Why the F not: get a tattoo

Frida Kahlo tattoo over 50

Photo by Megan Bayley

I got my first tattoo last year about a month before I turned 50. Approximately five years previous, I binge-watched L.A. Ink. I loved watching people of all ages from all walks of life getting tattooed (Kat Von D’s amazingness was an added bonus). I was particularly enamored of the portrait tattoos and the stories behind them.

Around the same time, I struck up a new friendship with Marie McCarthy, owner of Rose Gold’s Tattoo and Body Piercing Parlor. The confluence of the friendship and the show solidified my decision to get a tattoo. It took me a while to finally pull the trigger, but every year I grew older I increasingly asked myself: “Why the fuck not?”

At 50, a lifetime seemed incredibly, distressingly short.

I’d been considering a tattoo since my 20s, but back then a lifetime seemed like a long time to live with permanent ink on my skin. At 50, a lifetime seemed incredibly, distressingly short.

The stencil (and my broken earring).

Increasing social acceptance

In addition to being older and caring less about others’ judgement, it also seemed to me that tattoos were increasingly common and accepted. It turns out that perception is accurate: 3 in 10 Americans and nearly half of Millennials have tattoos, according to a 2015 Harris Poll. That’s up from 2 in 10 in 2011. Plus, the number of Americans who aren’t judgy about tattoos is on the rise.

39% of all Americans (54% of Millennials) are ‘extremely comfortable’ with police officers having tattoos.

My 50-year-old face, broken earring, and tattoo artist Jared Bent

According to the Harris Poll, 39% of all Americans (54% of Millennials) are “extremely comfortable” with police officers having tattoos, 37% (52% of Millennials) are cool with inked real estate brokers, 36% (50% of Millennials) would not throw shade at bankers with tats, 35% (51% of Millennials) are fine with doctors with tattoos, 34% (49% Millennials) wouldn’t judge judges, and  32% (46% Millennials) would even be down with tatted presidential candidates.

Phase 1 is complete!

However, as Marie alluded to in our podcast interview, these numbers likely apply to single, small-ish tattoos. Bodysuits and larger pieces may still be somewhat shocking to the average bystander.

Mine is somewhere in between. It’s quite large but easily hidden. I haven’t had many opportunities to feel self conscious about it, although recently, while chasing around my 5-year-old in a public pool with the tattoo fully visible, I wondered how Frida-obsessed people must have thought I was as I repeatedly called “Frida” to my child (that’s her name). I mean I am Frida-obsessed so that’s cool.

Frida Kahlo tattoo

This was the second session—a rest period with a distressing amount of cactus remaining to be finished, as well as a lot of red ink that looks disturbingly like blood.

Pain

Oh, but does it hurt? Hell yes, friends, it hurts like a motherfucker. I learned a few things, though, that might help you out. My tattoo was done in two sessions, each about four hours long.

Eat

I did not follow Marie’s instructions to eat a substantial meal with plenty of carbs and protein beforehand (I had a salad, duh). A couple hours in I had to ask Jared to stop because tears were involuntarily streaming from my eyes and I couldn’t take it. He asked if I was going to faint and although I didn’t actually think I would I said “maybe” because I didn’t even trust myself. One of the other artists offered to buy me candy and when he asked what kind I said “dark chocolate” and he brought me two dark chocolate Milky Ways. I was hoping for, like, an 85% cacao fancy bar but beggars can’t be choosers and the Milky Way definitely made me feel better (I only ate one though I have to admit it was extremely delicious).

Take meds

I took no pain killer before my first session, but for the second session I popped a couple of CBD capsules and it seemed to help though I have no scientific proof to back this up. Many tattoo studios will offer CBD or something else for a small fee. If you’re going the more traditional route, experts recommend acetaminophen (Tylenol) rather than ibuprofen because the latter can increase and/or prolong bleeding—same goes for aspirin.

Read (or otherwise distract yourself)

For the first session, I tried getting chatty with Jared which I realized later was not the best idea because: 1. he needs to concentrate; 2. it’s really hard to carry on a conversation when you’re in pain. The neuronal functions involved in a vocal exchange seemed to make for an extra uncomfortable experience.

Choose a book that will easily transport you to another world.

During session two, I read a book on my phone. It was 1,000 times better than trying to sustain a conversation, and I’m pretty sure Jared was relieved. Choose a book that will easily transport you to another world, but nothing too light because you want your brain to be challenged and engaged in a good way. At the same time, don’t choose a tome that will be difficult stay interested in. This is no time to catch up on the classics on your list. Watching a show or a movie might also be a good idea—check out some other ideas here.

Frida Kahlo tattoo

Finished, not healed.

Other Considerations

Probably don’t wear white. See photo above.

Lastly, tipping 20% is apparently de rigueur. I had no idea I was supposed to tip, and ended up Venmoing Jared a couple months later when I happened upon an article that mentioned it.

Now, I’m ready for my next tattoo, and again I’m somewhat immobilized by indecision. But I believe it will involve my favorite car: a vintage Mustang. Artist recommendations welcome!

Also, it you’re looking for a tattoo artist in San Francisco I highly recommend checking out Rose Gold’s. It’s beautiful inside, so clean and professional, and Jared is amazing. He is only there occasionally, so DM him or call Rose Gold’s to find out when he’ll be in town. Most of the year you can find him in Lake Worth, Florida at Aces High.

Frida Kahlo tattoo

Finished!

Frida Kahlo tattoo over 50

Photo by Megan Bayley

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