Rheta Grimsley Johnson: Tattoos go mainstream

March 14, 2013 10:05:21 AM

Rheta Grimsley Johnson -


I haven't seen the Ladies' Home Journal in about a million years, except maybe in the dentist's office when I was trying to avoid a television permanently set on Fox News. 


Somebody's grandchild was selling magazines for a school project, and Ladies' Home Journal was the only one on the list I recognized. Now it comes to the house. 


Let's just say: It's not my mother's Ladies' Home Journal. This month, right behind a feature called "A Country of People Who Never Stop Eating" is one called "Nice Girls Do Get Tattoos." 


Beneath the headline are six pages of full color photographs of pretty ladies proudly showing their tattoos and telling the story behind them. Most of the featured tattoos are not small and discreet, but sailor-worthy mermaids and backs full of cherry blossoms and, on one arm, a full-color depiction of the woman's North Carolina mountain cabin. And, of course, there was your obligatory Wonder Woman. 


These are significant tattoos, the kind you see on teenagers roaming and living on the street in New Orleans. 


More amazing than the tattoo photographs were the stories. One mother, a legal secretary, went with her 19-year-old college-bound daughter to get a tattoo. Another, a software developer, wanted a tribute to her late uncle. Another paid ink homage to her late aunt. 


The latter made me think of a conversation I had with my beloved niece more than a decade ago. Chelsey had never mentioned wanting a tattoo, but I decided to nip in the bud any such thoughts. 


"If you want a tattoo," I said, cracking wise. "I'll pay for it. But it has to be across your forehead and say 'Cheap Christmas Trash.'" 


"But I don't want a tattoo," she had protested, rolling her eyes. So far as I know, she still doesn't have one. 


The featured women almost made their self-imposed beauty marks sound reasonable. A nurse, subject to panic attacks, gave up pills by learning to control her anxiety by taking a deep breath. Her tattoo says: BREATH. The teacher with the Cherokee peace flag on her stomach got a message in church from her late grandmother that led to her tattoo. Would you refuse your grandma? 


The most fascinating story was told by a 47-year-old female construction manager who was enduring a divorce, a layoff and menopause. So, she said: "Seven painful hours later, I had my first tattoo. After three days of itching and two weeks of peeling, it was all worth it." 


And that brings me to one reason that I'll never have The Little Prince on my arm or Hank on my back or a Robert Service poem tattooed on my leg: pain. I could never endure it. 


I'm the same person who, as a coed, had one pierced ear for a year before I could face the pain of having the job finished. I figure there's enough pain in this life without volunteering your body parts as a canvas. 


There's another reason as well. I've never known how to accessorize. It's hard enough to pick shoes and a bag that go with an outfit. How would you ever know how to match a blouse with an arm full of mermaids? 


Maybe next month's Ladies' Home Journal will address that issue.