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tattoo you
carve yourself a personality
by mike julianelle

Just like Allen Iverson, I've had a fair amount of conversations about tattoos (I also hate practice). Just like everyone else, I've considered having someone brand my skin with a hot needle, but never very seriously. I have, of course, spent some time thinking about what tattoo I might get, were I to make such a mistake. Based on these brief ruminations, I've realized such a decision would likely be the hardest of my life.

I just know that after months of going back and forth about what tattoo to get, I'd go into the shop, get it done, and immediately agonize over my blown decision. And then I'd be stuck with it for the rest of my life.

It took me the larger part of a decade to finally choose a Miami Dolphins hat I could live with, and I still had to wait to get that as a gift to really make peace with it. And that only costs 15 bucks and doesn't require surgery to remove after they go 0-16 this season (please God just win one!). Then again, on the pro-tattoo side, who needs to pay for laser removal when you're already dead by your own hand?

Tattoos used to be the sign of a sketchball. Or a sailor. Like crabs. If you went on a job interview and your employer caught a glimpse of an accidentally exposed tattoo, you were shit out of luck: no job for you. Nowadays? You're nothing but a square if you don't get one.

Case in point: there's this 3-year old chick I work with who just got back from getting a tattoo on her lunch break. This girl's the size and age of a fetus - the tattoo is older than her AND almost twice her size! And it's her second one! It's like her tattoo went to the parlor to get a tattoo. I can't even see her face now, all I see is something written in sanskrit.

I have no problem with other people having tattoos. My aversion, as I made clear above, is about my own limitations, not any prejudices I have against people who use their bodies as a canvas. Except for people with tattoo sleeves and barbed wire around their biceps. I am bigoted against them. They should have to get yellow stars to wear during the winter when their tats aren't visible so we all know who they are.

I’m not sure why they got so popular. Maybe it's because it's a quick, permanent reminder of a specific time in their lives. A souvenir on their skin.

Maybe it's because many people are masochists and like the feeling of their flesh being burned.

Or maybe it’s because lately everyone always seems to be looking for the next best way to customize themselves, whether it’s via their wardrobe or ringtone, their blog or bumper sticker. Everyone is so scared to be a part of the herd that they all get in line for a slight variation on the same thing.

Here's a tip: cultivate a personality and maybe you won't have to buy shit in order to convince people you have one.


Let's get real here. You don't want to know about me. You want to know about "me".

more about mike julianelle


everything but the girl
wait, make that: jack shit and no girl either
by mike julianelle
topic: humor
published: 10.18.02

the parent trap
buried with children
by mike julianelle
topic: humor
published: 7.7.10


erik myers
12.7.07 @ 9:35a

You're such a prude.

Incidentally, there's no burning involved. The needle is not hot, nor is it quick.

lisa r
12.7.07 @ 9:46a

Just like everyone else, I've considered having someone brand my skin with a hot needle, but never very seriously.

Not me. I think I have you beat (at least under Erik's standards) for being a prude. I can't understand the need to turn one's body into either a walking piece of upholstery fabric or a walking pin cushion. I have pierced ears, but only 1 hole each ear, and that's where I've happily stopped. I've never even considered getting a tattoo, seriously or otherwise.

alex b
12.7.07 @ 9:58a

Mike, I've got three of them, and the needle is an adrenaline rush. It's not a masochist thing; if I were one, I'd be happy to hire a dominatrix to beat the shit out of me, or never say "Fuck off and die" to morons on the train who deserve it. Every time I've had one done, I have to quell the urge to do it again, otherwise my own body would be a walking museum.

There is a pleasure in getting one done; to speak for myself and a few folks I know, it's usually a pretty personal reason. And, every time I had one done, "hey man, it's TRIBAL!" or "I bet that just looks cool" never motivated it. Nor was it a question of acquiring a sudden case of personality. Mind you, there are morons who get random Chinese letters only to find out it means "Good Grief" instead of "Fierce Warrior" or who think getting a Kermit the Frog tat near their nether regions is a good idea, but I chose to do so based on similar reasons why Maori warriors have old-school moko: to mark a rite of passage, and in my case, to mark a principle in different cities I've lived in on my own. When I marry and have children, I will gladly mark the principles behind that marriage along with love I will feel towards my own flesh and blood.

