Obama daughters tattoo: There’s a loophole in the plan, says a newly tattooed mom

Obama's family tattoo plan to deter his daughters from the needle may backfire, says a newly tattooed mom who has come to see it as art that may be more than skin deep in family meaning.

Jacquelyn Martin/Associated Press
Obama daughters tattoo plan isn't going to work, says Lisa Suhay, pictured getting a tattoo from artist Brian Stringer at Fuzion Tattoo in Norfolk, Va.

I started the clock on the first presidential "tramp stamp" when the president told the Today Show that he and first lady Michelle Obama had an immediate counterstrike to prevent his daughters, Malia, 14, and Sasha, 11, from getting tattoos. They would get identically placed and matching tattoos. This is one campaign promise requiring a term limit because lower lumbar tats are super painful — I should know, I got one two years ago.

In the interview, the president explained that he hoped the threat of a "family tattoo" would completely deter his daughters from inking their bodies during their teenage years. Yes, well, having a Secret Service detail on your teens is really the actual ink deterrent the Obamas have as a first line of defense.

However, as a mom who got a tattoo two years ago — a lower back/lumbar bit of ink that is often pejoratively tagged a “tramp stamp” — I am less inclined to see tattoos as the end of the world. Also, seeing things from the lawyerly perspective inherent in teenagers, I think the president left a loophole that can be artfully used to dodge the negatives currently associated with body art.

My tattoo is a “tribal” design that’s all black with no words. It’s a set of sharp-edged, interlocking strokes depicting, in a very broad sense, the elements of water and femininity I want to hold sacred as I age.

I liked the description of this style that I found on the website for Captain Brett’s Tattoo Shop in Newport, R.I., “Some Tattoos are self-motivated expressions of personal freedom and uniqueness. Most, however, have to do with traditions that mark a person as a member or nonmember of the local group, or express religious, magical, or spiritual beliefs and personal convictions. We all have a undeniable need to belong, this is the most basic Tribal need, and the reason for the Tribal Tattoos renewed power.”

Hmmmm, now if I wanted to belong to a group that shared my values, religious and social, I’d sure hope it was my family.

After all, what is a tribe but a family? By telling his daughters he and the first lady would make tattooing a family affair they were not being original and perhaps were actually making an excellent case for the girls to get inked.

Oh, Mr. President, you just blew that door wide open and believe me, I feel your pain. My tribal took about four hours at Fuzion Ink, Norfolk, Va.

If it makes you feel better, tattoos are steeped in tradition, religion, and history since the tribal styles of today originate with ancient tribes from Borneo, the Haida, the Native Americans, Celtic tribes, the Maori, and other Polynesian groups.

Think of all the Olympians who get tattoos of the Olympic rings with the year of their Olympic experience. It’s just a big, inclusive, strong, happy, healthy, fit, all-American family — a large, sport tribe.

By sheer coincidence, I just watched an episode of "Preachers’ Daughters" two nights ago on the Lifetime Channel wherein a preacher’s three daughters go together as one of them gets a tattoo on her forearm. Her mother Victoria Koloff, a Christian preacher who hosts a faith-based radio show, just about loses her mind over the tattoo, despite the fact that the daughter already had one and is well over 18. Understandably, part of the upset is that the older daughter has taken her 16-year-old sister Kolby to witness the event and in so doing made her a convert to body art.

The thing I found valuable in the episode was the daughter explaining the significance of the new tattoo to her preacher mom, “The compass is kinda like for my faith, like always having a moral compass in my heart, ‘cause I’m a Christian. This is you, the North star. And then these are our initials ... So we all go in our different directions but you are like in the center of it all you’re who we look to for direction.” She tried to explain that, for her, the body art was a way of holding her family close to her.

After the Obamas leave the White House and the girls age out of the Secret Service 24/7 tattoo-parlor watch, the Obamas may someday find that old Today Show interview translates into the presidential seal and 2009-2017 on all their ankles.

In all seriousness, parenthood is a permanent bond between the parents and children, documented in ink and bound by blood. From the day our children are born, their names are written indelibly on our souls.

The real test isn’t whether we can prevent them from doing something of which we disapprove, but how quickly we are able to accept their choices and forms of personal expression. Love them deeper than the skin they came in and, as a parent, you can never go wrong.

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