Food For Thought

Body Art: Just What is the Big Attraction?


by Dr. John E. Bonfadini, Ed.D. 

Professor Emeritus, George Mason University

The mother turns to her daughter and says, ďWouldnít you rather have a tattoo?Ē The child wanted a cell phone in the commercial, but mom thought it was better that she get some body graffiti. 

Iíve been pondering how to present this topic. At first I thought I knew exactly how I felt about the explosion in body graffiti, more commonly called tattooing. Just donít do it! In my younger life tattoos were mostly found on sailors or bikers. In the old days women wore jewelry, men the tattoos.  Seldom did one see a mom with artwork on her body.

When I began to consider writing about this subject, I noticed quite a few moms and dads had chosen to get tattooed. I began to wonder if my conservative view was outdated. Have I become an old fogey ... just out of touch with the real world? My children and grandkids have often said that sometimes I donít live in the real world.

I watched a program on the Discovery Channel that showed how tattooing is a part of many cultures and is accepted as a form of body art. At the beach I couldnít help but notice the number of tattoos on the backs of many of the swimmers ... and not all were young. Somewhere along the line, I guess I missed this trend of needing to place something so permanent on your body.

Iíve also noticed that most of the NBA players apparently think that more body markings will help them be better players. Why else would they overindulge in having their bodies painted for life? Many football players have tattooed arm bands. Maybe it helps them not fumble the ball. The carnival sideshowís tattooed lady is probably now unemployed. There must be some reason for all the body graffiti. I just havenít figured it out. Maybe you can help me understand why our society has such a need to get a tattoo, because if Iím that out of touch with the real world, Grandma and I need to get one right away. The tattoo artist would probably have a difficult time Ö too many body wrinkles.

The tattooing kind of goes hand-in-hand with body piercing. Many adults have found a need to hang jewelry on areas of the body beyond the ears. Maybe we just have an excess of diamonds and need some place to show them off, but I really have a hard time accepting a diamond-studded belly button. In fact, I think we are overexposing the belly button and other parts of the anatomy. A nose ring? I thought those were for bulls. Can you really eat with a bolt through your tongue? 

What do adults do when they no longer want to wear symbols from the past on their bodies? With the present divorce rate, I donít think anyone should get a tattoo of a partnerís name. Stick to ďLove You Mom.Ē

And what do you do when your teenager notices your special markings and wants some of his or her own? Get a cell phone instead? I hope parents realize that there are sufficient distractions in our schools and that body markings and piercings do little to enhance the educational environment.

God gave us this wonderful thing called the human body, which includes a brain with the ability to think. I believe we have a responsibility to protect the integrity of the creatorís work. If God wanted our arms to look like wallpaper he would have made us that way, so letís respect his design.

Future opportunities to change our bodies with plastic surgery, dental work, and evolving biotechnology will require us to use far more intellect than that required in deciding where to place a tattoo. As we gain the knowledge to grow and transplant body parts, the practical and ethical consequences will be far more serious than those associated with tattooing or body piercing. Like most things in life, the answer is in the details. Respect for human beings starts with respecting the small things in life and the big stuff will usually follow. 

Iíve seen society overreact to things such as hair styles, women wearing pants suits, and menís facial hair. A beard or mustache wasnít accepted when I was recruiting and hiring teachers. I was wondering if officers of the law are permitted to get tattooed. I donít want to overreact to the body-decorating trend so Iím asking what you think.

I realize that many who read this column will have a tattoo and your own opinion on the subject.  I donít expect governing bodies to pass legislation to regulate nose rings or tattoos, but Iíll bet that big battles lie on the horizon when society begins to discuss growing body parts. We already are in a major discussion on stem-cell research, but for now letís just reply to the body art. I always look forward to your responses.

Whatís Your View?

Obviously, there are at least two sides to every issue. Do you have a different view? This column is meant to provoke thought, so keep sending comments. Each one is read with the utmost interest. Send e-mail to:, or send written responses to the editor. Mail will be forwarded to the author.




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