You don't have to have a tattoo in this day and age; you can leave your skin unblemished, and you're better off leaving it that way if you don't know what to put on it. But someday, if you feel something is perfect and know how to visualize it, I know just the guy for you.


mike julianelle
12.7.07 @ 10:20a

It's not a prude thing. As I say in the column, it's more indecisiveness than anything else. But burning or not - and I've heard about the rush - it seems akin to going to the dentist, except you don't HAVE to go.

jael mchenry
12.7.07 @ 10:34a

There isn't anything I love so much that I want an image of it on my body for the rest of my life, but Alex, I like your reasoning.

ken mohnkern
12.7.07 @ 10:53a

I want one. I thought about participating in Shelley Jackson's The Skin Project, in which participants get a tattoo of a word from a story of hers. So the story exists only on the people. But, you know, it's needles, so I didn't. But I still think about asking Ms Jackson for "I" or some punctuation.

erik myers
12.7.07 @ 11:08a

I totally agree in all ways with Alex on this one.

I personally found it quite enjoyable. Hell of a rush. And then afterwards, it's just like having a light case of road rash.

It's not really needles, ken. It's more like an ink gun.

The worst part of having a tattoo, for me, has been in the fact that I'm now concerned with how it looks. I find myself carrying and applying moisturizer, nowadays. Bizarre.

heather millen
12.7.07 @ 11:52a

I second (third?) the rush. I thought it would be all pain and I found myself disappointed when it ended.

I always knew what tatoo I wanted and where. And finally I decided to do it. It very much does bring back memories of a specific time in my life. But I think it's also symbolic of the person I am now, always have been, and always will be. That's the key. Getting something you'll always feel good about and which means more to you than "I got really drunk and then Betty Boop happened."

I forget about it most the times, but when I catch a glimpse, I enjoy it. And don't let MJ fool ya, so does he.

alex b
12.7.07 @ 12:19p

Glad to know that sane minds think alike on this one :-) (Heh, I purposely installed a "one per city" rule because I keep getting tempted to go for another one.)

Actually Ken, I went and got my first tattoo as a means of getting over my own needle phobia. I'm still nervous while getting a shot, but looking at my tattoos is a reminder of knowing that I didn't have to be afraid. (If you want that "I", get it- and it's yours. Plus Erik is right- it is more like an ink gun).

Heh, Erik, after the high wears off and you're watching the scarring heal, it's actually kind of like, "Ewwww, man, I didn't know it would flake." (Keep moisturizing your tat Erik, because hey, you wanna keep that looking good!)

And Jael, you never know- you may just find something you can commemorate, and it doesn't have to be this big fat honkin' illustration. Sometimes, all you need is a small star on your hip, and it's a nice way to carry something with you.


reem al-omari
12.7.07 @ 1:28p

"Here's a tip: cultivate a personality and maybe you won't have to buy shit in order to convince people you have one."

That's just awesome, Mike. Very well put. My thoughts exactly.

I feel the same way about tats. I can't even get a pair of sunglasses without agonizing over the semi-permanent decision. I contemplated the idea of a tatoo when I was about 18... I think I was a few weeks shy of 19 when I'd finalized the decision that it's not for me.

adam kraemer
12.7.07 @ 3:29p

I have six, but they're small, blue dots used to mark where the radiation therapist had to aim the beam. Does that count? Does it make me more or less hardcore? They look like blue freckles.

alex b
12.7.07 @ 3:32p

Kraemer, you're hardcore, but not in the hot "Prison Break" way.

russ carr
12.7.07 @ 3:35p

Are they in a line, Adam, or could you get an inker to link them into a Star of David?

adam kraemer
12.7.07 @ 3:48p

Actually, I think it's only 5 dots. A sixth would actually lend itself to the Star of David, I think.

alex b
12.7.07 @ 5:08p

Well however many dots there are, we're still talking about a bunch of permanent blue balls.

mike julianelle
12.7.07 @ 6:05p

In Adam's case I believe it's "blue BALL."

ken mohnkern
12.7.07 @ 6:28p

It's not really needles, ken. It's more like an ink gun.

