Sunday, 12 May 2013

Tittooing: A New Cultural Phenomenon

I may be accused of many things, but I can say with complete confidence that I can never be accused of being a person of broad culture. I wouldn’t recognise culture if it jumped on me in a dark alley and bit me in the ass. When I was growing up the only contact I had with culture was at the bottom of the tub of rancid yoghurt. Some years ago I heard the Pulitzer award winner Junot Diaz (he was, at that time, several months away from his Pulitzer triumph) in a literary programme. Diaz recounted the story of his first generation, Dominican father, who, upon learning that his third born had published a collection of short stories and intended to make a career as a writer, asked him with genuine concern whether he was gay. I have the satisfaction of knowing that while I drove my progenitors to distraction over many things I never gave them a cause for concern about my sexuality (come to think of it I have never asked my parents their position—so to speak—on homosexuality) probably because I showed no inclination (because I had no talent) towards pursuing a literary profession.

What is a culture, anyway?  When I looked up the definition of culture on the Net, several popped up. The definitions could be broadly divided into two categories. A culture can be understood as patterns, behaviours, traits, belief systems, and predominant attitudes that characterize a particular period or society. Or you may define culture as any activity that can be construed as artistic or intellectual or both.

Within a culture there may be subcultures, if one follows the first definition of culture given above. Thus there may be patterns of behaviours and attitudes specific to communities or geographical areas within a culture, which may not be shared by other communities or areas. It may be perfectly acceptable in New Castle to squat by the roadside on a Friday night, outside a kebab shop, on your way to the fourth dance club of the evening (after you’ve been thrown out by the third dance club in a row for being disruptive and foul-mouthed) and urinate, stuffing the donar kebab down your cleavage (or in your mouth, if you are snobbish about hygiene), but the class-enemies in Chelsea may look down on this practice.

Keeping in mind the above, how can one attempt to understand the nipple tattooing that is allegedly spreading faster than Foot and Mouth Disease in Liverpool, England, if the reports in some British newspapers are to be believed?

Apparently women in Liverpool are craving for perfect nipples. Their idea of perfect nipples (apparently) is that the nipples should not only be of perfect shape but should also be darker in colour. This suggests that the alleged women allegedly living in Liverpool (allegedly in Britain) and allegedly craving for allegedly darker nipples are white. According to a report published in the world renowned British scientific journal, Daily Mail, it’s not just the nipples but the surrounding skin, called areola, that is reconstructed in this procedure (called areola reconstruction), which, the journal advises its readers, should be performed only by medical tattooist rather than the geezer in your local tattoo parlour who will not have the higher qualifications required before you are allowed to mess with women’s (or for that matter anybody’s) nipples. The procedure can be painful in more ways than one. Apparently the areola skin is more sensitive than the surrounding breast skin and without adequate local anaesthesia (which, I guess, would involve, by necessity, a sharp needle being inserted into the areola (ouch!), but after that everything will go numb) can be more painful than the chopping off the foreskin of your todger. And the cost! Don’t even ask how much it costs. An arm and a leg do not even come into it; we are talking about quadriplegic damage here.

When I read that Liverpudian women were more into nipple tattooing, also called (predictably enough) tittooing, than Tom Cruise was into Katie Holmes (before he went off her), I didn’t know what to feel. Should I be glad that they have found a less harmful way of mutilating their bodies than injecting gear? Should I be in despair that just when you think standards couldn’t get any lower in this country Liverpool proves you (yet again) wrong? Should I be happy that women (so far only in Liverpool, though Essex is likely to follow suit according to rumours) have declared that they are in charge of their nipples and will do to them what they wish? Should I be amazed that piss-poor Liverpudians have got thousands of pounds to spend on restructuring their nipples when half of the city is on dole? Should I be sceptical about the veracityof the report concocted by a trainee reporter, who probably decided (with good reason) that a sensational, titillating report would be her ticket to fame? Should I be outraged on behalf of the Liverpudians that such malicious media reports maliciously add to the malicious stereotype of Liverpool birds as a-little-bit-slutty-and-little-bit-nutty, ridiculous, over the top, tits-bigger-than-brains creatures with less sense of aesthetic than a Jehovah Witness’s understanding of human evolution? Should I give a flying f**k what these women in Liverpool, who obviously have more time on their hands than they know what to do with it, get up to?

