Tuesday, July 13, 2010
Living in Vancouver has many a benefit. Vancouverites truly love their city. Having lived here for five years, I too have begun to drink the Kool-Aid. The city is veritable urban village. It truly is the perfect blend of the natural and the artificial enough to keep anyone amused. In what other place on earth can you find a beach, an organic food market, a five star restaurant, an Art Gallery and a Holt Renfrew all within a twenty block radius?
Last week I decided to truly “take in” my town. The day was perfect. You know, those amazing summer days when all is right with the world. And so, I spent the good part of a Thursday afternoon last week at the beach.
Here is what I learned….
Number one: Aside from a huge tourist boom in this city, not many people work on a perfect sunny Thursday in Vancouver. The beach was packed at one o’clock in the afternoon.
Number two: People who go to the beach on a weekday afternoon watch a great deal of MTV and model their fashion after any one of its reality television series. I am not exaggerating when I state that there were more "Jersey Shore" look-a-likes at Kitsilano Beach than there were on the New Jersey banks of the Atlantic Ocean. People who were not dressed like Snooky or Jwoww looked like Tila Tequila or the next cast of the Real World. Suffice to say, this was NOT your mother’s West Coast Beach experience.
Finally: Tattoos are an impulse purchase.
Have I missed something? Since when did tattoos become an impulse purchase? I’m not talking about the body art that you spend hours constructing in your head…. Carefully searching books and the Internet for the perfect image. You now, the iconic graphic that will define you and summarize your belief system in one picturesque display. No, tattoos are no longer chosen as a statement of one’s being. They are no longer a symbol of something we’ve lost or hope to gain…. Instead they have become a cartoon of what I can only assume is a 16 year old’s bad fly by the seat of your pants decision.
There was once a time when body art was truly an expression of the sacred. There was an art form to it, rooted in history and skill. Today it has become as much of a personal expression as a package of gum. You walk into a tattoo parlour, pick a symbol of the wall and have it inked onto your skin. What the hell?
Where’s the contemplation, the thought, the artistic expression?
Does that tribal half sleeve really say something about you? Are you even Gaelic or did the Gaelic cross just look cool? How many bad bullshit butterfly tattoos are there on ankles across this nation? Do their owner even like butterflies?
There I sat people watching perfectly sculpted bodies all along Kits Beach and all I could think was…. If I had a body that great, I would not write all over it. One such perfect couple sat next to me. He could have easily been in a Fireman’s calendar and here silicon breasts were perfect. She could not help but share with me that her husband had her initials tattooed over his heart. I leaned over her to inspect a perfect man’s “chest art”. He had a beautiful chest. It was lovely. He was well muscled and toned with amazing skin and not a hair on him.
That’s where it ends. For across the whole left side of his perfect in black ink were the initials “C. L. B.” each letter, easily the size of my fist. I many might think this to be a romantic gesture. I do not share this sentiment. I think he took a perfectly good chest and turned it into a high school art project. It was like graffiti on the Chrystler Building. I was less than impressed. Could he not have just bought his wife a lovely piece of jewelry and expressed his love in another art form?
A cross sectional study looking at why people get tattoos was conducted out of the University of Texas and published in the Journal of adolescent Health in 2004. The study looked at a cross-sectional sample of more than 2000 adolescents from eight states in the USA. More than half the teenagers surveyed (55%) expressed an interest in tattooing. Blood bourne illnesses and permanent markings were the chief reasons why kids did not get a tattoos.
More than 10% of those surveyed (ages 15-18) had body ink and responded with their experiences. Tattooing was frequently done around the 9th grade and as early as 8 years of age; over half (56%) reported academic grades of As and Bs. The study indicated that adolescents who want a tattoo will obtain one, regardless of money, regulations, or risks.
A further study conducted in Germany was designed to obtain data on the incidence and relationship of psychological factors to tattooing and body piercing from a large and representative sample of German citizens.
The study examined 2036 German citizens ages 14-93 and their association between body markings (tattoos and piercings) and their quality of life and mental and physical well being. The prevalence of tattooing in the general German population are 8.5%. Individuals aged between 14 and 24 years display the highest rate of tattoos (females, 21%; males, 17%). Positive reasons for tattooing among participants included being motivated by fashion and the urge to fit in with one's peers. There was a correlation between tattooing and a higher rate of unemployment as well as reduced social integration, and increased sensation-seeking behavior.
Attitudes of health care providers and medical and nursing students towards tattooed adults and adolescents were examined in another study from the University of Texas. Womens' attitudes were consistently less favourable than those of men, especially towards tattooed professional women. Attitudes towards tattooed adolescents were generally less positive than attitudes towards the adult groups. Further studies have shown that attitudes of health care professionals DO impact the quality of care they deliver.
I could not help but wonder if I would have treated any one of these human canvases along Kits Beach differently had they presented themselves to my office. I have had countless patients with body art and I can honestly confess that it has not impacted the quality of care I deliver.
Hell, when I am listening to a chest or feeling a liver, I quite like a little art work to break up the day.
That being said, I miss the days when spending hundreds of hours and hundreds of dollars on permanent body marking meant something. Where have all the Japanese Koi or Jericho Roses gone?
In my office, or in an emergency room, a blue bruise of a name or a yellow tweety bird will be treated with respect and kindness. I’m not rushing out to have a shoe inked onto my skin any time soon. I will however spend many a day at the beach this summer judging the art work on display….