That doesn't help my anxiety, Eric.

robert melos
12.8.07 @ 3:04a

It took me about 15 years to decide on the tattoo I wanted. I only got it this past July 7th. I didn't really pick the date, but I'll always remember 7/7/07 for that reason.

I got the tattoo partially because of my religious beliefs (Pagan/Wiccan) which is very open to them. It isn't a requirement, but most practicing witches have them. The choice of my tattoo design took so long because the design didn't even exist when I first started thinking about it. A friend of mine created the design in 2000 for a business myself and 2 friends started. The business failed, but the design of ConjurMan, which was supposed to be a pendant but didn't ened up as one due to costs, still existed.

I knew I wanted the tat and finally got the nerve up to have it done. It really didn't hurt the way I thought it would. It felt like a deep scratch on my shoulder, and faded immediately upon the final stroke. It wasn't a rush for me, it was more of a feeling of completion. My tattoo simply made me feel more complete with who I wanted to be, with who I am.

As for the design, it was designed by one of my best friends, someone who is a like a brother to me, and reminds me of the ever changing world in which we live. ConjurMan is a symbol of adaptability, and carries that meaning for me as what I hope to achieve in my life. To evolve and be what I desire and not be concerned with the judgments of others. I have to be true to myself, and that is what my tattoo means to me.

I do have a desire to get another one, someday, but I need the design to have a meaning for me more than jsut as a remembrance of a particular time. It has to have deep meaning in my life.

lucy lediaev
12.8.07 @ 9:08p

Case in point: there's this 3-year old chick I work with who just got back from getting a tattoo on her lunch break. This girl's the size and age of a fetus - the tattoo is older than her AND almost twice her size! And it's her second one! It's like her tattoo went to the parlor to get a tattoo.

Where the hell do you work? A three-year old who got a tatoo on her lunch hour?

juli mccarthy
12.9.07 @ 12:38a

I decided to get a tattoo on my 30th birthday. I got it shortly after my 40th. I got my second one just after I turned 41, and that one is now officially a work-in-progress, as I intend to expand upon it to cover most of my back in the next few years.

The tattoo conversation came up with me recently when a friend did an essay on tattoos for a class, and she is very staunchly against them, for religious reasons. She questioned mine. I replied: for me, it's a visual, permanent commitment to the concept or concepts symbolized by the tattoo design. Though the designs of my tats may not make sense to anyone else, they have deep meaning to me; enough so that I had them permanently inscribed on my body.

My tattoos are placed so that they are not generally exposed. You can glimpse a bit of the one on my back if my shirt is scoop-collared, and if I'm not wearing socks, you can see the one on my ankle, though even when I've gone bare-legged it's often gone unnoticed unless I put my feet up. They are there for me. I have nothing to prove to anyone else.

And Ken? It really DOESN'T hurt. It's just annoyingly uncomfortable. The problem is, it's annoyingly uncomfortable for an hour (or more.) Then it itches for two weeks.

juli mccarthy
12.9.07 @ 12:53a

And incidentally, some of the judgment calls here are a little disturbing. No one's suggesting that anyone who doesn't want a tattoo, get one, but the casual disparagement of those of us who DO have them is surprising.

I dare anyone to suggest that Erik, or Alex, or Bobby, or Heather, or I, are tattooed because we are otherwise lacking in personality, or that our tats are on par with "upholstery fabric." If you don't understand it, fine. You have two options: learn WHY we have them and consider that our reasoning might have merit, or just decide not to bother.


sloan bayles
12.9.07 @ 9:22a

Like Juli, I got mine when I was 30. While it wasn't on impulse, I hadn't been contemplating getting one either. For me, it marked a right of passage at that time in my life.

