What Quantity for Quality

The opposition I hear about tattoos just cracks me up sometimes. When it isn't bred from religious scripture worshiped without context, the most common reservations come from senior citizens, and usually have to do with money.

My most recent encounter with this took the form of the old man proprietor of a vintage lingerie store. Keep in mind we’re talking French here. We’re going to ignore the fact that he was lonely and extremely flirtatious and tried to offer me some 50 year old pair of underwear as a “petit cadeau” for talking to him to try for the bigger point. He noticed my nose piercing and almost shrieked. He asked me to come closer and shook his head in disappointment. “How could you do something like that to yourself,” he said disparagingly.

In a new found urge to perturb this stranger so invested in what I did with my own body I replied with “Oh, if you think that’s bad, you should see my tattoo,” while pulling up my shirt and brandishing my ribs.

The man’s eyes went bug-eyed and he yelled “No! How could you?” As if I had slighted him intentionally with my past. I put my shirt down and laughed. He went off for a little bit at how naive I was and blablabla and then asked to see it again. I told him I designed it and his eyes changed. More interested than offended now and then he asked “Can I touch it?” And, as they do, he was already touching it, no consent apparently needed.

Left with the paradox of being morally opposed to tattoos but also enamored by one, he resolved with a new opposition:

“They are so expensive!”

This is where I drew the line. This was a man who owned a lingerie store where a single pair of underwear cost 190€. That would be more than half of what my first tattoo cost. The clothes he sold that weren't lingerie could be upwards of 250€.

I didn’t continue the conversation after that. But I think you might grasp where I neglected to go. You’re telling me I am expected to spend 250€ on something, that, if good quality, would maybe last me 10 years, and even then, might lose it’s value to me within five. But spending 300€ on something I designed, that has all this value and meaning, that would last, arguably, my entire life, that’s too expensive? Frivolous? You’ve got to be kidding me.

I always buy clothes according to their value. Paying more that $10 for a dress is like, something to seriously consider. How often will I wear it, how well does it fit? Do I have to modify it at all? This all plays a part in considering what it is worth to me. Shoes, are the same. I am willing to spend upwards of $100 on shoes because I expect to wear them all the time and last for a long, long time. And comfort is also an important factor to consider.

That biker jersey, for example cost me $2. $4 if you count the fact Jennifer and I got matching ones. It would have been worth it just to wear it once, matching my best friend. The shoes, however, cost me upwards of $90 because they have been in good condition for two years, are waterproof, comfortable, and you can run my feet over with a full shopping cart and I wouldn’t notice. VV&J Roadtrip 2014, Great Sand Dunes, Mosca, CO.
We matched.

I am typically a pretty frugal person. I feel like that’s a necessity throughout college, at least in the US. But frugal doesn’t just imply cheap, it implies a filtering out of what is low quality. I will pay shit for shit, and the price can go up as the quality does.

So when it comes to tattoos, let’s talk about the one I’m getting in France, I’m going to be paying for a lot of things.

I’m paying for the following:

ink and tools for making the tattoo,
the time taken for consulting with the artist, we had two separate consultation meetings.
the artist’s time taken to render my drawing into something tattoo-able and a stencil to trace on my body,
hours of hyper-concentrated labor for the artist to accurately tattoo the design, that he didn’t even create, on my body.
A permanent piece of art on my body for, again arguably, the rest of my life.

All that for 300€ and a tip? In my opinion, that’s pretty cheap.

I do have the added perk of bringing in my own design, I realized that if you pick a design of the artist’s out of their book, you pay for the right to wear the design.

Église de Saint Antoine, Chesnay, France.

This experience has gone differently than my first one in California. Firstly, this is France, and in France, at least in Chesnay, a little town next to Versailles, you close at 19H. Unlike tattoo parlors in the US that could be open all hours of the night, here, you have to be out of there by 7PM.

There was also the time difference, not the 24 hour clock, but the emphasis on a low stress environment. When I asked why my design would take maybe four hours to do, my artist responded with “Oh, we want to take our time, no stress. We want to make sure to have a coffee break and talk things through.” I thought the way he said this was even funnier than what he was saying. He was so chill about the whole thing. My artist even offered to celebrate the tattoo afterwards. “If you have time after, we should go to the corner and get some good beer!”

Not that the parlor in California was much more tightly-wound. But I made the very interesting choice of going to a Christian tattoo parlor, with born-again Christian types, zealous and proselytizing.

In that tightly-wound Christian-ness came bound with it, issues with the body, which I found ironic, given his profession. The man who spent three hours tattooing my rib cage was terrified of seeing my boobs, and made me tape a sheet to them out of modesty. And I’m just like “Alright, but seriously?”

The two men working this parlor were the same in integrity. Not creepy, welcoming to families. One consultation I finished up was followed by two mom’s and their kids coming in together for one of the mom’s tattoo sessions. They have been professional and blunt when it came to my body. “You want it on your thigh? Close to the ass or the middle?”

“The middle, I think,” I replied.

“Good, that’s smarter. If you plan on having kids, or if your body changes drastically over time, it will look like shit close to your ass.”

“Good to know!”

There was a greater interest to understand my design in France too. My artist asked for a list of the symbols so he could look them up and test if there were better ways to represent them. He even sat with me and looked up pictures of Sekhmet statues on the internet to see how I had rendered it and see if there was a better way for it to be tattooed. He was thorough and extremely kind.

The conversation between my artist and the other tattooer at the parlor was pretty great too. “It’s going to be intense,” says the other tattooer.

My artist replies simply “her first was on her rib cage.”

The other one looks back at me, quiet for a moment. I take the opportunity to add “Trois heures.”

“…You’re going to be fine,” he says.

I’m glad I got my first done in one of the most painful places, it makes conversations about my choices a lot quicker; they know I’m serious.

All this to say, I’m getting my second tattoo this Saturday. A post explaining my second image will come after the appointment, but I wanted to address the idea of what quality comes from the quantity of money spent. I by no means insist this should be everyone’s value system, but that values can certainly differ on what is valuable. Clothes are never going to be worth as much to me as art and my spirituality, so I hope that makes the leap to ink my body easier to comprehend.

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