Tattoos and the Olympics – Reporter-Times

Phyllis Bex| Life on Turkeyneck Hill

Dont you just love the Olympics? My TV is on from morning to night whether I am watching it or not. If you are like me, Im impressed with all the sports and marvel at the competitive edge. These athletes are simply amazing.

When I was a kid and even my early decades, no one had tattoos except Popeye and other sailors. Of course, motorcycle gangs and bad guys had them. Other than that, everyone is clean no ink.

What happened? Are tattoos a rite of passage or coming of age, or what? Even the Olympians have donned body art/ink. The more dangerous the sport, it seems, more tattoos cover their body. Im not talking about just Americans either, most every country display tattoos.

Unknowingly, the art of tattoos has been around since the Stone Age. Archaeological digs have uncovered mummies with evidence of skin alterations in Europe. Tattoos began in the countries of East Asia, the Polynesian countriesand Russia. They were discovered by archaeologist in Greenland, Alaska, Egypt, Siberiaand South American countries as well. Evidently, this is nothing new.

Tattooing was atradition in many cultures and apparently used for identification. Some of those traditions still exist. Occasionally it showed ownership or that a person belonged to a certain region.

North American indigenous people highlighted their opinions of the world, as well as connection to family, society, and tribe by tattooing.

After the American Revolutionary War, the sailors tattooed themselves to avoid British capture. Of course, the sailors had Seaman Protection Papers, however those papers didnt mean anything to the British Sea Captains. They tore them to shreds.

Consequently, it was common for sailors to garner tattoos. I remember when my brother George went away to the Navy. When he was home on leave, suddenly there were tattoos on his arm and shoulders.

One was a heart with an arrow piercing through it. It read, Dixie. The other two were in script writing, Born to Lose, and Born to Raise Hell. I was flabbergasted at the sight. My brother had turned into a pirate, I thought. I was only 10 and was not used to tattoos on the people I loved. Those tattoos sure put a mark on him.

During the Civil War, many soldiers who died on the battlefield, were buried where they fell. The families often didnt know where or when they died. Many of the surviving soldiers observed this and started leaving identifications on their belt buckles or sewed personal information into their clothing. Some made small metal disks with personal identification and wore them pinned to their clothes.

It wasnt until 1906 that the government issued dog tags for all servicemen. At first they included not only their name and branch of service but their next of kin and their address. The dog tags for the servicemen grew from then on.

Regardless of the identity issue of the new beginning of tattoos, it has evolved. It went from the elite persons of society to the repulsive. Now more than ever, body art and modifications have become a new culture. People are more accepting of them in every facet of life.

The sophisticated have kept them off their visible skin when dressing for work. The professional athletes have gone a little crazy with the ink. Most people in Hollywood are using tats as self-expression. Some everyday people who have tattoos, place them in discrete locations of their body. Most arent seen unless they go swimming.

Speaking of swimming, its interesting to see older men and women at the pool or beach. Or when they wear shorts, and the old tats are revealed-- including on their lower legs or ankles. Better still, funny how a tattoo of Tweety Bird on the chest of a 20-year-old, many years later turns into a very long yellow bird as gravity takes over.

Rest assured; body artists are simply amazing. I have gazed at some beautiful work. The only thing, it is next to impossible to remove. Like in the movie, Were the Millers, the kid got a tattoo on his chest. It was supposed to read, No Regrets. Instead, it read, No Regrats. If you are thinking about getting a tattoo, be certain of the forever expression on your skin.

A friend of mine said, If I ever get a tattoo, I will get a set of red lips on my right hip. I doubt that will ever happen.

One thing we all agree about the Olympics, tattoos or not, it sure makes us proud to be an American. Anytime theres an Olympic awards ceremony and the Star-Spangled Banner plays with the U.S. flag rising behind the podium, I salute our beloved country and I know you do too!

God bless America, even the ones with tattoos.

Phyllis (Dow) Bex is native of Morgan County, who grew up on a farm west of Paragon. She presently lives in Greenwood. She can be reached at

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Tattoos and the Olympics - Reporter-Times

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