Non-news flash: Nollywood wild child, Nigerian actress Tonto Dikeh got a new tattoo on her back. It is non-news flash ’cause if you are remotely interested in Nollywood gist or Naija tweets, by now you would have already seen the pic (those of the male persuasion amongst us may have already right clicked and saved it in their ‘sexy babes’ stash on their computers – hey we know you all have one, guys!), retweeted and read the comments. Yes, Tonto Dikeh has a larger than life tattoo on her back – just below her neck – of a woman’s face… And?
Fans and frenemies of Tonto have taken to the internet since the images of this well-publicised tattoo emerged to have their tuppence worth – from “You go girl!” to “It’s too much” and Tonto continues to give as good as she gets:
What I am fascinated with is not Tonto’s tattoo at all, nor is it tattoos in general; I am more fascinated with our fascination with the way others choose to decorate their body – famous or common folk. If the skin we live in is the very geography we will reside in for the rest of our lives, surely no one else has a say to be so vocal about they way we choose to decorate, alter, shape that geography. It is true as humans we can’t refrain from commenting on each other’s physical alterations, “Oh brunette suits you so much better; why did you die your hair blonde?” or “Might be an idea to lose a few pounds, love, don’t you think?” to “Oh dear, what has she gone and done with those hideous boob implants?” While we all have something to say about each others’ dental implants, muffin tops, dodgy crops and botched boob jobs, it is tattoos that get us even more vocal – possibly because we know while it still becomes a part of that individual’s personal geography, it is still ink and not skin and hence easier to lay into than a bad haircut or an unsightly weight gain. Hence we see ink where there was once pure, unadulterated, clean human skin and we let loose. Hence tattoos, despite their increasing popularity in the last few decades taking them miles away from shadier contexts and connotations, still remain taboos.
I got my first tattoos – the precious two I have on my back – at the age of 30. Not because I was going through a mid-life crisis, but because it took me a good decade of coming up with something I would not regret getting inked on my body. There I was, on the tattooist’s chair: a grown woman, at my own will, not under the influence of drink, drugs or peer pressure. And yet, lo and behold, once the skin was inked and healed, the first time ever I wore a backless top and took my new tats out for a spin, there I was being treated by some like a reckless 18-year-old who had got of her face and given up her body to the torturous tools of a tattooist in a dodgy parlour. The comments ranged from”Wtf?” to “Oh my God, how cool!”
And let’s not even talk about the first time I gathered the courage to show my tattoos to my mum. Cue a scream, some displeased mutterings and a whispered “We all know what kind of girls get tattoos…” Really? while my mum eventually made peace with my ink and possibly still praying I don’t go and get some more (Sorry, Mum, no promises!), that whispered comment said in the heat of the moment still sums up many people’s views on tattoos. Whether it is social expectations or religious practices, for many tattoos are still the trickiest of art work to discuss out in the open. Especially when it comes to women, it is still widely accepted that women at most should sport cute little butterflies on their tummies or perhaps three little stars on their shoulder. But hey, a big fat tattoos on your back a la Tonto, or paw prints on your boobs a la rapper Eve or ink that covers the whole of one thigh like singer Pink? God forbid!
What many fail to realise is that when one goes and gets a tattoo – assuming they were not drunk off their face and did not wake up the morning after the night they had no recollection of where they sat in front of a tattooist to get a dodgy tribal tattoo on their backside – it is the greatest gift they are giving themselves – one they know they want to keep for life, cover up when they need to, show off when they want to. It is most personal. Yes, it is mere ink, but one that tells a story, one that comes alive on skin, one that becomes a part of that very fibre of skin it’s embedded in. The tattoo in between my shoulder blades in my dad’s name in Arabic – Fouad – and a decade after his passing, I feel closer to him than ever, knowing wherever I go, I have his name etched on my back. The tattoo on the small of my back – Yes, people, I’ve got a tramp stamp! – is an embellished evil eyes design which is an inherent part of my Turkish culture. The few little tattoos I am still hoping to get are equally personal to me with their own stories to tell. And I know I am no exception. Watch any re-run of LA Ink or Miami Ink, you will find that those who go out to invest in body art often do so to document their story in the most personal way they wish to. Or just read an interview with Wiz Khalifa where he will tell you his body art tells his life story.
Beyond the taboos and the tantrums thrown over a patch of inked skin, it’s just as simple after all as Tonto said, “It’s my body, my life, my tattoo.” I could not care less if Tonto went ahead and got a third eye tattooed in between her existing two eyes or Wiz Khalifa’s face on her left bum cheek. Her body, her life, her tattoos. Perhaps all we need to remember to reserve judgement on the freshly inked.
Now excuse me while I go and design my next tat.