Hmmm, all this reminds me I need to get it touched up.

lisa r
12.9.07 @ 10:33a


I'm sorry if I offended you. My comment was in reference to the folks who seem to be a head-to-toe tattoo.

That being said, I still don't understand the need to get one but I'm not going to actively campaign against the practice. It's your body and your choice.

However, those of us who choose not to get tattoos have also been insulted. We aren't lacking in guts or creativity or anything else. We're happy with our bodies and proud of them they way they are.

juli mccarthy
12.9.07 @ 11:41a

Lisa, I'm sure there are people who get tattoos because they're "cool" or for whatever reason neither you NOR I would do it. I'm not seeing anything here that could be interpreted as the suggestion that there's something wrong with you for not having a tattoo, but if that is the case, I'd like that pointed out specifically.

And you continue to be disparaging, whether you mean to be or not. What suggests to you that my tattoos had anything to do with unhappiness with or lack of pride in my body? (Incidentally, taking pride in my body is part of the reason I have tattoos.) It IS my body and my choice, and at no point did I ask for anyone's approval or permission. That anyone (not just you) feels compelled to weigh in on what anyone else does with their bodies is incomprehensible to me.

tracey kelley
12.9.07 @ 11:54a

I agree with Jael. Respect that others feel the need to have them, but I have yet to find a certain symbol to put on my skin forever.

alex b
12.9.07 @ 2:38p

I'm with Juli on the disturbing judgment call factor- I refrained from saying so, but a couple comments I read look like, "blanket conclusion much?"

No one has to like tattoos, and I don't expect someone to understand my (or Erik's, Heather's, Robert's and Juli's) reasoning. Indecision and some going back-and-forth over getting one is inevitable. But don't piss on another person's way of being by calling it a purchase for personality. I got each of my tattoos to satisfy myself, and they aren't comparable to, for instance, red zippy sports cars owned by balding middle-aged guys hoping to show off and score girls half their age.

alex b
12.9.07 @ 2:40p

Oh, and Juli- nice work with your back art! Hope I see pics of it sometime!

lisa r
12.9.07 @ 4:21p

What suggests to you that my tattoos had anything to do with unhappiness with or lack of pride in my body? (Incidentally, taking pride in my body is part of the reason I have tattoos.)

I had actually planned to just stay away from this discussion permanently after my last post, but this I can't ignore. I did not suggest that people with tattoos are unhappy or not proud of their bodies. How you get that from my comment I do not know. I simply pointed out that those of us who prefer to live without tattoos are content with the status quo of our own skin sans ink. That's it. If you took it any other way I'm sorry.

juli mccarthy
12.9.07 @ 5:16p

Right - and those of us who choose to live WITH ink are equally content, it seems.

My commentary wasn't directed solely at you, Lisa. I'm still trying to figure out Mike's position on this subject, as it seems to be a little bit of everything - he has no problem with others having tattoos, except that he does, and he would get one himself, except he wouldn't.

robert melos
12.10.07 @ 12:50a

I don't equate tattoos with personality. If I don't take my shirt off no one would see my tattoo, and I've got personality out the wazoo. I ooze personality. I got your freakin' personality right here. I know many people without tattoos or personalities. You can always get a tattoo, but it's harder to get a personality.

I don't really see much judgment in this. It sounds like Mike wants one eventually, once he settles on eaxactly what he wants.

A tattoo is a more permanent commitment than marriage. It's easy to get divorced, but getting rid of a tat is way more complicated. I applaud Mike's indicision because it shows he thinks things through and doesn't just jump at getting a Mickey Mouse tattooed on his ass because he got drunk. Judging from some of his past columns if he did get a tattoo every time he got drunk he'd be covered from head to toe.

erik myers
12.10.07 @ 10:00a

It's easy to get divorced, but getting rid of a tat is way more complicated.

Huh. That's funny. I'd say that getting rid of a tattoo is a simple surgical procedure vs. years of messy court proceedings and having to start over on many levels.

