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Are you ever too old to get a tattoo?

woman with shoulder tattoo, am I too old to get a tattoo, by healthista

With celebs such as Cheryl Cole, Cara Delevigne, and Miley Cyrus decorating every inch of their bodies with the inky art, tattoos have become associated with 20-something rebellious rock stars. But can you ever be too old to get a tattoo? Healthista editor Anna Magee offers her thoughts

‘Oh you’re such a cliché,’ said my colleague when I announced, on the day that I turned 37, that I was getting a tattoo and that it would be an ‘om symbol on my crutch.’ ‘Of course it will’, she said rolling her eyes. I was in the middle of my kundalini meditation phase and it seemed apt. Nine years later and I still haven’t done it.

cheryl cole tattoo, am I too old for a tattoo, by healthista
Cheryl Cole’s rose tatt gives her extra excuses for bum selfies – belfies

Now and then something will come up: Cheryl Cole’s big rosey bum cheeks, Miley Cyrus’s 18 various bits of everything, Cara Delevigne’s lion-on-the finger and I’m reminded of that niggling voice, not so much whispering but shouting drunk and reckless at the end of the night: ‘Do it, do it, you know you want to.’

Cole and Co are varying degrees of 12 so I always thought I was too old, too square and too middle class for it. But even BBC presenter and general national treasure David Dimbleby got a tattoo of a scorpion on his right shoulder a couple of years ago. He is 75. ‘You’re only old once,’ he said, claiming that for him finally getting one was a dream come true.

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cara delevine finger tattoo, am I too old to get a tattoo, by healthista
Cara Delevingne’s edgy finger tattoo of a lion is fierce

I have my own dreams of late onset ink but there are various reasons I’ve yet to realise them. At 24 the pattern is simple: get drunk, decide it’s a moment that needs marking, head to local tattoo parlour, make friends with biker owner, choose random Maori symbol and it’s finished – all in one night. Then however bad the result you’ve a permanent homage to your mis-spent youth or at least that special night. What would I mark? My second mortgage? Finding a high-interest pension fund? The X-Factor final?

At 46, I attacked Project Tatt with the same control freakery I did when researching the most eco-friendly washer dryers on Instead of having a few lagers and heading down to my local tattoo parlour, just opposite the West Ham stadium and getting a nearby football hooligan to dawdle on my leg before asking the artist to go to work on his design, I Googled ‘The UK’s best tattoo artists’ then did a ring around quizzing each one about which regulatory bodies they belonged to and what precautions they had in place should I have an allergic reaction. I also asked a young person in the office: ‘Among your friends who have tattoos, is there someone they might recommend I go to with good qualifications?’ She looked at me like I had three heads before showing me her super-inked friend on Twitter who, on a recent night out, had her boyfriend draw a picture she later that same night had tattooed all the way from her knee to her ankle.

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Miley Cyrus tattoos, am I too old for a tattoo, by healthista
Miley Cyrus has splashed her arm and fingers with the inky art

I have been eliciting opinions, getting pros and cons and trying to decide on the right design for the last seven years.

Right now a big eagle, wings flared on my bicep would do nicely thank you very much. In my head, it would say to the world: ‘this my moment to fly’.

When I told my husband the eagle idea he asked ‘Is it some kind of American thing?’ Right, maybe not an eagle.  Perhaps the word ‘NEW’ in stark black letters across my left shoulder just in case anyone thinks I am old. The obvious next step was to have a meeting with my graphic designer friend to decide on exactly the right font. Is this a Helvetica kind of message or would Trebuchet say ‘Modern woman. Not old’ better? Perhaps I could commission her to create a stencil from which the tattoo artist could work. Too much?

David Dimbleby, are you ever too old to get a tattoo, by healthista
At age 75, David Dimbleby got a tattoo of a scorpion on
his shoulder blade

If you’re in your 40s and you want ink no one gets it. All my middle aged, chattering class, chardonnay friends had an opinion of the same predictable ilk: horror with a sprinkling of snobbery that a mid 40s woman would be considering which tattoo designs would suit which body parts instead of watching Homeland and looking at Boden winter knits. I mooted the point with a 40-something friend. ‘Tattoos on the middle-aged are tragic,’ he said. ‘At 75 Dimbleby’s got nothing to lose, you have plenty to lose, mostly people’s respect. If you get a tattoo you’d better hide it when you’re out with me’. Ouch. For me, a tattoo now would be a symbol of my progression into middle age that said: ‘Yeh well, I’m not going to hide away and although this isn’t something women my age do, here it is anyway.’ For everyone else it was one thing: pathetic.

Woman with tattoo on her shoulder and arm, are you ever too old to get a tattoo, by healthista
For me, a tattoo now would be a symbol of my progression into middle age

Still I feel closer than ever to finally going through with it and last night I told my husband that this is it, I am definitely doing it this time. He said the single thing he knew would terrify me into postponing my dream yet again: ‘what do you think your mother would say?’ Wonder what fonts will be in fashion in nine years from now?

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Anna’s the editor here at Formerly Health Director on Red, she now spends her life talking to health experts, testing the latest in treatments, gadgetry, products, trends and classes relating to women’s wellbeing and editing this site into the sparkly monster you see here before you!

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