She was sitting with friends in a cafe where I was ordering a pizza. Very pretty, young woman, short cropped hair and tanned, she wore a sleeveless T-shirt that revealed two completely tattooed arms from fingers to shoulders. A moving piece of art. Amazing.

But one of the tattoos caught my eye. I lifted my sunglasses and tried to focus, but she glanced my way, and remembering a new #MeToo law that forbids “unnecessary staring,” I looked away.

What I had seen was a perfect drawing of a handsome, dark-haired man in tie and jacket who — OMG, dare I say it? — eerily resembled our beleaguered mayor, the honorable Nicholas Isgro.

As I left, I passed more closely, and with a surreptitious side glance, got a better look. Okay, it was a sketch, but very professional. Still, it could have been actor Jon Hamm or Milo Ventimiglia, but it sure looked like the mayor. So maybe she’s a fan, who knows. He’s a public figure. She can put his face wherever she likes.

The point here is that since I once wrote a column about tattoos, the art, once a province of sailors, criminals, pirates and professional wrestlers, has since been commandeered by modern women and has become a pictorial meme of the flesh embraced by women of all ages worldwide.

We see this not just on the tanned bodies on Old Orchard Beach or total body tattoos on young women strolling through the mall, but in the produce section of the market, on baristas in Starbucks, and in the Muslim spaces of the Middle East.


We find that tattooing was popular early in the Persian Empire and was called Kalkubi. So what art I wonder is hiding under those colorful abayas and chadors today in the posh shops of Iran?

This is no surprise, of course. We’ve all been stunned by the fierce social and political wave of modern women demanding control of their bodies, not just in what they do with them, but what they put on them.

When I dropped out of the sky into Maine 34 years ago, there wasn’t a feminine tattoo in sight. Now they’re everywhere.

At first I “clutched my pearls.”

I come from the Midwest and am imbued with my mother’s southern culture, where women of her time carried parasols to keep the flesh pearly white.

So you can imagine the horror of seeing a young girl fresh out of Miss Sarah’s School for Young Ladies revealing a flower or even a dragon embossed on the small of her back. Oh! Horrors.


Now women, young and even matronly types in their 70s and 80s, are boldly trashing the ethos of their mothers’ generation and covering their very visible flesh not only with dragons, flowers and political figures, but quotes from Aristotle, Shakespeare, the Bible and even the entire lyrics of a Billy Joel ballad.

Just this week, a sweet, attractive young person named Ayrn sat across from us waiting for her order at Shelby’s Cafe in Oakland. Ayrn’s right arm displayed from shoulder to finger tips what appeared to be a gorgeous tapestry laid out on a background of faint emerald tinted flesh.

Ayrn was happy to talk about it and her other tattoos. I wondered how much such an expanse of flesh art could possibly cost.

“My fiancé is a tattoo artist,” she said, showing us the engagement ring given to her that very morning.

So this is where it’s going, not just the parade of Mainers young and old floating through the once upon a time elm-shaded streets of a sleepy college town, but the emergence of young artists who, weary of the limits of the pad and easel and bored with electronic brush strokes, have turned to the most ancient of canvases — the human flesh. Hurrah!

Future art exhibitions may now have dozens of half naked humans covered from nose to toe with their artists’ work, strolling about the galleries. Hurrah!

And the tattooed woman seated in the window at Portland Pie Company? Is it he or is it not?

J.P. Devine is a Waterville writer.

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