Tattoos in old age - why tattoos look different as they age

Many of them still do not use electricity and consume only those products that they grow themselves. And in a few villages, the tradition of covering women's faces with tattoos has been preserved.

Myanmar, formerly Burma, is like a student dormitory: it is noisy, cheerful, and has many different people living in the same area. The Burmese make up about half of the population of 50 million, while the rest of the country is a kaleidoscope of different ethnic groups: Rakhan, Chin, Karen, Mon, Kachin, Shan and Kayan. With the exception of the Burmese as the main people, the others live on "different floors of the dormitory" - for example, the Monas in the south and the Kayan in the east. Through this territorial segregation, these peoples have been able to preserve their traditions. In many settlements people still wear homespun clothing and straw hats, many have specific handicrafts, passing down from generation to generation, weaving carpets, weaving fans and baskets, and carving wood. When tourists began to arrive in Myanmar, the natives realized that such loyalty to customs was economically beneficial - foreigners were willing to pay to see their daily life and buy unpretentious handmade items.

One of Myanmar's tourist centers in the west is the town of Mrauk U, with its seven hundred giant stupa temples. If you sail a dozen kilometers from it on the Lemro River, you can see the settlements of the rulers. The Chins are Tibetan migrants who came to the valley surrounded by impenetrable mountains in the ninth and tenth centuries. There are about a million and a half of them in the country and their life is simple, if not primitive. Many villages lack electricity and proper roads, and people grow rice and vegetables to make a living. Nevertheless, each village has temples, schools and even makeshift sports fields.

The Chins have always been good weavers; they provided their own clothing, making poncho-like capes with bright ornaments and colored skirts for men and women. Now they sell colorful bedspreads, scarves, shawls and napkins as souvenirs as well. But tourists do not come here for woven scarves. There are no gilded stupas or huge statues of Buddha. Everyone wants to see the amazing women whose faces are covered with tattoos.


Guys and girls worry that a tattoo at an older age will look ugly and silly. The drawing will undoubtedly change. Let's look at why this is the case.

  1. Wrinkles form on the skin, both deep and mimic wrinkles. Therefore, the image loses its former outline and shape.
  2. A significant change in weight deforms the tattoo.
  3. The skin loses moisture. Over time, the dermis cannot retain enough fluid to remain elastic. Consequently, the same thing happens to the paint. The outline of the design may float. On dry and old skin the tattoo does not look the same as when you were young.
  4. Natural aging of the tattoo. The drawing and the body lose their properties over the years. The color fades along with the outline of the outline.

Aging, changing the body and the body is a completely normal process. In life, can an old body look better or worse with or without a tattoo? A person's fear is more focused on the aging process itself, not how the tattoo will look in the future.

Business the way of the chin.

There are about a hundred houses in the village of Hrat Chang. The villagers grow rice, cauliflower, and chili. Baskets with their crops often stand outside the houses for people to exchange food. The houses themselves are made of bamboo and palm leaves, like in all of Myanmar. Five women with tattooed faces live here, their ages ranging from 65 to 73. Despite their years, these grandmothers are the main breadwinners of the village community, as up to several dozen tourists a week come here for them.

Today, only two Belgian women from a non-profit organization and myself came. Several women with tattoos are already at their post and greet us, solemnly shaking hands with everyone.

I look at them: it's striking how the wrinkles and bluish, spiderweb-like patterns combine, with a pair of eyes peeking out of them. It's hard to call them grandmothers - they have absolutely no senile, straight posture, lively eyes. You can see that they are proud of their unique appearance. Nearby, the younger women are busy chopping up coconuts with machetes and giving us milk - their faces are clean, no tattoos.

Meanwhile, the older women pose indifferently for Belgian women. They don't shy away from being photographed, they don't smile or ask to see what they've got, as almost all Myanmarites do. For them, this hustle and bustle is work. It's almost a daily job. With us is a guy in his 20s, a local teacher, he speaks a little English: "We have a lot of respect for these women, they help the whole community. According to him, they used the money they raised to build a new school in the village and buy textbooks.

