Letting your freak flags fly

It used to be long hair that caused the kerfuffle. Specifically, long hair on the male gender of the species in particular. There was a time when a long-haired hippie type guy would be refused service in restaurants, sneered, snorted and spit at, and even physically pushed around, on account of his hair was over his ears, or even — heaven forbid! — touching his shoulders.

It used to be long hair that caused the kerfuffle. Specifically, long hair on the male gender of the species in particular. There was a time when a long-haired hippie type guy would be refused service in restaurants, sneered, snorted and spit at, and even physically pushed around, on account of his hair was over his ears, or even — heaven forbid! — touching his shoulders.

I know — I was there. I lived this crime against humanity. And all the time that I experienced the weird prejudice that is visited upon anyone who looks a bit different, all I wanted to do was grit my teeth and grow my mop longer. Like David Crosby, the rock star of Crosby, Stills and Nash. He wrote a song, one of my favorite CSN songs at the time, called Almost Cut My Hair. That’s how big a deal it was in those days. He didn’t, of course. Cut it that is. In fact the lyric goes: “I just feel like letting my freak flag fly, I feel like I owe it to someone. …”

But then freak flags somehow became little nubby ponytails on some artistic type older male dudes and even I had to swallow that bitter taste of prejudice a time or two.

And somewhere between spiky Statue of Liberty hair, head-shaved Mohawk hair strips, and technicoloured tresses, a new expression of independence and anarchy that I managed to avoid, began to emerge: male earrings.

It started with guys piercing one ear and one ear only. At first, most earlobe hardware was confined to a single post thingy or a small hoop thingy. Then came small diamonds, and then larger hoops and then dangly chains, or feathers or lots of metal such as shiny kitchen utensils.

Kidding about that last part, but only barely.

But the next body poking development became guys drilling holes in both earlobes and wearing earrings in both ears. From there it was only a short downhill slide to poking more holes in the ears, and then the nose, lips, eyebrows, spleen, toes and other important body parts and affixing various pieces of metal into said holes.

And in the history of bodily rebellion manifestation, for the first time there emerged a crossover to the opposite gender and both males and females of the human species — the most unruly and defiant (and those with the highest pain threshold) began to fully express themselves through piercing. Puncturing the skin with metal accoutrements. Especially the skin in the facial area where it’s hard to avoid noticing, and apparently in other more sensitive areas that are better left unnoticed, if you get my drift.

I try not to exercise my subconscious prejudice that once again rears its ugly head, but I must say I’m thankful that facial pincushions are not particularly mainstream. Yet.

But the next phase of the bodily expression evolution seems to be becoming as common as the common cold. Or, more accurately perhaps, a serious flu epidemic.

It’s ink, of course. In the sense of staining your skin with pin pricks of ink to form what the kids today call “tattoos.” Of course, the rest of us call them tattoos also because that is what they are — and they are everywhere. Tattoos are colouring the skins of males and females alike, young and old, the seemingly sensible and the obviously deranged.

According to a recent article in Maclean’s magazine, nearly 40 per cent of millennials (kids who reach adulthood around the year 2000) have at least one. And I don’t think very many of them say “Mom,” “Mother” or “Home Sweet Home” like tattoos used to on the biceps of sailors returning home from foreign lands.

Superheroes, snakes, flowers, hearts, Japanese letters and complicated graphic comic book art seem to be getting under almost everybody’s skin these days. Also, the name of your current love is always a popular choice for in-your-face tattoos. And therein, as they say, lies the problem.

Get this: the article says the latest rage in skin staining is something called the “divorce tattoo.” This is for people who experience a broken relationship and either want their former partner’s tattooed name removed and/or they request a new tattoo that not too subtly announces the breakup. Popular divorce tattoos include a balloon attached to a string of words: “Sometimes you need to let things go …” or an anchor (thank you sailors) with: “I refuse to sink.” You get the idea.

Apparently, it’s getting to be a problem in the tattoo world. Take Hollywood, for example (please!). The Maclean’s article includes a list of just some of the celebrities who have “taught us that tattooing your lover’s name on your body is a very bad idea: Angelina Jolie, Heidi Klum, Eva Longoria and Johnny Depp all have had homages to their partners removed.”

And that’s not all. A 2014 U.K. study found that “four in 10 people regret their ink, and one in six full on hate it.”

They are part of a growing group of “tattoo regretters” — and I say it’s about time they joined the rest of us. Us tattoo regretters who don’t personally have tattoos but deeply regret the tattoos that everybody else has.

So you want to get in on the next big business boom? Try tattoo removal. In fact, laser studios are, as we speak, cropping up faster than you can ink your arm with a skull and crossbones.

Lucrative? You bet. To remove just one square inch of ink, you and your laser can charge $100 to $500 per treatment. For six to 10 treatments.

It’s apparently more painful that getting the tattoo in the first place and takes four to six weeks for the removal scar to heal. Yikes. This, I figure, is a long way from growing your hair long because you are in a rock band. I shudder to think what the next phase in human body expression might be. But whatever it is, I’m sure it’ll be pretty big and scary. Because some people just gotta let their freak flags fly.

Harley Hay is a local freelance writer, award-winning author, filmmaker and musician. His column appears on Saturdays in the Advocate. His books can be found at Chapters, Coles and Sunworks in Red Deer.

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