Since starting Sixty and Me, I have come to expect the unexpected and embrace the diversity and eclectic style of women over 60. Sometimes when I look at a woman my age, I forget that behind that conservative dress and sensible shoes lurks the heart and soul of a bohemian.
We are individuals who grew up in the 1960s where individualism and self-expression were a passion and way of life. At every age and stage of life, our generation has been known for not being afraid to express ourselves.
For goodness’ sake, some time ago we saw Helen Mirren twerk!
This “Beatnik” eccentricity of so many women our age was highlighted for me some time ago when I organized a “meet-up” in my town for women over 50. As we shared our stories, two women revealed that they had just recently gotten tattoos.
I was a little surprised – because when Baby Boomers were growing up, having a tattoo was not nearly as widespread or widely accepted as it is today. In fact, many people our age might have had parents who explicitly warned us NOT to get tattoos.
But a recent Pew study confirms that, today, roughly 15 percent of American Baby Boomers have tattoos and body art.
What could be driving this sudden interest in tattoos for older women, and why is this tattoo trend noteworthy for the Sixty and Me community?
One topic that we discuss a lot in the community is our desire to define self-expression for ourselves and reject stereotypes about aging. Who’s to say that women our age are “too old” to have a tattoo?
The last thing you expect to see on your grandmother’s arm is a tattoo of a Celtic cross or Buddhist lotus. But, for many women, getting a tattoo is a way to declare, if only to themselves, what they stand for and who they really are.
Even if you are not such an extrovert who likes to share your tattoos with the entire world, a small butterfly or flower tattoo is something that can be hidden under a sweater, but you know it’s there.
A tattoo can be your secret, representing your secret persona. Or a tattoo can make a personal statement to the world about your values, your independence and beliefs. Getting a tattoo gives you freedom to express yourself as a unique free spirit. Body art expresses the rebel in us and is part of how we show that we are interesting and passionate women!
Tattoos have moved past many of their negative associations and are widely accepted today. But it seems to me that, even though tattoos are more “mainstream” than they used to be, the act of getting tattoos and body art is still about connecting with a cultural “tribe” or expressing a sense of intention or purpose.
Your tattoo might make a connection to a special person, a spiritual tradition or archetype. Or it may reflect your personal life philosophy. Your tattoo might remind you of a loved one who has died, or a place you have visited, or a culture you revere.
At the end of the day, perhaps expressing a sense of purpose and feeling a connection to a tribe is what getting a tattoo is all about. Perhaps this is why they are so popular with Boomer women!
Today, Boomers wear their tattoos proudly. And I think that for older women in particular, getting a tattoo is just another expression of their newfound independence and self-awareness. Women over 60 have been around long enough not to worry about what other people think about them, and now we have the freedom to more fully express our creativity and passions in life.
So from now on, be aware that the seemingly “conservative-looking” grey haired lady next to you in the café might just have a butterfly tattoo on her shoulder – or somewhere else! There is nothing wrong with tattoos on older women; they can be another way to show our sense of adventure, curiosity, creativity and our desire to make an impression on the world.
Guinness World Record holders for most tattooed seniors, Charlotte Guttenberg, 72, and her partner, Charles Helmke, 80, are showing their fellow Boomers that tattoos are an art form for people of all ages.
While it’s true that tattooing on older skin requires a lighter touch to avoid “blowouts” (when the ink is pushed into the deeper layers of the skin, causing a smudged look), the idea that tattoos will appear deformed or unattractive on wrinkled on older skin is more of a personal opinion than a fact.
And it’s an opinion that Helmke doesn’t agree with, “That BS is just unbelievable,” Helmke says of being too old for a tattoo. “You can’t see the wrinkles with all the tattoos.”
Creative self-expression and a solution for wrinkles – genius!
While Helmke has been getting tattooed since he was a young man, Guttenberg only just got her first tattoo less than 20 years ago, after her first husband died.
And surprisingly, what led her to embark on the journey of tattooing her entire body actually began with Guttenberg’s disappointment in that first tattoo she received – a small butterfly.
The tattoo was done poorly by an inexperienced tattoo artist, leading Guttenberg to seek out a more qualified artist to cover it up.
Inspired by a painting of a full tattoo bodysuit on the wall at her new tattoo artist’s shop, Guttenberg slowly started adding to the beautiful swallowtail artwork she had done to cover-up her once unexceptional butterfly.
Eventually, all those small additions began to add up until her entire body, outside of her face, was filled with colorful and carefully inked artwork.
However, before reaching full bodysuit status, Guttenberg was lucky enough to cross paths with someone that she would end up enjoying this record-breaking experience with.
While she was getting a particularly painful tattoo in 2006, Helmke happened to be visiting the tattoo shop and was asked to distract Guttenberg from the painful tattoo that she was receiving – to which he happily and successfully did.
Soon after, the two began dating and sharing every future tattoo experience together – painful or not!
“We were taking turns getting tattooed, and pretty soon we [each] had a bodysuit,” says Helmke.
While some might assume the pair embarked on this body art journey for the sole purpose of setting a world record, they both maintain that their physical transformations have been purely for their own enjoyment.
“[It’s] a perfect analogy because this is our artwork, and we choose to wear it. I have this artwork because I enjoy it,” explains Guttenberg.
And while the public reaction to the colorfully decorated pair has been mostly positive, they do receive the occasional ogling stranger or disapproving comment – but they don’t seem too bothered by it.
In fact, Guttenberg’s response is the perfect reminder that with age comes a strong and freeing sense of self-confidence, “I really am of the opinion that it’s none of my business what other people think, and it is not my responsibility to change your way of thinking.”
Helmke adds, “It’s a personal decision someone makes. You may not have any tattoos. Well, that’s okay, too.”
I think we can all agree, whatever your thoughts on tattoos or body art on older individuals may be, that Guttenberg and Helmke are an inspiring pair of beautiful, free-spirits – inside and out.
What do you think about tattoos for older women? Do you have a tattoo? If so, what is the design? What does it mean to you? Have you ever thought of getting a tattoo or body art? Please join the conversation.