Assuming that there are some reported cases (though not amounting to a pandemic) in, let’s say for the sake of argument, Liverpool (although there is no reason to assume that women in Islington wouldn’t want to inject local anaesthetics into their areolas), why might they want to change the shape and colour of their nipples? The obvious answer is that for the same reason some people want to change the shapes of their noses, eyebrows, breasts or the length (usually an increase) of their cocks (applicable only to men). They are not happy with what God has given them. 

But why nipples? How is changing the appearance of the part of your anatomy which remains covered for the best part of your waking (and in most cases sleeping) hours (unless you are a nudist or like to sleep in the nude) going to make a difference? But this, I suppose, is not how people beyond your or my way of reasoning think.

The scientific journal Daily Mail attempts to throw some light on the matter in its case report. The Mail reports the case of one Claire Jagger (who happens to be from Liverpool, although she could be from anywhere). Claire is 38. Is that important? Probably not, although the term ‘midlife crisis arriving early’ comes to mind. 38 years old Claire Jagger, according to Daily Mail, has had her jugs upgraded. But Claire did not stop at just a boob job. “My nipples,” Claire Jagger told Daily Mail, “were quite fair in colour, no different from any ordinary girl.” But Claire wanted to enhance them. How? By making them darker. And now Claire Jagger feels great because “I have absolutely perfect nipples.”  So here we have, Claire, an ordinary Scouser (allegedly) with ordinary nipples (self-report) and (presumably) less than ordinary tits (hence the boob job), who wanted to be less ordinary and decided that she was going to change the size, shape and colour of her nipples in her quest to achieve anatomical perfection and become less ordinary. It was, she readily admitted, the finishing touch to her boob job.

Daily Mail gives another example. Michelle, a 32 year old Liverpudian and mother of a two-year old, had her nipples done to make them bigger and darker. Her nipples, she helpfully informed, were “very small and made her feel childlike”. As Michelle grew so did her breasts, but—alas!— not her nipples. And, to compound Michelle’s misery, “they didn’t have rings”, which made them look wrong (apparently). What Michelle wanted were nipples the size you could hang your coat on; what she got, instead, were nipples smaller than a processed pea. She might have accepted her less than perfect nipples, with deep expressions of regret, as her fate, if she were, say, from one of the horrific Third World countries where women are shamefully repressed by medieval cultures which expect people to accept their bodily foibles just because they are born with them. But not in Liverpool, I shall thank you to keep in mind. In Liverpool Michelle has the choice of changing the colour and shape of her nipples if she is not happy with them. The result? She is happy, as is her partner. Michelle can now go swimming without feeling self-conscious that her nipples might be showing through her bikini (please note: Michelle was not self-conscious about her nipples showing through her bikini top, she was self conscious about her small nipples showing through her bikini); she can (for the same reason) take her bra off in front of her partner without feeling self-conscious. Their relationship is “so much better”, which is probably a codeword for their improved sex life. (“Darling, you look lovely and desirable tonight,” Michelle’s partner might say as he sucks back the saliva dripping from his mouth on to Michelle’s magnificent nipples pointing to the left and right; or, if the sight of the large, dark nipples sends him into an ultra-romantic mood, he might get poetic. If he is a reader of Joseph Connolly novels (although, seeing as the partner is from Liverpool, it is more than likely that his literary appetites are whetted by Nuts), he might break into a song, going something like “Roses are red, violets are blue—turn over darling ‘cos I’m going to do you”; but I doubt it. More likely, he tugs with his eager hands at those oh-God-are-they-for-real tits, moving them this way and that, as if granted free access to the control panel of Starship Enterprise, the only precaution he having to take is to shift his head out of the way in time so that the central knobs on each side do not take his eye out).  Michelle says she feels more outgoing, and more self-confident. Everyone is happy. 

I once read that people who owned Apple i-phones felt happier, more satisfied and contented. 
Perhaps someone should do a case-control study of happiness amongst Liverpudian women, comparing what Claire Jagger would describe as ‘ordinary women with ordinary nipples’ and those who used to be ‘ordinary women with ordinary, fair nipples but now are proud owners of larger and darker nipples’ for their  happiness quotient. Who knows? Nipple job may come to replace happy pills as a bona fide treatment for depression.

Are there any long term effects of the procedure? The British Journal Daily Mail cautions that there could be. An Aesthetic Plastic Surgeon (!) was quoted in the journal as advising women to consider how their nipples might look in the long term, because breasts change their appearance over time (who would have thought that?) Another revelation from the surgeon was that the “nipple-areola complex” changes with pregnancy, which, surely, will come as a shock to most. The women, therefore (the surgeon advised), would do well to think about their future. 

