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What you need to know for 08/23/2017

Dean's List: Our curious fascination with tattoos

Dean's List: Our curious fascination with tattoos

She was so affected by the death of her dog Norman that she had his name tattooed on her foot.

In case you haven’t already heard, Jennifer Aniston has a tattoo.

You quite likely gasped upon reading that — upon learning that the heretofore totally uninked Miss Aniston has succumbed to that curious attraction to etch in one’s skin an indelible picture or symbol or words.

In her case, however, it was for a worthy cause. Sort of. It was in memory of her 15-year-old dog who died earlier this year.

I found it quite touching that she was so affected by the death of Norman — that was the dog’s name — that she commissioned a little tattoo of his name on the inside of her right foot.

It’s not something I’d ever do, but then I’ve never understood the lure of tattoos. When I was a kid, tattoos were worn by servicemen — often they said “Mother” but sometimes they depicted a big dagger through a heart or a coiled snake — and by people in the circus whom you could see for a fee. Nowadays, they’re sported by a large percentage of the population, and sometimes in the unlikeliest of anatomical regions. I mean, seriously, how many people are going to get to see a tattoo there?

Tattoos are an ancient custom — going back some 5,000 years — but they weren’t part of every culture and they weren’t always for ornamentation. Sometimes they were medicinal.

Remember “Otzi the ice man?”

His frozen body was discovered in 1991 in the mountains between Austria and Italy and was regarded by scientists as a real treasure. Because his body was frozen, it was the best preserved corpse ever found from that era, which was 5,000 years ago.

Otzi’s body bore 57 tattoos, but archaeologists say they believe they were meant to treat his arthritis, not to suggest tribal membership or status or anything else.

Anthropologists and other social scientists who study human customs say some tattoos of ancient peoples were thought to have magical powers and others were symbols of status. In Samoa, tattoos were associated with the onset of puberty, and women of some American Indian tribes had tattoos on their chins to indicate their marital status. Among the Hawaiian people, it was traditional for tattoos to mimic natural designs, and some women had their tongues tattooed.

When I was young, tattoos were restricted to certain classes. That’s not the case anymore. Anyone in any walk of life — well, perhaps not priests and nuns — might have a tattoo somewhere on his or her body.

Back in the day, guys got tattoos when they were drunk. Is that still true today? What about women?

I knew a woman who in her youth was a little wild, because in those days you had to be a little wild to have a tattoo, and she had her boyfriend’s name tattooed on her wrist. She had additional tattoos on her fingers, one letter on each finger to spell out something, and elsewhere I imagine, but I was only aware of those tattoos that a platonic friend might observe.

When I knew her, she was a mature woman. She had married her boyfriend, but he had died in a motorcycle accident. She now wore Band-Aids over her tattoos, freshly applied every day, because tattoos might seem clever or rebellious or even cute when you’re twentysomething, but when you’re sixtysomething, they just look silly.

I’ve never given any thought at all to getting tattooed personally for a lot of reasons, but one trumps all the rest. It’s got to hurt like hell to get all those needles stuck in your arm or your back or your neck or, if you’re Mike Tyson, your face.

And I don’t even like getting a flu shot.

Irv Dean is the Gazette’s city editor. Reach him by email to

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