[Ed. Note — Contributor Michael Harney is writing to us from the I...
Adoring the human canvas
Updated: March 15, 2012 at 5:49 pm
Kevin Roussin, 34, loves the art displayed on his human canvas —
and his boyfried does too.
Humans have adorned their bodies since the earliest recorded times. In some ancient cultures these embellishments were primarily temporary decorations, like the use of make-up by the Egyptians (as early as 3500 B.C. according to archaeological evidence) or the art of mehndi, in which a henna-derived ink is used to draw intricate designs on the skin, in India.
For other societies, however, gilding the body meant permanent modification of its form. Examples of these alterations span from the widespread practices of tattooing and piercing to more exotic customs such as neck stretching by the Kayan women of Burma, Chinese foot-binding for girls, cranial shaping within numerous Native American tribes and much more.
Over the centuries the practice of body modification has endured — and in the case of tattooing and piercing has proliferated — to become an increasingly common component of present-day American culture. However, the thinking that drives us to change our bodies today is wholly distinct from the notions that drove our forebears.
Ancient peoples transformed themselves to appeal to the socially imposed beauty standards of their time and place (e.g., having an elongated neck, small feet or a conically shaped head) or as an outward sign of spiritual observance (tongue piercings, for example, originated from an Aztec ritual in which the tongue was pierced to draw blood for the gods).
In contrast, the modern popularity of body modification is anchored in its cultural redefinition into a display of individual expression. This viewpoint shift is clearly the engine that powers its contemporaneous propagation.
In a post-everything society that seems increasingly homogeneous and leaves more and more people feeling nameless and faceless, it’s perfectly understandable that the idea of making one’s body unique from every other person’s holds tremendous appeal.
Even so, not everyone approves of the trend, of course.
Tattoo enthusiast Kevin Roussin, 34, was reminded of this recently while riding in an elevator with an elderly woman. After taking note that both of his arms are sleeves of ink, she remarked, “You won’t get into heaven with all those tattoos.” Surprised, but not thrown off his game, he snarkily replied, “You’re not going to get there any faster being a bitch.”
The Fort Mill resident laughs about the incident and explains that it’s not the first time he’s faced disapproval due to his body art. His first boyfriend “hated it when I got my first tattoos. He was really upset.” He adds that the ink didn’t split them, “but it definitely didn’t help.”
Nonetheless, an old busybody and an uptight ex notwithstanding, Roussin’s tats are really a non-issue, he says.
“My partner now is pretty tattooed himself. When we met he already had several and that sort of drew me to him. He’s working on a sleeve now. They just have to color it in, all the outline and shading is done.”
What’s more, Roussin says his parents don’t just tolerate his body art, they appreciate it. “As I’ve gotten more and more tattoos, they like to see them. The last time I went home to visit my parents they loved my pin-up girl tattoo. They just thought it was beautiful.”
The image of that 1950s sex kitten dominates the whole of Roussin’s right forearm while his upper arm sports a tribal design on the outside and a Scooby-Doo tattoo tucked on the inside. His left arm is draped with a twisting dragon up top and a tiger below that spans from his elbow to his wrist.
On Roussin’s stomach, his first name is inked in large graffiti style lettering just above his navel. On one side of that is his name written with Japanese kanji, on the other side is a similar rendering of his 16-year-old son’s name.
Embedded in the tribal tattoo is the Portuguese word for courage, while “Own The Day” is written across the back of Roussin’s neck. He says these ensigns were extremely important to him during a past battle with leukemia.
“I was diagnosed the same week I met my current partner,” he recalls. “Those tattoos got me through cancer and I’ve been cancer-free for three years now.”
Because his body art has had such a definitive impact on his life, qnotes asks Roussin if he has any regrets about his ink.
“Just one,” he replies. “The one thing I’ve always done is wait at least a year to make sure a potential tattoo is exactly what I want. After that long, if I still want it, I feel confident it’s something I’ll always be happy with.
“Saying that, the regret I have is that I went one time to an artist who…well, let’s say, wasn’t the greatest and the tattoo didn’t come out like I wanted it to. Since then I’ve made it a point to find exceptional artists to do my work.”
Roussin makes an excellent point that everyone should take into account when they’re thinking of getting inked or pierced. And, in addition to assessing the quality of the practitioner’s work, there are also health considerations that must be settled. Needles and equipment must be properly sterilized and cross-contamination guidelines must be strictly observed to avoid blood-borne pathogens.
If you feel at all unsure about a particular tattoo artist or piercer, trust your instincts and look elsewhere. There are too many good ones around for you to feel less than 100 percent confident.
In the end, always remember that it’s your body. Decorate it. Personalize it. Accessorize it. Just don’t ever forget to love it. : :
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About the author: David Stout is the associate editor of QNotes. He can be reached at email@example.com.