I would agree wholeheartedly with this. Years ago I used to go out with a woman who asked me how I would feel if she were to have a butterfly tattooed on her inner thigh. By that time I had had enough of her. She had large breasts but very pale nipples; but, honestly, that wasn’t the problem. The breasts bounced provocatively in her brassiere when she walked, but, disappointingly, didn’t retain their shape once she was horizontal, requiring to be scooped out from under her armpits, but, honestly, that wasn’t a problem either. The problem was—how shall I put this?— the woman didn’t want to be liberated from her emotions, wanting—demanding— that their existence (and importance) be confirmed (by me) frequently. I didn’t have problem with that per se, except that her emotions most of the time were about as pleasurable as a low-grade fever. In particular her tendency towards theatricality, accompanied by a pretension of underplaying her emotions, especially when she was pretending to be not hurt by some imaginary insult I didn’t remember hurling at her, was wearing me down. The woman was not easy to live with, no doubt about it; but I have to say that she wasn’t bothered about her nipples, which, if my memory serves me right, in addition to being very pale, didn’t have well defined borders and merged imperceptibly into the pallor of her soft, squishy breasts.  It wasn’t as if the woman didn’t have hang-ups; she was the kind of neurotic an analyst waits for all his life. Most mornings I would be woken up by theatrical sighs and confronted with the sight of her sitting up in bed and holding her soft stomach. Once she was sure that my sleep was ruined she would declare that she was becoming fat and look at me accusingly as if I was, somehow, to blamed for this calamitous state of affairs. It was impossible to say anything that did not offend her. If I agreed I was a shallow, superficial man who did not appreciate inner beauty; if I disagreed I was a liar; If I kept quiet I was indifferent and uncaring; if I told her it didn’t matter I was patronising; if I asked her what she expected me to say I was an emotional retard. But even this woman, who was a living, breathing museum of neuroticism, didn’t complain about her nipples. Thinking back would I have—not that I had any say in the matter—liked her nipples to be darker? Not really. Dark nipples would have looked very odd against the backdrop of pasty white flesh. There is an old Eddie Murphy film in which he is a prince in an African principality, and, as per the custom in the imaginary principality, needs to be bathed by semi-naked African beauties, all of whom have perfect small, chocolate brown nipples, exactly the right size for the stupendous breasts from the exact centre of which they wink at you. You couldn’t imagine these women with pale, pink nipples; they simply wouldn’t have matched their perfect mahogany breasts.  By the same token very dark nipples against the white skin would somehow look out of place, from the aesthetic point of view. Anyway my ex-girlfriend wanted to know my views about the butterfly tattoo on her inner thigh, which she hadn’t yet made. I reminded her (like the Aesthetic plastic surgeon) that she should think of future; she did not want the butterfly, in fullness of time, to become a moth flying out of a purse. We split up soon after.

Back to the original question: the alleged rampant tittooing in Liverpool: is it just a fad amongst a handful of probably not very bright women in Liverpool (so very stupid in comparison with the rest of the country)? Is it a feminist statement of sort (women choosing what they want to do to their anatomy)? Or—is this a possibility?—is Liverpool at the vanguard of a movement that might become an important strand in British culture?

Once I heard, at the Speaker’s Corner in Hyde park, London, a man wearing a skull-cap and a very bushy beard, shouting, his spit flying in every which direction, that Britain was a culture of homosexuals, paedophiles, other sexual deviants, degenerates, capitalists, imperial aggressors, blood-sucking insects, hypocrites, hooligans, rogues, scoundrels, damned  racists, and xenophobes. He prayed every day that the all merciful Allah struck him dead there and then because he did not want to breathe the polluted air of this infidel country where women did not wear a hijab, people indulged in shameless carnal activities strictly forbidden by the Quran, and where every last man was surely going to end up in hell for not following the path shown by Muhammad (peace be upon him). 

I wonder whether this man, in all probabilities still condemned to breathe the air of this kafr country unless the merciful Allah has granted him his fervent wish (he cannot be deported back to his country of origin, where he is bound to be tortured by the ruthless regime because he is a freedom fighter), has read the Daily Mail (not very likely). If he has, he would have no trouble, I suspect, adding tittooing to the list of behaviour characteristics and traits he so eloquently described that afternoon in Hyde Park, which distinguish what he understands to be British culture.