homes.. so whom ever has the money can get tattooed, it’s cheaper too than getting em at parlors, you don’t need id… yada yada yada

  • P,
    I didn’t think I was being critical. The mother asked the boy where she was going when she got off the bus? Am I being critical by deducing she didn’t know where he was going on a school day? I didn’t know about bootleg tattoos so that explains that. Oh well, I thought it was interesting.

  • Tattoo on the lower back? Might as well be a bullseye.

  • @nate: Im just saying there is no point in telling the kid his life will be hard because of tattoos, that seems to be the least of his worries. especially after the fact.

  • One of my tats is on my back because that seemed the most appropriate place for it under the circumstances: I didn’t know what it was going to be for several years after I agreed to get it so I just picked a location in case it turned out to be something unusual/scary. As it turns out, the location and art were perfect. Confused? I would be too.

    I am a word in the only official publication of a book:

  • Thanks for sharing that story, Nate. Don’t listen to P!

  • @anon 10:18: actually, sadly, I do not speak Irish (Gaelic…which is what I assume your question to be from context). My heritage is Irish and German, which is why those languages were chosen, and partly because the English phrase I translated into Irish I found on a tchotchke while in Ireland.

    @JohnnyReb: maybe the person photographed actually does know sanskrit. Or has Indian heritage. Or had a truly meaningful experience related to the language/place of origin. Or maybe they really love the artistic beauty of the writing. I’ve found myself in really great conversations simply because someone asked me to translate my tattoos, though sometimes demur.

    @anon 11:30am: Exactly, but how does Piven have more hair now??? What secret did he discover??? I still have my hair, and it would be nice to figure out how to keep it. Comparing Ari Gold with Droz is hilarious. I wonder how many women who swooned over JP in Entourage (I assume they do/did…?), have any idea about Droz.

    Regarding the discussion over the young kid with tattoos, my main objection to the age/tattoo thing has to do with whether much personal deliberation when into getting them. To a degree, I understand why people object to them – but I regard those to be ultimately more related to the character of the person than the character of the tattoos or the presence of them.

    Of course, a 14 year old more than likely hasn’t quite developed a stable internal character/self-perception, so I would agree they are premature. Live and let live in this case, though – not much else to do in the situation.

  • P is the only truth

  • Backs are a great place to show off who you are. They are very visible and probably get the most comments. Since they are so easy to see, strangers come up to you and talk with you about it so having an unusual tattoo gives you an open line of communication.

  • i hope this becomes a regular feature

  • ans to the first one:
    when u hear loud music that is just not only for u but u make neighbours hear it to to appreciate the song…same way does a tattoo on the back…

  • and being an Indian and having an understanding of the sanskrit language i can say “GREAT TATTOO”

Comments are closed.