Entertainment

06.21.14

Melanie, Leave Antonio On Your Arm: The Emotional Politics of Tattoos

After they announced their separation, Melanie Griffith blurred out the tattoo of her husband Antonio Banderas’ name using make-up. If you split, what should you do with a loved one’s inky imprimatur?

It’s been a catastrophic month for planet Earth. ISIS now controls major cities in Iraq. Russian tanks have entered Ukraine. And Antonio Banderas and Melanie Griffith have consciously uncoupled.

In a statement released to the media—because these are things the world must know—the now-defunct Hollywood couple paid tribute to their broken relationship. "We have thoughtfully and consensually decided to finalize our almost twenty years marriage [sic] in a loving and friendly manner honoring and respecting each other, our family and friends and the beautiful time we have spent together.”

Well, not that respectful of the beautiful time spent together.

Less than two weeks after filing for divorce, Griffith had already began the process of excising Banderas from her life—which, in her case, will require a number of painful zaps from a laser.

The actress appeared at Italy’s Taormina film festival Tuesday night, a tattoo bearing Banderas’ name conspicuously erased from her right bicep (more specifically, painted over with makeup). The ornate heart decal framing “Antonio” remained.

It was a rather public disavowal, though the message itself was unclear: Was it now an empty heart? An open heart, signaling her readiness to move on? Why not erase the whole damn thing? Or wear long sleeves? Did she run out of concealer?

Griffith is hardly alone amongst the lovelorn, impulsive, and unfortunately tattooed. Indeed, celebrities’ bodies can be an inventory of failed relationships. They fall in love, wear vials of each other’s blood around their necks, get tattoos of each other’s names, and laser them off when the relationship inevitably collapses, leaving unsightly patches of color and scars in their place.

Angelina Jolie’s arm is like a palimpsest: After splitting with Billy Bob Thornton, she wiped his name from her bicep and covered it with the longitudes and latitudes of her six children’s birthplaces (replacing failed love with a reminder of her beneficence). Eva Longoria had ex-husband Tony Parker’s basketball jersey number lasered off the back of her neck.

Heidi Klum is still in the process of removing Seal’s initials from her forearm, two years after her divorce. After his divorce from Roseanne Barr, Tom Arnold was left with a pile of lawyers’ bills and an enormous tattoo of the actress’s face (which, it should be noted, looked nothing like her) on his left breast.

While we all carry around emotional scars from collapsed relationships, our wounds tend to manifest themselves in empty tubs of Ben & Jerry’s, debilitating hangovers, reckless forget-about-him sex with forgettable men, and full-blown nervous breakdowns. But, thankfully, they generally remain unseen by the public.

“Wouldn’t the more mature decision be to keep our inky mistakes as a reminder of the good times, or of the failures that shape us?”

If we are so foolish to brand ourselves with our significant others’ names—a reminder of our enduring love after six weeks of dating; without even marrying, Johnny Depp tattooed “Winona Forever” on his arm—are we equally foolish to burn them off when the relationship has ended, like a heartbroken teenager tearing up old love letters? Wouldn’t the more mature decision be to keep our inky mistakes as a reminder of the good times, or of the failures that shape us?

After all, the Internet age is an age of permanence: the ugly clothes, bad hair, and horrifying behavior caught on camera will haunt us forever. We can no longer hide from our past mistakes, so why not just leave the tattoos?

Well, prospective partners might not be so understanding of an elaborate shrine to an ex etched on your lower back. Surely Brad Pitt wouldn’t appreciate waking up to a permanent ledger of Angelina’s former lovers on her arm—much better if replaced by a monument to their procreative abilities (and skill at adoption paperwork).

The wound is particularly fresh in Griffith’s case, though she appears to have so far forgone the blistering and bleeding of removal. Perhaps it’s the prospect of walking the red carpet accessorized with an unsightly Band-Aid. Perhaps she is waiting until the pain of her failed marriage is fully realized, or is withholding hope for reconciliation, before going under the laser.

But there is an obvious lesson for those of us not hunted by the paparazzi, and who don’t announce our relationship problems to the media: Before submitting to the tattoo gun, submit to a serious audit of your relationship. Because that tattoo ink might be more permanent than your love.