One look at my thumbnail picture and it’s pretty obvious that I am a big fan of tattoos. I have almost one hundred hours and a couple thousand dollars under my skin. The majority of my work was done while I was living in China, where it is much less expensive than in the USA (and this way, I know my Chinese language tattoos are correct) though I had several done stateside as well. Despite my copious amount of ink, I have never had any trouble finding a white-collar job, and in fact, I have never once had anyone say anything negative about my tattoos to me directly.
Tattoos are a touchy subject for many people and cultures and this is why I try to be sensitive to those around me. Some people with lots of ink adopt an aggressive, standoff-ish attitude, flaunting their tattoos and enjoying the discomfort they cause. This can cause problems in Christian circles. Leviticus 19:28 tells the Hebrews to not cut their bodies for the dead or to receive tattoos, since this was a common practice among pagan cultures. One oft-quoted anti-tattoo verse is 1 Corinthians 6:19: “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?” The way I see it, the responses to these verses are quite simple: the passage in Leviticus was directed at the Hebrews and does not apply to Gentiles or those under the New Covenant. The verse before says, “Do not cut the hair at the sides of your head or trim the edges of your beard.” Can’t say I know any Christians upholding that precept of the Law. As far as our bodies being “temples,” I do not feel that getting tattoos desecrates or defaces the gift that God has given me. I do not have horrific imagery or profanity permanently marked under my skin; I have Bible verses and Bible-inspired symbols, the names of my wife and kids, personal mantras, and benign geometric designs. If anything, I see them as adornments to the temple. In the end, it’s a matter of preference and of conscience.
So let’s get to the reason why I brought up the subject of tattoos: ink in entertainment. I cannot immediately recall Christian stories where tattoos were a significant element, and this is perhaps due to the church’s cautious attitude about tattoos. I cannot say for sure, but I believe that I am one of the most, if not the most, tattooed Christian author writing today. I could be wrong, and since
I have not read every Christian book on the shelves, I am sure to be missing some examples. Where I do see tattoos make frequent appearances are in fantasy, sci-fi, YA, and *shudder* erotica.
The tattooed bad boy has long been an item of female fascination, and women in general are more interested in adornments and decoration, so naturally they often appear in YA and erotica, since women are the primary market for these genres. Go to Goodreads and search for “tattoos” in their book lists and you’ll see what I mean. I never read the books but the movie adaptation of The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones featured numerous (and poorly-drawn) tattoos. Jacob in the Twilight series showed his wild side when he got a tattoo. The Divergent books and movies have tattooed characters. The list goes on.
Tattoos appear with less frequency in fantasy and science fiction but you can find them if you look. Most military sci-fi books or movies (or any military books or movies for that matter) will have tattoos. The shaved-headed she-warrior Dania in Robert Mullin’s Bid the Gods Arise is heavily inked. Harry Potter himself has a forehead tattoo though it wasn’t done on purpose. More often than not, it’s the bad guys that have tattoos (along with goatees *sigh*) but as society increasingly accepts tattoos, they move more into the realm of truth and justice.
So why this fascination with tattoos? From my personal experience, I can testify that tattoos are awesome. They hurt like the dickens but they are totally worth it, as long as you are prepared for the lifelong commitment. Tattoos have historically been associated with strength, aggression, power, status, rebellion, and tribal identity. They have traditionally been a male-dominated pursuit but women have been getting in on the action more and more, and in books as well, especially if the writer wants their character to appear tough or edgy. Beautiful, feminine tattoos are also becoming the norm.
As our society’s interest in tattoos becomes more widespread and mainstream (they’re not just for sailors, convicts, or gangbangers anymore), we can expect that they will pop up with greater regularity in our entertainment. I am glad that being tattooed doesn’t carry the stigma that it used to, but I am also aware of the seriousness of the decision to get inked and the statements they can make to the world. I recently re-watched one of my favorite Gothic action fantasy movies, Solomon Kane. He is a tortured man running from the devil and his wicked past, and he covers himself in sacred tattoos to ward off evil. Unlike thoughts or feelings, tattoos cannot change or be concealed if the skin is exposed.
I explored the consequences of tattoos in a book called Indelible. The story centers around a modern-day fantasy weapons designer who wants to attract more attention to himself and his work, so he gets a facial tattoo. It changes his life for better and for worse, and the truth is that tattoos can be a very serious matter. If you are a writer and you are wanting to give your character tattoos, make it as unique and personal as you can, since that is how tattooing is usually approached in real life. And if you are a reader, consider how much attention the author paid to their characters’ tattoos. Did they throw them in there just to make their character cool? Are they generic symbols that have some sort of purpose but again are really just added for the cool factor? Or are they as unique as the character themselves with meaning or stories behind them? The age-old advice holds true in the real world and in fictional ones: Think before you ink.