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How (un)cool is that?


Most of the people choosing to get tattoos, particularly tattoos with Jewish themes and images, are under the age of thirty-five. Most people over the age of fifty are profoundly resistant to the idea of Jews with tattoos, regardless of their level of religious observance.

This is a paragraph from Andy Abram’s essay Kosher Ink, included in an anthology from the Jewish Publication Society. Setting aside the wonder of the typically well-behaved JPS taking on tattoos & piercing along with other topics of the body – and further setting aside the wonder of a “pro-tattoo” writer being given equal time in such a venue, all I have to say oy: is this off-the-cuff statistic just another way of saying we’re cool and our parents don’t get it?

Turns out that Abrams isn’t completely pulling his assertion out of a hat. Here are the stats from 2007:

  • First, approximately 1 in every 4 Americans 18-50 has a tattoo. This is up from 16% in 2003. No one is keeping numbers on the over-50 crowd.
  • One third of all 18-25 year olds have at least one tattoo; in the 26-40 age group, it’s 40%.
  • 31% of people with tattoos are gay, lesbian, or bisexual (how they figure this one out, I don’t know)
  • 34% of people with tattoos feel sexier because they are tattooed & 29% feel more rebellious
  • Democrats are more likely to be tattooed than Republicans, though the latter are more likely to regret their decision to be inked.

Moral of the story? You’re more likely to be inked if you’re under 40 and a Democrat, with queer tendencies. This is probably no different for Jews than the general population. Abram is clearly right about this, but his statement about the stodgy over-50 crowd doesn’t jive with my own experience. Some of the most interesting and engaged conversations about my tattoo have been with other Jews over the age of 50. Maybe they’re all too polite to offer profound resistance, but that doesn’t seem a plausible explanation. We’re talking Jews here.

Maybe I just hang out with very open-minded people. Or maybe, more likely, what’s going on is not across-the-board closed mindedness, but a cautious adjustment to new developments. Maybe once the all-too-human knee-jerk reaction to change is out of the way, we oldsters are capable of thinking for ourselves, thank you very much. Maybe we’re cooler than we look.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Dan Price permalink
    01/19/2010 1:01 pm

    Consider a body part (perhaps a forearm) without a tatoo. I see something incomplete, only a part of the most wondrous mechanism ever devised, an engineering marvel exceeding the performance of any machine ever devised by humanity. Far surpassing the marvel of the body, is the marvel of the mind contains; a smorgasboard of possibilities that never runs out of surprises. Then beyond even this is the soul residing therein; the capacity to not just recognize beauty, but to appreciate it; not simply the ability to recognize justice, but a compulsion to seek it; the ability, the need, to love. Now consider the same body part with a tattoo; I see a tatoo.

    • sue swartz permalink*
      01/19/2010 9:39 pm

      I’m with you on the wondrousness of our bodies and the marvel of our minds, including the capacity to recognize beauty. I would even suggest that beauty is some of what compels people to permanently paint their bodies. I’ll give it some more thought – feels like there is a whole post to be had here.

  2. Herb Solomon permalink
    01/19/2010 7:08 pm

    Hi Sue: I must admit I don’t understand the phenomenon. I used to consider it a rebellion. Your statistics suggest its becoming so common that those who abstain are the “oddballs” like those that “just say no” to drugs, tobacco, alcohol, and recreational sex. Congratulations in joining the mainstream. Love, Herb

    • sue swartz permalink*
      01/19/2010 9:21 pm

      Rebellion? Let’s remember that men and women both have applied tattoos for thousands of years for warfare preparation, magical protection, caste or tribal initiation, pain relief, and just plain beauty. People in Polynesia, the Americas, ancient Greece, pre-state Europe, and the Middle East all marked their skin. Maybe we moderns are just latecomers, not innovators.

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