I want a tattoo. The feeling just snuck up on me. It started in Vegas when I dabbled in some henna (really bad, non-traditional henna). I got a huge fairy on my left shoulder and a small heart on the inside or my right wrist. My girlfriend discouraged me from getting the small “tribal” bird on the back of my neck, and I’ve been daydreaming about it since. Let’s be clear—my parents would  probably disown me, in Hebrew, and send me the info for a great removal place if I did get one. I’m not saying I will—but my interest has been piqued. The fantasies have made me more aware of the body art that other people dabble in and I found that in the Mission, tattoos are often a manifestation of chic.

While watching Project Runway recently I noticed that Heidi Klum has a tattoo inside her right arm. You’d never see that in a Victoria’s Secret catalog. Model Jessica White also has a large tattoo on the back of her neck that is often covered up for photo shoots and runway shows. I remember when R&B singer Monica debut her second album, sporting an armband in her videos. It turned out that she was just covering up a tank truck tattoo, which has been replaced with an even larger tattoo of Jesus. And even today, rapper/producer/nerd, Pharrell has gone to the extremity of having some of his body art removed (he has full body coverage too—ouch!). But walk around the Mission District for just an hour and you will see bracelets, birds, naked women and even self portraits, inked into the skin.

The origins of tattoos have been debated for some time now. Some scientists say that “tats” date back to 3300 B.C., some say 5000 years. Indigenous people of Japan and New Zealand traditionally wore facial tattoos. My ex-boyfriend is crazy about tattoos (as he says I’m into piercings). Ask him who Tom Ford is and he’ll shrug. I know he still owns Tommy Hilfiger pants that he had since high school. He reads Dress Code and it sometimes goes over his head. But engage him in a conversation about tattoos and he’s game. For him, and people like him, tattoos are fun, and a creative expression of self and self interest.

The way I think a great pair of shoes are an extension of my sense of style—and I do love to show off my style—tattoos are exactly that for tattoo lovers. So when I was curious about my bird I went to the one place I go to get anything on my body manipulated—Body Manipulations on 16th Street. One of the tattoo artists, Thaoe, talked to me about the procedure and explained that it’s a big decision. He was so friendly and after getting my Monroe piercing with Eldo Chen, I trust the folks at Body Manipulations.

They say tattoos are addictive, once you get one you keep getting more, which might explain the cluster of random tattoos that the same ex has on his arms and chest. I don’t know if that would happen to me. But ever since I’ve been dreaming about the bird, I have been thinking about how cool that heart on the inside of my wrist looked too.

Join the Conversation


  1. I’ve always toyed with the idea of a tattoo, but I haven’t been able to find anything with enough meaning to have on my body for the rest of my life…except maybe a religious symbol. That and the fact that even though I’m not against it, I still look at people with tats a certain way. Although it might be wrong to think,”That guy is more apt to do criminal acts or have a criminal past” or “That girl must be wild in bed,” I think it nonetheless. Do I want to be viewed the same way? Right or wrong, it’s a reality.

  2. Maybe if you moused over an image and noticed there’s a slideshow you would see the black woman. So quick to assume.

  3. I thought the chinese characters for “tattoo” on the upper arm would be appropriate. When asked, I could day it means “love” or “strength”, but those who could read the character would know the truth, and the joke….

  4. i recognize “capt Howdey” in the article
    do you know if he’ll be proferming?
    he’s amazing.
    saw him in England, germany & Israel
    please let us know & maybe even an article with him
    you have to check out hia website

  5. Lots of anti-tattoo comments here, so for another view:
    I have had one, sizable tattoo now for over 15 years, and I’m still in love with.
    It’s tasteful; it’s not obvious if I’m dressed for the office, but is if I’m being casual (it’s on my lower leg). I think it cost me all of $65 dollars. What else would I buy for $65 dollars that I still have today? That I can take with me wherever I go?
    So, for all you haters: no, having one tattoo doesn’t mean you have to have more; no, having a tattoo doesn’t preclude one from a good job (I’m a university professor); and no, having a tattoo doesn’t mean you have no sense of originality or style (I designed my own, and after 15 years I’m still pleased as punch). My advice is: if you want a tattoo, get a tattoo! Sure, it will be with you your whole life, so choose carefully, but hey, you’re an adult. The tattoo-phobics are just probably scared of the commitment…

  6. so quick to assume that all the people are white. take a closer look you will notice someone more native than you ever will be to this country.

  7. I got my first tattoo started (its quite large and not even half done yet) in my 40th year. Mid life crisis? Hardly lol I just wanted one. I don’t think I will ever regret it, why would I? My Tat is part of me, unique to me and carries meaning for me.
    Society has moved on a touch, I work in a bank in the UK and tattoos are reasonably common, even amongst the senior managers. However, a Tat is not for everyone and certainly not something to get done on a whim. My mom didn’t like me getting one and she still hasn’t seen it lol
    Occasional Mission Visitor.

