In the 30s, when Dorothy Parker got a tattoo of a small star on the inside of her upper arm after a drunken night carousing in the Bowery, it was a transgressive, racy act. Now, even the wives of conservative British politicians have dolphins tatted on their ankles, and nice Jewish girls (like Amy Winehouse??) are getting inked in droves, much to the chagrin of their grandmothers. You see, there is an incredibly pervasive rumor among the Jewish community that you can't be buried in a Jewish cemetery if you got the image of Kermit the Frog emblazoned on your torso during a drunken night in Tijuana.
Thankfully, the New York Times is debunking that myth, reporting that "The eight rabbinical scholars interviewed for this article, from institutions like the Jewish Theological Seminary and Yeshiva University, said it's an urban legend…Jewish parents and grandparents picked up on it and over time, their distaste for tattoos was presented as scriptural doctrine."
The argument behind that widespread urban legend comes from the following passage in Leviticus 19:28: "You shall not make gashes in your flesh for the dead nor incise any marks on yourself: I am the Lord." The woman who did my tattoo (a dainty ampersand in the middle of my back, which I affectionately refer to as my "trampersand") assailed that rumor when she pointed out that Jewish girls make gashes in their flesh all the time for nose jobs, and they still get buried in the Jewish cemetery.
And besides, as Rabbi Mark Washofsky points out to the Times, ear piercing, which also involves incising marks, is not controversial. Though tattoos are so prevalent that they're no longer really taboo in American society (40% of 26- to 40-year-olds have at least one tattoo the Times reports), there is one aspect of tattooing that is considered risky: getting your significant others' name tattooed on your body. According to the Telegraph, "Shortly after breaking up with Billy Bob Thornton, a Rolling Stone journalist pointed out the 'Billy Bob' tattoo on Angelina Jolie's arm. 'Where does that leave you?" asked the hack. 'With a lot of dermatology appointments,' she replied." If you really need someone's name on your person, get an ID bracelet, people! Friends don't let friends tattoo dudes' names on their butts.
Related: I Ink Therefore I Am [Guardian]