Harry Styles: the thinking woman's sexually active manchild. Coo as he poses in a photoshoot sporting a tasteful pastel pullover and clutching a puppy! Gasp in awe as he goes mooching around his local Tesco with his latest squeeze! And then think "WTF?" when you open up your newspaper to see that young Harry appears to have had his tits scribbled on by a toddler out of his mind on Calpol. Ah, yes, Harry is the latest contestant in the long-running gameshow that is Misguided Celebrity Tattoos.
It's not hard to see why Styles has chosen to cover up that torso. It's been the subject of attention ever since he shot to fame as part of One Direction in 2010, not least because he seems to have a different nipple for every day of the week. He's public property, and as soon as that shirt comes off, whether on the beach or in a pop video, all the girls' eyes head south from that angelic face for a gawp at the man beneath. So perhaps this is Harry's way of regaining control. It's a shame, then, that he's chosen to assert his power over himself by turning his torso into a public toilet wall, handing out magic markers and saying "Yeah, just have a scribble if you like". While his etchings no doubt have personal significance for him, he looks like he's halfway through an initiation ceremony to be a gang leader in the Gulags.
It's an increasing phenomenon among the young to get themselves inked as soon as possible once they reach adulthood. Tattoos can be a very beautiful thing, a genuine work of art, but many of the more impetuous ink addicts don't care about the quality, just so long as they can have their skin marked as quickly as possible, over the widest area they can get away with before their mother has a heart attack. For reasons which are unclear, 16-year-old Siobhan Fields wanted a permanent reminder of her hero Marilyn Monroe on her arm. She schlepped off to an unlicensed tattooist and instead of the Hollywood siren posing seductively on her arm, young Siobhan was left with what can only be described as a fire-damaged sex doll balancing precariously on her upper arm, leering out at the world with the sexual aura of a half-eaten bag of ready salted. Harry has also gone for the "Ink it before I change my mind" approach, sporting some birds on his chest, names of cities scratched upon his shoulder and various random quotes and phrases scrawled hither and thither, like he fell asleep pressed between the pages of a teenager's homework.
Tattoos are pretty good at demonstrating how you felt or what you were doing at a particular time, but so are pin badges, postcards and angsty entries in your diary. The permanency of tattoos - and they really are there for ever unless you spend a great deal of effort and cash getting rid of them - seems to be an afterthought for many. One girl I used to live with at university shared her horror at discovering her boyfriend had had a tattoo on his bottom without telling her. "And there it was," she recalled, her eyes wide, "a drawing off a cheeky devil on his backside. It's OK for him; he doesn't have to see it. But do I really want to be looking at it in 30 years' time when he steps out of the shower?" It turns out she didn't, and they broke up, although whether this was related to his having the mascot of camp boy band Bad Boys Inc etched into his buttock isn't known.
With every buzz and jolt of a tattooist's needle comes plenty of opportunity for regret. Lots of tattoo art fans meticulously plan their next design, labouring over it and modifying it before their skin feels that first irreversible prick. They know that they have the rest of their lives to share a body with whatever they choose; it's not just a case of messing about with a Biro. It seems that nobody's on hand to tell Harry "no" or advise him to think before he inks. His boyband mates certainly aren't much help; they're just as bad.
At the time of writing, Harry's intense fling with US pop princess Taylor Swift had come to an end, though by the time you read they may well have reconciled, married and got matching pug dogs tattooed on their upper thighs. Will this latest heartbreak lead to him running back to the tattooist's chair? Watch out for a run on red ink if Styles plumps for a series of shattered love hearts around his nipples - each set of them.
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