  8. How can the writer compare a tattoo, which is permanent, to a pair of shoes, which you change daily, at least, and say “same thing”? Talk about fundamentally unclear on the concept …

  9. Tattoos for the post modern consumer society aren’t what they were to real tribal societies past. Everything here is a symbol of something that doesn’t really exist, and so tattoos necessarily are empty symbols often protesting loudly that they really do signify something “deep” and “meaningful.” No really! This one is about my uncle who died and his philosophy on life, blah, blah, blah.

    Tattoos are like Dolce & Gabbana sunglasses, or a “Radiohead” T-Shirt, or in years past, perhaps a “Rick Springfield Rocks!” T-Shirt. They are symbols that communicate membership in an imaginary tribe, a tribe that doesn’t really exist. The difference, of course, permanence. The mar-com juggernaut that arranges the symbols and periodically alters the aesthetic of the imaginary tribes over time accomplishes radical transformations, albeit on a superficial, aesthetic level. Think about the wild popularity of Rick Springfield and his mullet and his current humiliation as a has been sideshow in Las Vegas, or the Dukes of Hazzard, or perhaps the imaginary free and cocky tribe associated with “Smokey and the Bandit.” Those were real “alternative” symbols that communicated a fashion forward, free, wild, “expressive” imaginary tribe. Now they are kitsch. Why? Because the man made new imaginary tribes to sell new stuff.

    The problem with tattoos is their permanence. There is also the problem with the size of the imaginary tribe. As more people get tattoos, they no longer carry the imaginary signification of “wild” or “unique” “different” etc. As perhaps more than 50% of Americans display tattoos, the natural progression will be to differentiate one’s self by having MORE tattoos, or perhaps more outrageous ones. But ultimately, when a majority has tattoos, and quite possibly big outrageous ones, tattoos will no longer signify membership in an imaginary “cool” tribe, but instead in the lumpen majority.

    There will be a time in the future, perhaps ten years forward, when there are more people with tattoos than without (in the United States). There will also be great changes in fashion and the aesthetic definition and positioning of the imaginary tribes that sell us stuff. The aesthetic of chic, alternative, hip, unique, etc. will change radically to get us to buy new stuff and throw out our old stuff.

    At that point, there will be a lot of people in their late 40s and early 50s with tattoos of bands and concepts that have fallen out of favor and are as chic in the future as Rick Springfield, or M.C. Hammer is today. At that point, it will be wise to be in the tattoo removal business. Although many people will just endure their tattoos because of the great expense in removing them.

  10. First off I would like to state that I am Native American and Hispanic, not white. And, that the largest group of people in the U.S.A. that look for tattoos are actually middle aged women that fall into the category of suburban housewives/soccer moms. So next time you’re thinking that tattoos are only for criminals and you’re in a grocery store and you walk past a woman with two children that looks like she has the typical American life, chances are there is a “tasteful tattoo” around her ankle of ivy or something of the sort that you cannot see. And while she’s looking for food for her children, most likely she is not thinking of criminal activity that you want to label on to people that have tattoos. As far as gentrification in the mission, these people have obviously not been to the mission, or only stayed on Valencia st. where it is more comfortable for tourists. And with a “tasteful tattoo” being an oxymoron, that is a form of ancient euro-centric bigotry, that not only made most Europeans forget their own ancestors and their beliefs and rituals but has also destroyed a good portion of other cultures across the world and twisted the meanings of different rituals and rites of passages that were very spiritually meaningful into the demons of their own society so they can assimilate and commit genocide on other cultures. For as you write these posts/comments keep in mind you stand on ground where the indigenous people adorned their bodies with such things as tattoos, piercings, and scarification who were not white, so stop to think a moment that maybe crosses and idols may be more offensive to them than their tattoos, piercings and/or, scarification are to you. So next time you want to go down the road to ignorance or subconscious bigotry maybe you should ask yourself first how these things popped up into your mind and what conditioned you to believe this about another human being without even speaking to them. For it was white Europeans that took the swastika and made it a symbol of hate when in truth it originated out of Africa as a symbol of love and peace. I would be more than happy to clarify any more misconceptions and answer any questions relating to this topic in person. You can find me at Body Manipulations on 16th and Guerrero to have an actual intelligent conversation instead of writing random comments in a forum.

  11. I appreciate everyone’s thoughts. Getting a tattoo is something that requires some serious thinking. It definitely isn’t like changing your shoes. Thaoe explained to me that removal is both costly and painful, and urged me to really think long and hard about it. I’m not getting a tattoo right now but I still think that they can be beautiful and fashionable. I will continue to admire the ones I see on other people, which includes everyone from soccer moms (yes Thaoe) to artists, teachers, drummers and even journalists.

  12. Yep, at least some of the commenters have it right: the top tattoo is not a local, it’s my friend who visited in September from Germany!

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