It is startling that among the world's beautiful people film stars, recording artists, sports and media personalities, the Cognoscenti body art has upstaged designer labels and fine jewelry in terms of defining oneself, one's take on life, and relationships spiritual, sexual and familial.

Versace would turn over in his grave if he knew that Angelina Jolie, Laura Croft Tomb Raider, is more proud of the Billy Bob tattoo on her upper arm than the form fitting tops which showcase so well her magnificent breasts.

For most of my life, beyond the military, tattoos were the sole purview of gangsters, Hell's Angels, and other such low life dirt bags about the only types dumb enough to frequent tattoo parlors and brave enough to let the proprietors stick dye-filled needles in the most private and sensitive places.

Criminals, particularly those in prison, have the highest tattoo to body part ratio, exceeded only by oddballs like Dennis Rodman, or members of obscure Asian cults who blanket their entire bodies.

Until very recently, tattoos were largely a male prerogative "Mom" "Semper Fi" daggers through hearts "Harley-Davidson" and only in rare cases a badge of honor for the female behemoths who sit behind their men who live to ride the Softtail, Low Rider, Dyna Glide Convertible, and Road King.

In the last decade, tattoos are commonplace above the panty line, bisecting the beautiful butts of bikini clad young ladies on the beach, and peaking out discreetly in the bare flesh zones which are created by halter tops, a staple in Gen X and Y wardrobes nationwide.

Flowers, skulls, dragons, hearts, swords, bits of poetry, initials, pet renderings, philosophy, sexual innuendo, crosses, swastikas, badges, clubs, cults, satanic messages, available in an endless variety of style and color from Malibu to Manhattan.

Daisy-chained tattoos are replacing bracelets and anklets among teenage women with cutting edge taste. There are more professional basketball players with tattooed barbed wire around their biceps than with shaved heads. Bird and butterflies float adjacent to the body's most intimate nooks and crannies, and spiders, beetles, and assorted snakes and worms protect necks, knees and navels. Tattoos no longer prove real man or womanhood, tell the world you served time in prison or the military, but rather literally "mark" the wearer as a member of a new breed of rugged individualist, capable of making a statement with their bodies where none has existed before.

Perhaps a brilliantly colored monarch butterfly nesting among cleavage is a big improvement over nose rings, red and green striped hair, or assorted piercings. I'm not yet, however, ready to sanction a trip to the parlor for my beautiful teenage daughter, although a number of her closest friends bear witness to the trend. Laura Croft notwithstanding, unlikely I'll ever think differently. Hell, getting old!