So I’ve been thinking about tattoos.
Yup. Those little “marks of the devil” that all the rebels keep permanently destroying their bodies with — yes, those.
Well, I spent a lot of time thinking about tattoos this summer and I finally decided … to not get one yet. Don’t worry, mom; even though I’m legally able to get a tattoo, I decided to abstain from the dark forces of evil for just a little longer. Your baby’s innocence is safe.
If it’s not obvious already, I’m almost entirely kidding. I don’t believe tattoos are of the devil, and I didn’t refrain from getting one in order to protect my innocence. I did, however, contemplate the philosophy of tattoos for quite a bit this summer.
Honestly, I’ve always loved tattoos.
I think they’re really cool. I suppose that, in the back of my mind, it was always somewhat assumed that I would eventually get a tattoo when I was older. But I hadn’t ever really thought about why I wanted one until this past year.
So often, the defense for tattoos in the past has been something along the lines of “I need something to mark my body with and make it my own! I want to stand out from the crowd and treat my body like the one-of-a-kind beauty that it is!”
As someone who very much dislikes individualism and its presence in western culture, this common explanation for tattoos really irks me. Is this really the best argument for tattoos? Granted, this is probably one of the better arguments out there. (I’ve heard some pretty nightmarish reasons for why people got the tattoos they did.) But still, this can’t be the reason I want a tattoo. Especially in Christian circles, there has to be a better defense for tattoos.
So, I thought real hard about what it is about tattoos that entices me so much. Why would I ever want to permanently put some marks and shapes on my body? And then it hit me. I knew the drive behind my love for tattoos, and for so many other things in this life.
Specifically, beauty for the glory of God — the one who is all beauty. Someday, I want to get a tattoo in the name of beauty.
And here begins my rant in defense of tattoos. I refuse to believe that tattoos in of themselves are by any means evil. So long as I contemplate the words and shapes which I put on my body for a long, long time and find that they’re meaningful enough to adorn myself with, and so long as they’re done beautifully and excellently, why would I not want to place permanent reminders of God’s goodness on my body?
As I said earlier, the common motive for getting tattoos is to set oneself apart from the rest of humanity, and this is appalling to me. As people, we all collectively share in the experience of being human. We were all born with the ability to love and to think and to emote. Surely, God created us all differently and gave us each individual strengths and passions and struggles. God made each one of us to be unique, and he still knows the numbers of hairs on each of our heads.
But God didn’t make us different just so that we could each have vastly different fashion styles and each do our own unique thing in isolation. He made us unique so that we could collectively come together for the betterment of our human community as a whole. If there were no variance between us, how would we invent different devices? How would we be inspired by each other’s artwork to create our own? How would we love people for who they are if they were no different than who you were?
We are all humans, collectively working together for the good of our humanity in the name of our God. This means we’re all unique and individually loved by God, but it also means we are all humans made in God’s image. If you care at all about the divine intention of the Creator and the body He gave you, you shouldn’t want to separate yourself from the species you were intended to be by marking yourself as different from the rest of humanity.
So, individualism and the need to feel special and different are not good enough reasons to get a tattoo.
But adorning yourself with a special design or quote that you find to be both good and beautiful? Why wouldn’t you want to offer your body up to God in that way?
This is the way I see it. If you find a set of words you like, for instance, and you really treasure them because they speak meaningfully to your life, you should contemplate those words for a long time to make sure they mean what you think they mean. If, after several months, you find that those words still speak truth about your existence and are God-honoring in their nature, and you still find that you want to have them permanently attached to the body you were given, then go for it.
These bodies that we inhabit are beautiful works of art made by God — a God who works creatively and beautifully to produce things in our world. That doesn’t mean these bodies are ours forever and that we now somehow have the right to destroy them in whatever way we please. So long as we wish to honor God with them and remember that they are temples for God to inhabit, we should be working to actively maintain the health and beauty of our bodies.
In some cases, this means eating better food to lose weight so that your body works better. In other cases, this means cutting your hair to a length that’s more flattering to your face shape.
And, I propose, this can also mean adorning your body with a work of art in permanent ink because you want to live with its beauty and goodness forever.
It means that, if you want to put a permanent mark on your body because you think it looks good, that you must offer it up with a prayer, saying something along the lines of:
“Here is the body you gave me. I’ve tried to take good care of it and appreciate all of its wonderment. This body — your work of art, O God — is beautiful. Here are the ways in which I’ve tried to participate in its beauty by maintaining it and adding to it. Thank you for all the wonderful ways it works and for making me to be the unique human that I am.”
I realize this is probably only one side of an infinitely-sided cube labeled “Tattoos ... Are they good?” But it’s what I have to say about them right now. Let this be my plea to stop the misconception that tattoos are evil, but also to raise the standards for one’s reasons to get a tattoo.
The human body is splendid and beautiful. Don’t try to be anything but human because that’s exactly what you’re supposed to be. But also don’t shy away from trying out new ways to participate in its already existing beauty.