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Tattoos: Who's Showing Them & Who's Hiding Them

It was an unseasonably warm Sunday; it was the sort of day that inspires New Yorkers to jog along the Hudson. I was heading to NYU for a panel discussion on the relationship between national security and torture with one of the speakers, an accomplished social justice attorney. I was surprised to see what appeared to be a tattoo on her arm. I live in Greenwich Village, where an ankle without a tiny flower almost seems neglected, but I’d never encountered someone this credentialed with a snake encircling her wrist. The woman had worked for human rights in third world countries, so conceivably what I’d seen was henna.

Noticing me looking at her wrist, she asked, “Do you like the bracelet?” I admitted I’d momentarily imagined she’d visited one of the many tattoo parlors that dot our neighborhood, often next to a sex shop with a six-foot mannequin in a nurse’s outfit, and had herself adorned with a message consistent with her agenda, maybe, “Torture doesn’t work.”

We both laughed, but the reality is tattoos are no longer confined to bikers, hippies, and rock stars. They’ve become popular with younger people, even those aspiring to professional success. Are they considering the effect of body art in the workplace? Might a patient hesitate having surgery performed by someone with a nose ring? Does Laura Bush wear modest jackets so we can’t see that the first lady had a design etched on a breast while binging? Is Ruth Bader Ginsberg hiding tattoos under the robe? I hope the young people won’t, when they’re older, come to regret the choice once the art is mingling with liver spots and varicose veins.


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