I’m grateful to my husband for many things, but the incident that left an indelible mark on my psyche is the time that he giggled at the heraldic lion I was considering as a tattoo design fifteen years ago. I had chosen a spot which was REALLY UNUSUAL for a tattoo, and which, I reasoned, would only get distorted if I got REALLY FAT.
The spot? My lower back, of course. That’s me: always ahead of the curve. (I was also grungy when grungy wasn’t cool.) These days, of course, everyone and his mother, and his grandmother, and his grandmother’s Zumba instructor, and the Zumba instructor’s domestic partner’s great great granddaughter’s babysitter has a tattoo on the lower back. And my own lower back . . . well, that was nine pregnancies ago. You do the fat math.
I still have no tattoos. For once, my crippling indecisiveness paid off: I just couldn’t think of anything that was important enough to write on myself forever. More importantly, I had enough self-awareness to realize that anything that seemed important to me right now was likely to seem childish, trivial, and humiliating within a couple of years.
Now that I’m older and the desire to draw attention to my body has waned about 400% percent, I’m doubly glad that I never got that tat, because I hadn’t realized there are moral implications.
Before we go any further, I would like to quote Leviticus 19 on the topic:
28 “‘Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves. I am the LORD.
I would like to quote Leviticus further:
19 “‘Do not wear clothing woven of two kinds of material.
26 “‘Do not eat any meat with the blood still in it.
27 “‘Do not cut the hair at the sides of your head or clip off the edges of your beard.
I hope that clears up any questions about stuff in Leviticus—at least, if the words “new” and “covenant” mean anything to you. We don’t discard the Old Testament, but we do build on it. If you’re a Catholic, that’s what the Church is for.
The Church has not taught that it is always wrong to get a tattoo. Like all wise mothers, she gives us some wiggle room. Here are some basic guidelines:
—The tattoo itself should not be obscene or designed to offend others by what it depicts or how it makes us look. It is a sin to get horns tattooed on your forehead, for instance, because your goal is to upset, irritate, or frighten people.
—Even if the tattoo design itself is tasteful, your intentions must be decent. It’s wrong to get even the loveliest image if you’re doing it mostly to defy your parents or irritate your spouse. Here cultural perceptions must be considered: it used to be that a tattoo was usually a sign of rebellion or otherness (for hookers, sailors, and jailbirds). Now tattoos are so very common that, like it or not, getting a tattoo doesn’t necessarily signal anything in particular, other than a certain tolerance for needles. I’m not saying, “Everyone does it, so it must be okay.” It’s just that you can’t argue that all tattoos are wrong because all tattoos are shocking—because most people no longer do find them shocking.
—You might also make the case that it’s sinful to choose a tattoo that would make your body seem trivial or inconsequential. This is where it gets tricky: to some people, a rose on the ankle is elegant and poignant. To others, it’s tacky but forgivable. To still others, it’s proof positive that the ankle’s owner is walking trash. But these are aesthetic tastes, and not moral codes. Some people may find all tattoos trivial by definition; but some people consider them fitting embellishments for a temple of the Holy Spirit.
—Tattoos are expensive. Expense doesn’t make them immoral—but it puts them in the category of “unnecessary luxury.” As with any luxury, you shouldn’t be spending money on tattoos if you need it for something else.
Oh, one other thing: I know a priest who has been heavily involved with rescuing people from the occult and from demonic possession. He says that tattoos can be an entry point for occult influences. I can’t find more information about this idea anywhere, but it makes sense to me—not that tattoos automatically implant you with demon spawn or something, but we are corporeal creatures, and what we do with our bodies affects our souls.
Here’s a good overview, which, to my sorrow, gives more information in fewer words.
The final word? Tasmanian Devil, Tweety Bird, or Betty Boop tattoos are always grievously sinful. No extra points will be won by adding any kind of ironic hipster modifications. Zombie Betty Boop is still Betty Boop, and she’ll send you straight to Hell.