Ageing with attitude: You're never too old for a tattoo

Actress Susan Sarandon is one of a growing number of older women using body art as a form of self-expression, says Margaret Jennings.

Ageing with attitude: You're never too old for a tattoo

THINK you’re too old for a tattoo? Then take inspiration from 69-year-old actress, Susan Sarandon, who has made a public display of hers.

Sarandon had her first tattoo — 25cm-long markings — placed on the back of her neck where it is quite visible. The fact that it represents the initials of her three adult children, in gothic-style letters, proclaims to the world that although she is an ageing woman and a proud mum, she is not averse to using her body to make a statement about her creative edge.

Her more recent marking, a jagged band on her right wrist, gives another glimpse of her character — it means a new dawn, a new day, to remind her that when she does something to someone, or they to her, there is a another chance to start over. At almost 70, she is certainly not shying away from a future of possibility, of new starts and of forgiven hurts.

Meanwhile, more Irish 50- and 60-somethings are following suit — using tattoos as part of their own personal body narrative. According to Navan-based tattoo artist John Larkin, his clients still see it as a rebellious act, in contrast to younger customers, who get them as a necessary fashion statement.

But they are still far removed from indulging in the colourfully-mapped limbs of the youthful army, that is now the norm.

“Women outnumber men three to one in that age group. A lot of women for instance get their first on their 50th and come in with their daughters,” says John. “It’s on their bucket list, but I think it’s the act of getting it, rather than the subject matter, that’s most important for them. Many of them go for traditional icons like butterflies, swallow and hearts.

“Yesterday I had a couple in their late 50s both getting their first tattoos,” he says. “They got a swallow and a bee — both on their hip, so they could hide them. I recently worked also on a 74-year-old lady who got a shamrock on her wrist.”

Donegal tattoo artist Ruth Kavanagh says she also sees lots of older people.

“They have always wanted a tattoo and have seen sense in their maturity and no longer give a hoot about what their neighbours think. The older women get something that reminds them to take part in life, instead of just being quiet and polite,” she says.

“The oldest lady we have had was 81. It was her birthday and she got Do Not Resuscitate!” Last July 79-year-old Derry grandmother and retired civil servant, Sadie Sellers, made the news when she popped out from her care home with her walking frame, to get an outline of a heart inked on her left arm, alongside her 22-year-old granddaughter Samantha.

Meanwhile, Michael P Rzybyla, the owner of Cork-based tattoo studio, ADHD, says you are never too old to get a tattoo and his own parents have also indulged.

“It’s harder for the artist to work on older skin because it is not soft, but it’s not difficult,” he says. “If a tattoo is coloured then it can fade with exposure to sun and sunbeds, but that is the same for everyone.”

However, Gillian Gibson, dermatologist at the Lee Clinic, in Cork, warns of the dangers, mentioning the obvious risk of transmission of infectious diseases if non-sterile needles are used.

Regarding colour tattoos she says: “Allergic reactions can occur to the colour pigment in tattoos especially to red. This may cause an eczema-type rash or swellings, redness or yellow brown lumps in the skin. Some of the pigments in tattoos, especially yellow, are phototoxic, meaning that swelling and redness of the skin can occur on exposure to the sun.

“With regard to body sites for tattooing in the over 50s, skin areas which sag with ageing can alter the original appearance of a tattoo,” says Dr Gibson.

“For example a woman with a bird tattoo on her chest remarked that ‘the bird was flying further south every year’!”

It’s a point Lois Joy Johnson makes in her book The Wardrobe Wakeup, Your Guide to Looking Fabulous at Any Age, as she warns older women not to decorate “where you tend to gain weight or have saggy flabby skin.”

If you are interested in seeing older people who have defied the rules, just google!

Sizzling 60s

Forget the bad press associated with withering tissues and libidos as we age, says author Joan Price, who is a senior sexuality and fitness advocate.

This guide is not just doling out advice though – she brings her own straight-talking personal experience, as well as the stories of other “sexually seasoned” women over 60 to the table. And she adds a smattering of self-help tips from the experts.

The honesty of her own personal story throughout, speaks warmly to older women as she voices the fears and vulnerability of her ageing body, yet her determination to stay vital and fit in every way, which spills out inevitably into her sexuality.

She also shares an extensive book and website list of further resources on the topic.

Better Than I Ever Expected By Joan Price, €13.46


The 90-year-old snow sledder

Heart health

It may seem a bit obvious — the more you move, the better it is for your heart health, according to a new study.

Researchers are suggesting that the minimum level of activity to stay healthy — which is 150 minutes of moderate physical activity a week, or walking 30 minutes a day — should be increased.

The conclusion was drawn after examining 12 studies in the US and Europe over 15 years.

Those who did two to four times more exercise than the current activity recommendations, lowered their risk of heart.

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