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Are tattoos really such a style taboo?


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It is not unusual for the fashion choices of Ascot attendees and Wimbledon players to make the headlines but, this year, the real subject of scrutiny is tattoos – particularly, those on women.

Ascot is known for its strict dress code, which does not allow heads to be bare of hats, or halterneck or strapless dresses, but it is the array of tattoos decorating the limbs of a number of young ladies that have caused uproar amongst the more conservative racegoers, who see this as a ‘decline in standards’.

Racing commentator Sir Peter O’Sullevan grumbled that "Sometimes the grandstands seem over-run by tattoos and bare flesh. It’s disrespectful – not just to the Queen, but to the horses." While it is true that tattoos are not to everyone’s taste (though, unlike O’Sullevan, I don’t think the horses care either way), no matter how artful or discreet they may be, the negative media attention that has been given to a couple of floral forearms is surely unwarranted?

As with any cultural gripe, celebrities are condemned to bear the brunt of the blame. Radio and TV personality Fearne Cotton was recently snapped wearing a bikini that revealed her usually hidden body art – something that was deemed worthy enough for a two-page spread in some papers – and the inkings of Rihanna and Peaches Geldof have received similarly extensive coverage in the past. However, the spectrum of tattooed celebs is a wide one, ranging from the likes of heavily illustrated ex-glamour girl Jodie Marsh to public figures such as Samantha Cameron, who has a small dolphin adorning her ankle. An increasing number of modern women, from all backgrounds and walks of life, are choosing to go under the needle and decorate their bodies with permanent tattoos, and it seems to generally be an older generation that are riled by this fact. 

Attempts to justify a dislike of tattoos include pointing out their old associations with ‘prison, squalor, depravity or even slavery’, but the beauty and distinguished nature of tattoos can be equally argued, due to their ancient tribal nature – both sides of which, the truth be told, are equally outdated and largely irrelevant to tattoos in modern British culture. Joanna Southgate, one of the tattooed Ascot-goers in question, found that other racegoers were ‘really accepting’, and fellow tattoo lover Zoe Southland reflected that ‘I don’t think it’s an issue these days at all’. Cultural meanings change over time, and tattoos are no longer the hallmark of the criminal, but are generally accepted as a form of artistic or individual expression.

Following this, pointing and shouting about a person’s tattoos is exactly the same as making snide remarks about someone’s new haircut, or their taste in clothes;  it is a matter of personal taste, is nobody else’s business, and harping on about it in national newspapers is  just needless. The majority of tattoos are inoffensive and bigger pieces are, more often than not, truly spectacular works of art.

Yes, some will probably regret theirs in their old age, but that is their own concern, not that of overly-opinionated individuals in the media who are already reaching theirs. Besides, it seems like nearly everyone – celebrity or civilian – of the modern generation has a tattoo, so by the time we’re in our fifties we’re almost all going to have an inch or two of wrinkly inky flesh, so it won’t be such an uncommon sight. And anyway, who is going to be revealing themselves in a bikini at 65, tattoos or no tattoos?

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