By Laura Lee Flanagan

It might be hard to believe as you stroll through Greenwich Village, but getting a tattoo was capital “I” illegal in NYC until a relatively short time ago. When yours truly started getting tattooed at the tender age of 14, artists were found in basements that required special knocks and they only accepted cash payments. My friends and I used to scour all five boroughs for these secret places that catered to what was then an underground sport of sorts.

Today, tattoos are mainstream, and getting one is arguably a rite of passage for anyone under 30. Tattoo artist Kat Von D now has her own cosmetics line and the saintly Gwyneth Paltrow rocks a (temporary) eagle tat. With 45 million Americans (mostly women) of all ages partaking in the trend, it’s bound to become edgy soon to have un-inked skin!

In the meantime, the mainstream media will probably continue beating the trend to death with yet more ink-focused reality shows. Offerings like Ink Master, Best Ink, and NY Ink seem to occupy every available time slot on cable. I’m especially partial to Spike TV’s Tattoo Nightmares, which involves the typical, contrived interoffice drama but features tattoo artists that are just that —artists. It’s amazing to watch them take total crap and make it gorgeous.

I’m not exactly sure what all this ink says about our collective culture, but I do know what it means for our city: Check back in a few decades for a spread of saggy, blurry “artwork” on sunbathers at any of our beaches!

More in Tattoos:

CBS’s 5 favorite NYC Tattoo Parlors

The New Yorker’s slideshow on A Secret History of Women and Tattoo

This year’s NYC Tattoo Convention is May 17-19 at Roseland Ballroom

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