Marked in midlife

A growing number of women are celebrating being comfortable in their own skin by getting a tattoo.

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Published in More in October 2011

I used to have a bias against women with tattoos. I'd think of them as a cry for attention whenever I spotted the markings of a "tramp stamp" peeking out of the backside of a woman's jeans.

I considered those ubiquitous rose ankle tattoos as misguided youthful indiscretions - the result, no doubt, of one too many margaritas on a week-long Cancún binge.

But a couple of summers ago, while swimming with a fortysomething friend who still looks great in a bikini, I eyed the crescent moon on the curve of her hip and immediately thought, I have to have one.

Suddenly, the idea of a tattoo wasn't trashy after all. In fact, it seemed the perfect way to mark my passage into midlife, a time when I've never been more comfortable in my own skin.

It carried just the right whiff of rebellion to indicate a defiance of social conventions. Yes, getting a tattoo at 48 would declare to me - and to the world - that I could still be unpredictable, even a little edgy. It was a sure sign I was a woman with stories to tell.

I'm not alone in my desire to mark the geography of my skin for the first time in middle age. Women over 40 are the fastest growing demographic opting for tattoos, according to Michael Atkinson, an associate professor at the University of Toronto who spent five years researching the Canadian tattoo industry for his book, Tattooed: The Sociogenesis of a Body Art.

At least nine per cent of Canadian women sport a tattoo, but "given the range of estimates and anecdotes I have seen, I'd say the figure is more like 20 per cent," observes Atkinson.

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