CrazySexyCool: Women of a certain age are showing no tattoo remorse

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BOOMER LIFE 1Is it me or are new tattoos showing up more frequently on women over a certain age?

(Am I allowed to say “on women who appear over 50 years old?)

I have nothing against tattoos. No, that’s wrong. It’s just that I didn’t understand females who choose to tattoo, especially with these new images suddenly appear on older women. 

But that was then (yesterday) and this is now (today). As I have read more about the subject, I have come to understand the reasons women may start to get and display tattoos as they have moved through the experience called life.

As I was growing up and as a young mom, it appeared to me that tattoos on women were few and far between. Professionally, tattoos were one of those items you didn’t necessarily want to be seen while interviewing. There were often bad associations associated with them on men, let alone women. 

Before making their way into mainstream culture, tattoos came attached with major stigmas, often associated with sailors and prisoners. And although people with extensive body art may not have been mainstream, it just takes a click on the internet to see that seniors, and not just those in their 60s and 70s, but even older who are proud to show off their body art. For these elders, tattoos often come to note that they learn something new every day; every year they see more milestones, goals accomplished, trials survived, and memories made. 

Over the past years, tattoos became more acceptable, probably starting in the 1960s: soldiers proudly proclaiming their association with the U.S. Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines, and Coast Guard, those opposed to the war, and all the rest who reveled in the Summer (Decade?) of Love

Isobel Varley from Stevenage near London, England, smiles as she poses at the 2003 International Tattoo Convention in Lausanne, Switzerland. According to Guinness World Records, Varley is the world’s most tattooed senior woman via HuffPost. Fabrice Coffrini/AP

And now I am seeing more and more new tattoos on women who appear over 50 (Who am I to judge age? I, for one, believe I “appear” at least 10 years younger than my chronological age! LOL!) And I know these designs are new, because women are talking about their new “tats” with anyone who will listen (think hair stylists and nail professionals) and planning for the next one. What? Weren’t these the same women who warned their own children against getting a tattoo, threatening loss of something near and dear to their youngster’s heart while they were still living under the parental roof? And now mothers and their daughters and bonding over girl trips to the tattoo artist!

At first, I observed small tattoos appearing as butterflies or flowers at the ankle, below the naval (which I didn’t see unless on the beach), or on the shoulder, typically disguised by clothing except perhaps during the summer. Now it seems, elaborate tattoos are planned well in advance, intricate elaborate color drawings not just limited to those unseen areas; think a sleeve of tattoos, elaborate tattoos scenes on the back and elsewhere, the EKG of someone close to them, children’s names, and even pictures of beloved dogs or cats. 

As the work culture has moved from wearing suits in the ’80s to more casual clothing for those working remotely and those “in between,” so has the tattoo become more acceptable in the workplace, although there are still some types of organizations that prefer not to see body art self-expression.

Linda May Ellis of Rockland, Mass., poses at a Boston tattoo convention in 2003. Ellis is holding the childhood picture of herself at 7 years old that was used as a model for the tattoo on her arm, which was done after Ellis turned 50 –  via HuffPost. Michael Dwyer/AP

You, yourself, probably know nurses, doctors, bankers, small business owners, teachers, customer service associates, and teachers who sport visible tattoos. In many cases, workers no longer have to “cover up” the offending artwork with long sleeves and other tattoo-hiding devices.

As my own two daughters don’t rate high for pain tolerance, I am confident I won’t be seeing a tattoo on them anytime soon. And I know I won’t be sporting a tattoo as I enter my Social Security years. Do I really want thick lips and a tongue hanging out on my arm from the Rolling Stones’ lip and tongue logo that first appeared on the 1971 album sleeve of their Sticky Fingers album? And what will it look like in 20 years? No need to create that picture in your mind.  

So, who are these folks that are serving up parts of their bodies for body art? (Notice how as this article has run on, I’ve gone from calling them tattoos to body art?) According to the Huffington Post, 15 percent of Baby Boomers and 32 percent of Gen Xers sport tattoos.

Another survey indicated that around one out of every five U.S. adults (21 percent) had at least one tattoo, with the majority (38 percent) lying between the age of 30 and 39. Americans between the ages of 25 and 29 accounted for 30 percent of the tattooed population, while those aged 18 to 24 made up for 22 percent. And accounting for 16 percent of the survey, it seems Americans over the age of 50 aren’t afraid to show off their ink either.

And yet another survey found around 25 percent of the respondents admitted their tattoo makes them feel rebellious, and three out of 10 said their ink makes them feel sexy. Twenty-one percent said their tattoo made them feel attractive or strong, while 16 percent said it was a spiritual thing. Only nine percent of survey participants indicated their tattoo made them feel healthy, and eight percent said attractive. Of those surveyed, a staggering 86 percent said they had never regretted their decision to get a tattoo, but that thought may change as they get older. 

So, whether it’s for self-expression, asserting independence, or to remember/honor someone, as we grow older perhaps we feel more comfortable saying what Tom Cruise said to the Princeton college recruiter in the 1983 movie Risky Business, “Sometimes you gotta say ‘What the F*ck’.”

A participant in (Personal Ink), a charitable initiative that matches mastectomy patients with tattoo artists. Via Buzzfeed News –


About this Author

Annette Kurman

A native of Philadelphia with baccalaureate degrees in journalism, nursing, as well as an MBA from now defunct Daniel Webster College, Nashua, her endeavors in various roles and industries — as well a very supportive husband — once again bring her to the question of “What do I want to do when I grow up?”