It took 50 years for Ann Rider to get the courage to inject a little pigment into her skin.
Two years later, the Phoenix resident added a fourth tattoo, the latest installment in a five-part series symbolizing the elements of the Earth.
"It’s my body," said Rider, who is self-employed. "If they don’t like it, too bad. That’s one of the joys of being over 50."
It seems the generation that grew up shunning body art has now found a proverbial fountain of youth in a tattoo parlor.
"We get people in here who’ve never had anything done before," said Shayna Kahn, owner of Scottsdale’s Wisemagic Tattoo. "They feel they’re not too old to do this stuff."
The Tucson-based Alliance of Professional Tattooists doesn’t keep statistics on how many baby boomers are getting tattoos, but there is anecdotal evidence. Kahn estimated that half of her clientele is 45 and older, and they aren’t aging bikers or hippies covering what’s left or fixing old ones.
Rather, they’re small-business owners like Cave Creek’s Chip Davis, who got his first tattoo at 38; winter resident wives sneaking in a butterfly or a Conji symbol while their husbands are on the golf course; or the recently divorced celebrating freedom with a tattoo.
Ironically, when this generation was growing up in the 1950s, only former servicemen and criminals had tattoos. Musicians like Janis Joplin set the trend for hippies in the 1960s. But in wake of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Americans rushed to tattoo parlors and patriotically endured the needle to commemorate the tragedy, making the tattoo a little less taboo.
Plus, women in Hollywood including Melanie Griffith, Rosie O’Donnell and Roseanne have proudly worn tattoos for years, transforming them into status symbols.
But don’t expect to see a matronly elementary school teacher sporting a tattoo where you can see it. Barbed wire wrapped around the upper arm isn’t for this crowd. Most baby boomers get tattooed in places that are easily covered. It’s a covert form of late-life rebellion.
Women prefer smaller designs etched on the small of the back or ankle — places in no danger of sagging soon. Men, however, tend to personalize their tattoos and wear them on the upper arm or back.
Davis, now 46, chose the Tin Man from "The Wizard of Oz" as the theme for his sixth tattoo.
"In order to survive in business, you have to have heart," said Davis, who owns Cathedral Automotive. "The Tin Man has heart."
Lori Ashcraft, who got her first tattoo at Wisemagic a month ago, secretly yearned for a tattoo but didn’t dare get one. Ashcraft mulled it over for 15 years. When Rider mentioned she was getting her fourth, Ashcraft decided she was ready.
"I thought, ‘Gosh, now I’m not going to be weird if I do this,’ " said Ashcraft, whose husband didn’t notice the om, the Sanskrit symbol for the all-encompassing god, on her ankle until three days later.
Unlike their teenage counterparts, boomers seem to choose wisely when it comes to permanently marking their bodies.
"I settled on something I could live with for the rest of my life," said Rider, who is already thinking about her fifth tattoo.
With age comes wisdom and money, said Chris Bishop, owner of Skin Illustrations in Chandler.
"I look forward to the 45-and-older crowd," Bishop said. "They’ve got money to pay for tattoos."
But older clients shouldn’t expect special treatment because of their age or money. No tattoo artist will apply numbing cream because it hardens the skin.
"Part of the fun is that there’s a little pain involved," said tattoo artist Mark DiCarlo, who’s been in the business for 14 years. "You earn the tattoo."