The enterprising grandmothers have a special notebook where names, coordinates of donors and donation amounts are recorded. I flip through a few pages. The most generous were a Swiss and a French couple who gave ten thousand kyat each, roughly ten euros. The Belgians, having finished their coconut milk, began to vigorously reach for their wallets. After that, the tattooed faces brightened, the women relaxed and began to coo with each other and even smile at us.

Together with them we go to see the new school. Inside, everything is very simple - wooden benches, a blackboard, and posters with the alphabet. A few kids are sitting with their textbooks. Then they showed us a temple - a concrete shed with a tin roof. It was modest inside, too: a plaster statue of Buddha and a stone floor. Most of the officials converted to Christianity when missionaries came to Myanmar in the 18th century. But Hrath Chang is mostly populated by Buddhists. A local monk greeted first the elderly women, then us. One of the grandmothers chatted with him, sitting on the floor, the monk respectfully and almost affectionately answered her something. The temple, too, gets its share from the collection of donations.

Tattoo as motivation

To prevent a tattoo from turning into a shapeless and faded spot, you need to watch your health and appearance. Several recommendations should be followed.

Use cosmetic and therapeutic products.

There are many creams that help the skin to fight the processes of change and aging. Thanks to them you can keep the paramount look of the tattoo for a long time. Emphasis should be placed on moisturizing creams that will nourish the skin and sunscreen sprays that will protect against the effects of ultraviolet rays on the tattoo.


Through some form of physical activity or another, the muscles will keep their shape, hence, the skin feels better and looks tighter. It is not difficult to do this if you exercise regularly.

Healthy Eating

Weight changes occur due to a slower metabolism as you age. There is no need to follow strict diets that will only harm the body. You just need to eliminate unhealthy foods and the wrong foods. Don't force yourself on caloric foods, limit your intake of sugar and salt. Eliminate alcohol or drink it in moderation. Alcohol drains moisture from the body, resulting in dry skin.

Universal rules

In order not to experience discomfort from the tattoo in old age, you need to follow a few rules.

It is necessary to choose such a place of drawing that it is not difficult to hide it under clothes. Less prone to ageing changes, and aging in the last place, such places as the calves, forearms, shoulders. Even with weight gain, they do not change much. Therefore, the tattoo is practically not subject to deformation. Most of all drawings lose their former appearance on the stomach and hips.

Tattoo size. A small drawing on the body does not change much at all, compared to a large-scale tattoo. The quality of the image and professionalism of execution are of great importance. When choosing a tattoo master, it is important to see photos of his work, which have already healed. You can also ask for a video that captures the process of drawing.

Beauty is demanded as a sacrifice

Today there are no more than twenty women with tattoos left in the villages of the Lemro River Valley. Seven of them live in the village of Pan Pond, they too meet tourists, selling them woven bags, scarves and jewelry. The drawings on their faces are repetitive - there are only a few varieties of the pattern.

These tattoos have a curious history. When asked why they are needed at all, the women themselves answer: "Our ancestors used to make them for young women so they wouldn't be taken to the king's harem." Harem, and even a royal harem?

In the 14th and 15th centuries, the Rakhans came to these lands, making Mrauk-U their capital, and began to oppress the less civilized ranks. The Rakhans often plundered their settlements and forcibly removed beautiful women. The proud daughters of the ranks preferred to drown themselves in Lemro rather than be concubines of the invaders. So it was decided to go for a trick that cost the charms of several dozen generations of beauties. All girls of puberty were given tattoos that covered their faces in a continuous pattern. They were considered disfigured and therefore of no interest to Rakhine slave traders - freedom and security in exchange for beauty.

How did the ranks come up with such an idea? One legend tells of the widow of a brave warrior who, while in captivity, carved the sun with a dagger into her face so as not to be disgraced. According to another, the women of the ranks during the raids of the enemy painted mysterious signs on their foreheads that called upon the spirits to protect their families.

