To Tattoo or Not To Tattoo - That Is The Famous Question!

Tattoos Have Become Mainstream

I just finished reading The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. Her tattoos made me stop and think about women and tattoos.

I must admit right up front, I have a tattoo. I got one when I was 50; it was my birthday present to myself. A beautiful Claddagh on my left shoulder, a little low so it isn’t always visible.

So, why a tattoo?

When I was young, the only people who had tattoos were bikers and guys in the service. Bikers probably did it to show how macho they were, and most guys in the service did it on a night out drinking, wanting to be manly men. Lots of anchors were tattooed on guys back then. There was always the old drunk with "Mother" tattooed on a ribbon on his arm. The only women with tattoos were in the circus or from faraway lands, as found in the pages of National Geographic.

When did that change? When did tattoos become mainstream? They are now mainstream, you know. Everyone’s doing it, from young girls to little old ladies, teenage boys to old men, and everyone in between.

Outline world map on bicep
Outline world map on bicep | Source

History of Tattoos

So first, what is a tattoo? Wikipedia defines it as “body art made by inserting indelible ink into the dermis layer of the skin...." Some call tattooing a desecration of God’s temple, while others accept it as a decorative body modification. Whatever you call it, it is still a tattoo. According to Harris Interactive, some Americans with tattoos say they feel sexier (34%) and more attractive (26%). Many who don't have tattoos, however, think people who do have them are less attractive (42%), more rebellious (57%), and less intelligent (31%). Hmm, am I more rebellious or less intelligent?

There were tattoos on mummies (it was a big thing in ancient Egypt for men and women), and in Japan a particular tattoo was used to identify a particular crime family.

Skipping to America in the 1900’s, we find that tattoos were not considered mainstream by any means. Only lower-class people had tattoos. In the early 1920’s tattoos were “travel markers.” You could tell where a person had been by his tattoos.

Tattooing on the Rise

According to a survey done in 2006 by the Journal of American Academy of Dermatology, 24% of Americans aged 18 to 50 were tattooed and 36% of 18- to 29-year olds were tattooed. By 2010, those numbers had climbed to 36% and 40% respectively. Tattooing is on the rise, both in acceptance and in popularity. Whether or not it's at a peak is unknown. New regulations, sanitation standards, tools and materials have made tattooing easier and more accessible than previously.

While tattooing has gone through many changes, the reasons for tattooing have not changed much. Artistic tattooing is on the rise, but the persistence of gang tattoos shows that tattoos are still used to show tribe and family affiliation. It seems in the 1960s things began to change somewhat. Tattoos moved up to bikers of higher status, and celebrities began to show up with tattoos.

But the mainstreaming really began in the 1980s and ‘90s. Angelina Jolie is probably the most famous “tattooed lady”: a female celebrity with lots of permanent tattoos. I say permanent, because there are actors who use temporary tattoos so that it doesn’t interfere with their craft. I mean, think about it: can you see, say, Alice in Wonderland with a big spider tattoo on her arm? Wouldn’t work well. Of course there are many other actors and actresses that just have their tattoos covered up for their roles. Makeup, by a real makeup artist, can cover anything. What about athletes? How about Dennis Rodman or Mike Tyson?

Celebrities With Tattoos

Eva Longoria
Eva Longoria
Colin Farrell
Colin Farrell

Tattoos for Almost Everyone

I don’t know if the 1990’s was the birth of the lower back tattoo or not but it seems it really gained popularity then. Of course it’s been called by many other derogatory names such as “tramp stamp”, but a lot of young girls got and still get lower back tattoos. Because the lower back is “sexy and curvy,” it is a great spot to show off a girl’s tattoo! Tattoos in this area stand a better chance of staying the same over time, as this area usually doesn’t stretch, spread or get out of shape.

In 2000 and beyond, TV started to promote tattooing with shows like Miami Ink. Seeing the actual tattooing taken out of back streets and watching how it was done encouraged more people to try it. Oh, they might’ve tried it anyway, but being able to know more about it and understanding that it is now sanitary has helped promote it, and many who would’ve been afraid were influenced by the casual attitude on the show.

People also found out that tattoos are no longer just basic, dark colors: almost every color is available. Tattoo designs are endless, and you can design your own. You don’t just see an anchor or "mother" anymore. There are elaborate works of art on people’s bodies. Some have their arms and legs completely "sleeved" (covered with tattoos, without bare spots). Others have their backs or fronts completely covered.

Now, thanks to the Internet, you can also get millions of tattoo designs online and take them to your local tattoo artist. Some sites you can visit for ideas include Checkoutmyink and 1001 Tattoos.

