updated 2 Aug 2014, 21:07
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Fashion statement or real milestone in your life?
by Ng Tze Yong

IN MY teens, I used to fantasise about getting a tattoo.

Not a fire-breathing dragon or an 18-arm Goddess of Mercy, but something subtle, something classy.

Something cool, that would make people go 'ooh' when they saw it.

But what?

A tiny Celtic cross at the back of the neck? Cool, but why? I'm not a Celt.

A ring of barbed wires on the biceps? Too generic.

What about this: A lizard on the ankle?

But what would I say if someone asked what it meant? Because it's pretty?

The sad truth, I realised from musing about getting a tattoo, was this: There was nothing that I wanted to say about myself badly enough.

That is why whenever I see someone with a tattoo now, I'm intrigued.

If tattoos are the ultimate personal statement, I want to know: What is it you want to tell me?

What is the story behind your tattoo? Do you have one?

Is it a personal motto you live by? Is it a memory of a loved one lost?

Are you like Grace, the 15-year-old girl featured in The New Paper yesterday, who said she tattooed an eagle above a scar left by her abusive ex-boyfriend, to remind her of her folly?

Is it silly? Is it profound? Who are we to judge the way she wants to remember her pain?

So right or wrong, I'm not too fussed about it.

Common in many cultures

Tattoos are common enough among many cultures. The Maoris, for example, use tattoos to mark the milestones in a person's life.

Nor can I conclude that only bad guys have tattoos.

Didn't the Chinese patriot Yue Fei famously have four Chinese characters 'jin zhong bao guo' ('Serve the country with utmost loyalty') tattooed across his back?

So if tattooing, in itself, is neither right or wrong, I can only look at the power of the stories they tell.

Sadly, many tattoos seem to be little more than fashion statements.

Butterflies on shoulders, English names in Chinese characters, dragons, guns and roses - tattoos have become almost cliche, proof of both a desire to stand out and a lack of imagination.

But even then, I find it hard to judge.

We all do things for the sake of vanity.

Adults go for botox, liposuction and Lasik. Teenagers want tattoos to look pretty.

Is it really that far off?

To be sure, tattoos can present health risks, they can make it hard to find a job, and they can go wrong.

Still, there are the ones, like Grace's eagle, that surprise me.

These are the ones which tell a story worthy of a tattoo's permanence, and which in its introspection, beauty and power, prove that inked skin can be more than a fashion statement.

This article was first published in The New Paper

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