Having a kid with food allergies is terrifying. As novelist Curtis Sittenfeld put in Slate, “I don’t think it’s an overstatement to say that allergic families live in a parallel universe in which what is harmless to everyone else requires extreme vigilance from us.” Understandably, parents don’t want their allergic kids to drop dead every time they go to a birthday party, on a field trip, or anywhere else wheat proteins might be lurking. Enter SafetyTat, a company that lets parents emblazon their children with warning labels. In addition to offering temporary tattoos bearing a child’s home phone number lest Junior wander off in the grocery store or playground—all the utility of a dog collar with less bulk—SafetyTat now offers customizable temporary tattoos reading, “ALLERGY ALERT.”
We at DoubleX have mixed feelings about these temporary tattoos. On one hand, the idea of protective scarlet letters has a lot of potential, and not just for kids; as my colleague Emily Yoffe put it, “Adults will want tattoos that say, ‘Don’t let me order dessert!’ Or ‘Cut me off after the 2nd glass of wine.’ ” On the other hand, kids with allergies already face a lot of stigma, both from adults and from other kids. Won’t being physically branded make allergic kids more susceptible to bullying?
The solution, we think, is to make allergy tattoos look more like real tattoos. The SafetyTat design you see above is easy-to-read and pragmatic, sure, but I don’t know any 7-year-olds who would clamor to plaster their bodies with it. If kids are going to voluntarily wear them, allergy tattoos should be bigger and far less tasteful than SafetyTat’s offerings. How about a foot-wide chest tattoo, like Tupac’s “Thug Life,” only reading “Soy Death” instead? Or a very arty strawberry dripping with blood for your neck? Or a cartoon of Mr. Peanut throttling somebody? The vulgar possibilities are endless. The only danger is that if allergy tattoos start looking too cool, even kids without allergies will want to wear them.