When I was a kid, we had something called “transfers”. A transfer was a small, colourful picture up to maybe one and a half inches square, printed back to front on special paper. To use a transfer, you floated it on a saucer of water and when it was wet enough, put it face down on the page of your scrapbook, or wherever else you wanted it, carefully pressed it down and peeled back its paper base. If all went well, you now had the image, the right way round, transferred to its new home. Hence the name.
A transfer could of course be applied to your skin, on the hand, arm or wrist. This was considered great fun especially as you could flex the skin and thereby cause the image to expand or shrink, producing all sorts of strange contorsions. A transfer could easily be scrubbed off or left to wear off naturally. Either way they were but temporary decorations.
Something of the fun of the transfer survives in the modern vogue for tattoos. Of course, people have been tattooing themselves for centuries but our society is currently experiencing a fad for this kind of body decorations. These range from the “tramp stamp” that women apply to the small of the back just above their rear cleavage, to colourful, and often grotesque, representations covering large areas of the body.
I have to admit that I dislike tattoos on either men or women. This is not a moral issue: I simply don’t like them. Most are ugly, especially the modern variety with shading, that make the arm look grubby. All of them degrade with time; their sharp outlines soften, the colours fade and as the skin loosens with age, the picture sags and looks untidy.
It bothers me that they are permanent, though I suppose it’s none of my business. What if you have a tattoo done in a fit of enthusiasm and then regret it? Or you say goodbye to Mary and embrace Jane and are then faced with the embarrassment of advertising your old affection to your new lover every time you take your shirt off?
I once met a man who showed me some ugly scarring on his arm. He said he had been in a Nazi prison camp where they had tattooed a number on his arm. He so hated it that he had worked over a long period to obliterate it by burning the skin with lighted cigarettes. I imagine he must have had to get drunk for each session. He had no choice in getting tattooed but most people do. I cannot understand why anyone would freely disfigure his or her body permanently in this way but that is just my own opinion.