Why Tattoos Are Permanent? New TED Ed Video Explains with Animation

For the last three decades my right ankle has been the site of a deeply botched tattoo. It was supposed to be a yin yang, but with every passing year, it looks more and more like a cancerous mole. The drunken Vietnam Vet who administered it barely glanced at the design taking shape on my once virgin skin as he chatted with a pal. I was too intimidated to say, “Um…is it just me or are you filling in the white circle?” (I convinced myself that he knew what he was doing, and the ink would recede as it healed. Needless to say…)

My pathetic, little yin-ya’ is an embarrassment in an era of intricate four-color sleeves and souped up rockabilly gorgeousness, but I confess, I’ve grown fond of it. The fact that I have an out-of-balance symbol for balance permanently engraved onto my body is far more appropriate than the poorly grasped  flash art could have been. It’ll be with me til the day I die.

Longer, actually, to judge by the decorative markings of an 8000 -year-old Peruvian mummy.

I feel fortunate to have developed tender feelings for my bush league modification. Claudia Aguirre’s TED-Ed lesson “What Makes Tattoos Permanent,” above, does not make an easy case for removal.

In the words of your grandma, don’t embellish your birthday suit with any old junk.

Your gang affiliation may feel like a forever-thing now, but what if you decide to switch gangs in a few years? Erasing those memories can be painful. Ask Johnny “Winona Forever” Depp.

Dolphins may strike you as peaceful, spiritual creatures, but I’ll bet there are ways to appreciate them that don’t involve having one punctured through your epidermis at 50-3000 micro-wounds per minute. 

Choose wisely! If you’re veering toward a Tasmanian devil or a rose, do yourself a favor and browse the Museum of Online Museums. Feel a kinship with anything there? Good! Once you’ve figured out how to best feature it on your hide, take Aguirre’s anatomy-based quiz. See if it’s true that you’ll be barred from burial in a Jewish cemetery. Your tattoo artist will likely be impressed that you cared enough to do some research. Watch a couple of episodes of the Smithsonian’s Tattoo Odyssey for good measure.

Then lay in a tube of Preparation H, and prepare to love whatever you wind up with. It’s a lot easier than the pain of regret.

Related Content:

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TED ED Animation Gives You a Glimpse of What Life Was Like for Teenagers in Ancient Rome

Ayun Halliday is up to her eyeballs in Bye Bye Birdie and so should you be. Follow her @AyunHalliday


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