Exploring the Body Art Craze

shutterstock_939564A popular British newspaper recently published an article entitled “These awful tattoos show we’re turning pagan.” It was written by Oxford-educated, Jewish journalist Melanie Phillips, and it quickly got me researching. Nobody can dispute the fact that since the economic downturn of 2008, while small businesses are disappearing, tattoo parlors seem to be appearing on every block. Indeed, statistics show that one in every five Americans now have at least one, if not multiple, tattoos.

On learning that tattoo dye had been discovered, during surgery, in the lymph nodes of a friend’s tattooed daughter, I was intrigued to explore this topic from a health point of view. I also wanted to investigate Melanie’s opinion that “the craze for body art signifies a deep shift in western values away from respect for humanity” and that tattoos represent “perhaps a degree of narcissism and a yearning to be unique.” She quotes the example of David Beckham, a popular soccer icon, who is heavily tattooed with 34 tattoos showing the names of his family members. She likens this to a type of idol worship, similar to that seen in pagan times and laments celebrities promoting this kind of “self-expression.” She notes that the tattoo culture coincides with a sharp increase in those associating with paganism and a steady decrease in those calling themselves Christian. Leviticus 19:28 clearly states: “You shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor tattoo any marks on you: I am the Lord.” The Old Testament is full of many laws, including those regarding clean foods to eat. Interestingly, research has proven the benefits of following these laws to improve health. As believers in Christ, we do not live under the law, but Scriptures tells us that the Lord is the same “yesterday, today and forever,” and thus the wisdom in the Old Testament is certainly worth applying to our lives today.


Pagan roots

My research was very eye opening in discovering the history of demonic and pagan rituals associated with tattoos. Until the 20th century, the tattoo in every country and culture was a “vehicle for pagan invocations,” and even today many believe it to be a point of entry to the supernatural. Famous tattooist, Paul Booth, has a two-year waiting list, and in an interview with Rolling Stone magazine spoke of “allowing his clients’ demons to help guide the needle.” When pagan tribes converted to Christianity, one of the first practices to disappear was the tattoo. The word “tattoo” means a mark of disgrace or reproach, with the Latin word meaning “stigma.” Indeed, in the late 1800s, people were tattooed for circus sideshows.


Application by some Christians

Some Christians however, feel led to tattoo their bodies with Christian symbols such as crosses or their favorite Bible verse and use this as an opening to reach the lost, many of whom have found acceptance in the tattoo community. They quote Isaiah 49:16 which says that “God “inscribed” a picture of his people on his palms. Others use tattoos as an artistic form of self-expression or to identify with their faith. As true believers in Christ the motivation for a tattoo, whether attention seeking and self-serving or to reach others for Christ and bring glory to God, is imperative. Our identity comes from being made in His image, certainly not our outward appearance. Addiction to tattoos is a growing issue currently being researched.  Since tattoos can be painful, expensive and time consuming, some prefer to use temporary tattoos.


Unknown Ink

While regulated by the state and city, tattoo parlors are not required by the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) to release the ingredients of the ink they use. The FDA has approved the inks for use in printers and automobile paint, but none have been approved for injection under the skin. It is known that some red and yellow pigments of the ink “decompose into known carcinogens with exposure to light and laser irradiation.” Since some inks also contain metals, MRI’s, although not contraindicated, may cause irritation. Perhaps, the most pressing concern is the leeching of the ink into the bloodstream and its collection in lymph nodes. When screening for breast cancer, it may be difficult for a radiologist to distinguish between metastatic cancer and lymph nodes stained by ink. Red, green, yellow and blue dyes may cause allergic skin reactions even years after getting a tattoo. Bumps called granulomas can form around the tattoo ink, and tattooing may also leave raised areas of scar tissue. Cases of tetanus, hepatitis B and C and other blood-borne diseases have been contracted by the use of tattoo equipment contaminated with infected blood. The latest craze of “pin and poke” homemade tattoos puts recipients particularly at risk from biological pathogens.


Hidden costs

According to recent research those with brandings may find their tattoos a hindrance in finding employment due to employers’ prejudices. Fashions also change, and one wonders what will happen if unmarked skin eventually becomes something to be sought after. Even now, according to the American Society of Dermatological surgery, tattoo removal via laser surgery is one of the fastest growing areas of dermatology with 50 percent of older people with tattoos requesting their removal at some later date. Treatment can be very painful and expensive, normally taking between 10 to 15 laser sessions, and up to 25 to 30 over a 2 to 3 year period, with the skin damage often still visible. A $25 tattoo may cost $5,000 to remove, with the national average being $7,000 per tattoo removal, not covered by medical insurance.


A heart issue

When it comes to tattoos, the motive of the heart is paramount. “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own” (1 Corinthians 6:19). Tattooing in rebellion, or to purposely draw attention to oneself is obviously dishonoring to God. 1 Corinthians 10:23 tells us that “All things are permissible but not all things are beneficial.” The most important thing is always the intention of the heart and to remember that “Man looks on the outward appearance but God looks on the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7).


Andrea Goff hosts Choosing Joy, a support group for people dealing with ongoing medical conditions, pain, anxiety or depression. For information, contact [email protected].

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