These days, I have noticed an increase in the number of people who have tattoos. When I was a kid, tattoos were synonymous with sailors and other men who made their living working on ships that sailed the seven seas or who were carnies traveling with circuses and county fairs.

In my house, tattoos were strictly taboo. About the only tattooed sailor that was welcome was Popeye the cartoon character. If you remember, Popeye was far from being overly "tatted." About the only body art visible were the anchors on Popeye's oversized forearms.

Another popular tat from my childhood was the ubiquitous heart with the word "mom" in the middle.

We even have a reference to tattoos in a popular 1960s song. Dion, in his song "The Wanderer" talks about having Flo on his left, Mary on his right and Janie is the girl he's with tonight. And when she asks him which girl he loves the best, he tears open his shirt to reveal a tattoo of Rosie on his chest.

So just how long have folks been using their bodies as billboards?

One source writes that tattooing probably goes back 15,000 years to Neolithic times. However tattoos on mummified human skin go back to the 4th millennium. In case you're not up to date on that time period, it ran from 4,000 through 3,001 BC. Who knows, a distant relative of Popeye may have proudly displayed a tattoo of an ancient bird or snake.

Having a tattoo has not always been a good thing. In the 5th century, Greeks and Romans used tattooing to punish slaves, criminals and prisoners of war. That's probably the reason Greek and Roman mothers looked down on anyone who had decorative tattoos.

The Bible even references tattooing indirectly. Leviticus 19:28 says "Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourself." Some Christians took that as a directive that getting a tattoo was a sin. Others weren't so sure.

I think one of the major changes in skin art is the number of women who have tattoos. Most of the gals I've noticed have relatively small tattoos in relatively obscure and out-of-the way places like on the lower back, foot, or ankle.

Finally, some people who got tattoos in their 20s have second thoughts about the inking of their skin when they get older. Thanks to advances in laser technology, most or all tattoos once thought to be permanent can be successfully removed. But not so fast — several articles I read in preparation for today's conversation indicate that some people who've undergone tattoo removal report it wasn't without a certain amount of discomfort.

If you had grown up in my house, that's a decision you wouldn't have had to make — no how, no where, not ever.

Email Bob Howell at

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