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Karin Kasdin Headshot

What Do You Ink?

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As I bathed my 15-month-old granddaughter while babysitting last weekend, I found myself groping for a simile to describe her soft, smooth skin. I couldn't compare it to a baby's behind because she is a baby and it was her behind I was washing. Smooth as satin? Soft as a kitten?Yawn. It dawned on me that there really is nothing as soft and smooth as a baby's skin so I abandoned the effort.

My mind wandered as I made certain to lather the creases in her perfect little elbows and knees. Will she one day dance on those tiny pink toes? Will she dribble a ball with those long, slim fingers or drape her body over a chair and spend hours lost in books? Will she pierce her ears? Will she get a tattoo? Tattoo? Woah! The word jolted me back to the present.

"No way," I muttered as I enfolded her in her lime froggy towel. No way, No way. No way. No way. This perfect body, this celestial gift, must not be tampered with.

Much has changed in our culture since my youth, and I have adapted willingly, sometimes even eagerly. I wear pants to the theater now instead of the white gloves and party dresses my mother insisted I don for such sacred occasions. I can hear the f-bomb repeated multiple times in a single sentence and not even blink. I no longer assume that a woman in 7-inch stilettos and a skirt barely concealing her crotch is a prostitute. For all I know she could be a CEO. But a woman or a man with tattoo sleeves still turns my head in befuddlement.

I should be inured by now. According to a 2012 Harris Poll, one in five U.S. adults (21%) has at least one tattoo. In 2003 and 2008 the number was 16% and 14%, respectively. The same poll found that 86% of people sporting tattoos have never regretted their decision, and 30% of tattoo-wearers say it makes them feel sexier. Seriously?

Granted, I may have biases due to early experience. The few kids who defied their parents and found tattoo artists willing to illegally tattoo a minor without parental permission were the town rebels. We called them "hoods." Our neighborhood hoods could be found loitering by the bridge over the creek that ran parallel to the high school, smoking their cigarettes and doing their best to look threatening. I would regularly walk a half-mile out of my way to avoid crossing that bridge. Old memories and old stereotypes die slowly.

In my day, tattooed people were trying to stand out as individuals. They were bold nonconformists. Today, a visit to the tattoo parlor is just another way of fitting into the crowd. The edginess previously associated with body art is waning. The hordes of tattooed kids romping on the beach this summer didn't look edgy, nor were they conspicuous in their individuality. Rather, they melded into one giant swirl of red and green and blue and lots of black.

Interestingly, more women are getting tattooed today (23%) than men (19%). The feminist in me is delighted and proud that women have broken into yet another domain previously ruled by men, but the mother in me cries, "It's a ridiculous domain," and asks, "If all the men in the world jumped off a bridge, does that mean women would have to jump off as well just to prove they could?"

I wonder how lovers feel upon discovering the name of an ex inscribed upon the chest or back or arm of their new special someone. I wonder how some of these tattoos are going to look when gravity has its way with skin that is, for a fleeting moment in time, taut and seductive. The Abraham Lincoln I saw on a young woman's thigh this summer is likely to develop some serious eye droop.

I wish I didn't recoil at the thought of inflicting pain on others. I wish I didn't cringe at the sight of needles piercing skin. If I had a stronger constitution I would begin an encore career poste haste by franchising a chain of What Was I Thinking Tattoo Removal Centers. I suspect there will be a large market for the service in the not-too-distant future.

Of course, I may be wrong. Old people who can't cotton to tattoos sometimes are.