Find Body Art Everywhere

Those summer souvenirs like vacation photos and fading tans are in the rearview window.

My one take-away from my summer vacay in Santa Fe was the proliferation of “body art”: tattoos.

Mainstreaming didn’t begin until the 1990s when there were just a few hundred tattoo parlors. Today there are more than 20,000.

I’m pretty used to tats now even on brides and store clerks. But in New Mexico, sometimes it was hard to find the person in all that ink. Since much body ink is under the garments, there’s another reason to celebrate the end of summer.

It was the rebels of the counterculture in the 1970s like Janis Joplin who popularized tattoos with the musicians, artists, and hippies. The times were a-changing. Still, I didn’t know anybody with one.

There was a time when my adult children were college-bound in the 1990s when tattoos had gone into overdrive. My caveat to each was not to come home with inked skin if they wanted Christmas dinner.

Although increasingly they knew others with a discrete tattoo, like my parents and grandparents, I still associated tattoos with sailors, gang members, bikers, and circus performers.

Of course, they came home much to my horror with their college tats but then died laughing as they washed them off. Just paint. Ah, youth.

The history of tattoos goes back to ancient times with Europeans only being exposed by sea exploration. Japan and Polynesia inspired the seafarers. Sailors didn’t have the greatest reputations as in he “cursed like a sailor” or was “drunk as a sailor.”

However, in early American history, sailors would tattoo Americana on them to prevent being impressed into the British navy.

Mainstreaming didn’t begin until the 1990s when there were just a few hundred tattoo parlors. Today there are more than 20,000.

Sources vary on whether it is one in three or five Americans with at least one tattoo. If you include women of a certain age who tattoo on their eyeliner and eyebrows, in North Dallas, it may be 90%.

We’re getting shockproof. Today weird hair colors and tats abound, although Santa Fe may have cornered the market. I’m thinking about investing in tattoo removal. (Also not pain-free and involving needles.) Why? Because tattoos fade, and (take it from me) skin sags with age – not a good look for a faded dragon or wilted flower.

If I open a parlor, you’ll want to buy stock in it. I’m calling it Tit for Tat.

Len Bourland

The views expressed by columnist Len Bourland are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of People Newspapers. Email Len at

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