The tattooing procedure itself was very painful and time-consuming, and the work was performed only by special craftsmen who were present in every village. One of the women recalls being held by her father so she wouldn't break free. She was only 11 years old at the time, and the excruciating "operation" lasted almost a whole day. The paint was made from the sap of some tree's leaves and applied with needles made from the bones of large fish. Then she could not open her eyes for several days because her eyelids were very swollen from the tattoo and the skin around them was inflamed.

Looking at the intricate patterns of women's tattoos, it's hard to believe that these masterfully drawn lines are meant to disfigure their faces. Could a tattoo of officials only disfigure faces? If so, why with the fall of the Rakhan kingdom in the early 18th century did they continue to tattoo young girls, passing on the art of intricate patterns to new generations of masters? And only in the 60's when socialist regime came to power did this custom start to fade away: girls went to bigger cities to study and work, and people there laughed at their blue faces. And if in the past people were more willing to marry someone whose face was patterned, now it became difficult to marry someone with such a seal.

I asked a local teacher if none of the girls in the village wanted to get a tattoo and provide a lifetime income for themselves and their community. Like, for example, the women of the padawng tribe (who wear rings around their necks, lengthening them as they age) living in Myanmar and Thailand. "Today there are no masters who can do it, nor are there girls willing to live without marriage," the guy smiled.

Even if the legend of how proud Chin beauties resisted foreign invaders is nothing more than a successful commercial move, the tattooed grandmothers will be able to help their village for another dozen years.

From "AiF. Without Borders" № 17, 2012.

A cardinal solution

It is not necessary to give up the tattoo because of its appearance in the future. There is a great desire and interest, it is definitely necessary to decide now.

There is a procedure for laser tattoo removal. If, as a matter of principle, a person does not want to wear a tattoo in old age, then resorting to this method is not a problem. The beam affects the pigment, thereby destroying it. After that it is removed from the body naturally. The procedure has no contraindications. It is often used to remove low-quality tattoos. The only disadvantage is that the session is not limited to one time. The drawing is reduced in several stages, and it is painful.

It is not necessary to deny yourself such pleasure as a tattoo. It is necessary to adhere to a couple of tips and rules to ensure that the body drawing keeps its pristine appearance. As a last resort, the tattoo can be removed.

Algerian Tattooed Grannies

"If it wasn't so painful, I would get tattoos all over my body. When a girl wants to be beautiful, she should get tattoos," said Rokaya, an octogenarian grandmother from the Aures mountain region in northern Algeria. The fact is that the bearers of ancient cultures have not reached the modern methods of tattooing and in these mountain villages tattoos are made by painful incisions and rubbing into them with stove soot. She, like many others, was touched by the Algerian war of independence with the French colonialists, but more about that later.

Ornamental tattoos were meant to adorn the faces and hands of girls of those places purely for aesthetic reasons. It was a kind of permanent makeup of the past. The tradition was to have a kind of philosophical symbol on the forehead combining the meaning of the words of the local ancient dialect - flight and chain at the same time. Rokaya's grandmother got her first tattoos when she was twelve years old.

All her life she has lived on a farm near the town of Chemora among the vast wheat fields, and all her life she has been the most enviable local girl. Now she realizes with regret that ancient traditions may be gone once and for all. Traditions that are more than a thousand years old and have been preserved by the Berber tribe. Rokaya is one of the original Berber inhabitants of these places.

She belongs to the last generation, which did the traditional tattoos and was it in the thirties, forties of the twentieth century. By the way, the existence of traditional Arab tattoos is confirmed by various anthropological surveys, such as the expedition of Winfried Smiton. There are also many references to tattoos in pre-Islamic literature, such as the poet Tarfa Ibn Alabd.

It is a fact that the tattoo was considered an exclusively female form of adornment. Men also tattooed themselves, but much less frequently, mostly for magical reasons of improving health.

There is a misconception that the extinction of this tradition is due to the fact that tattoos were needed for Algerian girls to lose their attractiveness in the eyes of the French colonizers. And since there is no threat from the invaders, tattoos are no longer needed.

Now the ancient art is dying out due to the growing Islamic fundamentalism. Its ideologues interpret the Qaran in such a way that it categorically forbids tattoos.


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