I think you have a case of bad metaphors. You should get those looked at.

erik myers
12.10.07 @ 10:02a

I'm sorry if I offended you. My comment was in reference to the folks who seem to be a head-to-toe tattoo.

This reminds me - for years, I used to say that I wanted a full-body tattoo of myself, but taller.

mike julianelle
12.10.07 @ 10:32a

Why the hell is everyone suddenly dissecting my column like it's a freaking peace treaty?

I have no problem with tattoos, I merely know I am too indecisive to choose one, and I am not interested in the needle bit.

I couldn't care less if you have a tattoo or not. I hate most of you regardless. Especially those of you with tattoos.


juli mccarthy
12.10.07 @ 11:43a

"Everyone" isn't dissecting your column, Just me. And I'm doing it because I hate you, duh.

sloan bayles
12.10.07 @ 1:05p

Why is a "War" song in my head now?


And Mike, regarding tattoos I don't mind being a sheep, and I think it's really great that you don't mind being a pussy.


juli mccarthy
12.10.07 @ 1:42p


heather millen
12.10.07 @ 2:25p

I couldn't care less if you have a tattoo or not. I hate most of you regardless. Especially those of you with tattoos.

Mike, it's just tattoo envy. Envy towards those of us who can so bravely to commit to these seemingly unimportant life choices while you flip flop over which Miami Dolphins hat to buy.

Which, by the way, you're welcome for that present. Sometimes, kid, you just gotta bite the bullet!


mike julianelle
12.10.07 @ 2:27p

Thanks. I blame you for their current woes.

dan gonzalez
12.12.07 @ 3:08a

Mike is right, tattoos are for narcissists, it has nothing to do with prudishness. "How can I choose a pithy symbol to summarize myself to all the random, unknowable humps that may glance at my arm and wonder what kind of interesting person has that kind of paint?"

IT'S BULLSHIT, people. In the history of the world, nothing beautiful, no work of art, no poetry, no song, nothing that you ever loved was ever captured in a cartoon you could draw on human skin.

Bottom line, I see a chick with a roadrunner tat? I never try to catch her, it's a waste of time.

I see a chick with Tom? I run, because Jerry took the worst of all that shit.

I see a chick with a Playboy bunny? I look at her tits and then shake my head, especially if they are nice, just to put some random doubt in her feeble mind.

If I see a chick with a rose, or a butterfly, or a goddamn unicorn, I scowl because there is no understanding that at alll.

alex b
12.13.07 @ 4:00p

Dan, as someone who hung out with the needle gun three times for intrinsic reasons and not for for Social Cool Points, I have to disagree. There's some gorgeous skin ink out there (i.e. old-school Maori designs, Juli's FABULOUS back art). Those kinds of modern moko- not the tribal crap on a clubby kid, not the random naked chicks on a wannabe Biker- just adds a little more to who a person is, and narcissism doesn't necessarily motivate it. (Sometimes it's drunken idiocy, but with tats, thought is *usually* involved.)

Oh, and a general word to the wise about tattoos- never, ever get a significant other's name. All one has to do is look at Johnny Depp and remember his "Wino Forever" tattoo once read "Winona."

(And Dan, heh, when you said "a chick with Tom", I thought "Katie Holmes? Huh?")

reem al-omari
12.13.07 @ 8:29p

A very good friend of mine well in her 50s has recently become addicted to getting tats... just in the last couple years, she's had three tats I know of, and she has a total of 5.

I personally don't understand why someone would want to slap something so permanent on that fades and wrinkles with age... but whatever. People express themselves in different ways, and I guess tats are the way for some. Tats don't bother me as much as multiple piercings... I don't get why a piece of metal placed in your skin permanently is self-expression.

Anyway... live and let live, and peace on earth.

beth clement
12.21.07 @ 11:12p

Hey Reem - you reminded me of my "rule of thumb" for tats. If they show and you can live with them once you're over 65 then good for you. If hidden and they have meaning, good for you.

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