Makeup Tattoos

Then there’s the “permanent makeup,” which is actually tattooing that does away with the need to apply makeup. Seriously! Women are having their eyelids, their eyelashes, and even their lips tattooed. Nothing outrageous, just color so they don’t need to apply makeup. I should know: I had my eyelids done because I’m allergic to every type of eye makeup.

My Claddagh tattoo
My Claddagh tattoo | Source

My Tattoo

Art, desecration, whatever you call it, it hurts! As you start getting your tattoo it doesn't feel so bad, but as the tattooist goes over and over to fill in the lines and colors it starts to get sore and begins to hurt. You survive, obviously, but depending on your pain level and the size of your tattoo, it can be a painful process.

To Tattoo or Not To Tattoo

It’s easy to say tattoos are not a fad; they weren’t a fad in ancient Egypt, and they’re not a fad now. There are now enough people in every profession and age group sporting tattoos to say it’s gone beyond fad to what I originally said, mainstream.

So, to tattoo or not to tattoo? That’s a question only you can answer. Whether you consider it an art form, a decoration, a symbol of something, or a desecration, whatever. It’s a personal decision, surely, but the option is definitely here to stay!

If you enjoyed this article, please leave a comment. Feel free to share it with your friends.

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More by this Author

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    Tattoos have evolved through the centuries but did you know they are now being used as makeup? Tattooed eyelids, eyebrows, even lipstick...yes I have first-hand knowledge about this, do you?

Comments 16 comments

Jean Bakula profile image

Jean Bakula 5 years ago from New Jersey

Lots of information there. My Dad was in the Navy, and only knew Mom for about 1 month when he got her name tattooed on his upper arm. I always thought it was so romantic. Of course, in those days, people tended to stay in marriages, divorce was looked down upon. I think tattoos are neat, but they are forever, so I wouldn't go as crazy with them as some do. I know dermatologists can remove them or do some procedure to lighten them, but it all sounds painful! Sometimes I get the henna kind that only lasts a while. Good for you, getting one on your 50th B-day! I went to Jamaica for the first time on mine, and had one of the best times of my life. It's only a number. If you liked "Dragon Tattoo", I reviewed all 3 books of the Millennium Trilogy on HP. Best wishes to you. Voted up, interesting, awesome! 5 years ago

Great read. I just had my second tat done. The first one when I was 46. I have always admired tattoos on other people. It just took me that long to decide what I wanted that really meant something to me. Thanks for sharing.

tillsontitan profile image

tillsontitan 5 years ago from New York Author

I know what you mean Lisa. I always wanted a tat but never had the nerve until I was 50!

Nell Rose profile image

Nell Rose 5 years ago from England

Hi, I have a tatoo I got mine when I was forty, it was my present to me! lol I have always wanted one, but never got around to doing it. I believe that some people get them too quickly then regret it, mine is a native American Dreamcatcher! lovely blue, in fact when people first saw it, I got lots of attention from people wanting one, and they said they had never seen anyone with it like mine, I love it! cheers nell

tillsontitan profile image

tillsontitan 5 years ago from New York Author

Nell, I'm sure it's beautiful. First of all Dreamcatchers are lovely in themselves, and blue is a great color for anything!

Brett.Tesol profile image

Brett.Tesol 4 years ago from Somewhere in Asia

My advice to anyone considering getting a tad too is to think about it for at least six months before actually getting it(a cooling off period, for something VERY permanent).

I have a couple myself, but they are to reminded me of travelling and to remind me of some important lessons that I learned. Both were designed by myself over a few months, so at least they will stay unique to me.

A very interesting article about a subject that in Asia is still quite sensitive today.

Thanks for SHARING.

cebutouristspot profile image

cebutouristspot 4 years ago from Cebu

I would never get a tattoo :D I simply dont like it. No offense to those who do :D

tillsontitan profile image

tillsontitan 4 years ago from New York Author

A tattoo is definitely permanent and should be thought about, I agree Brett, but for those of us who think about it first, it's a go. I'm sure yours are unique. My daughter has a very unique tattoo on her leg, designed by a friend.

Cebutouristspot, tattoos are not for everyone. It's definitely a matter of taste and no offense should be taken, after all that's why there's vanilla and chocolate!

Stephanie Henkel profile image

Stephanie Henkel 4 years ago from USA

Enjoyed your very interesting article on the history of tattoos. Getting a tattoo is a very personal decision. I was a little surprised at the statistics--although I have noticed many more tattoos, I had no idea that the number of people sporting them was so high. Personally, I would not want to commit to having permanent body art - it's not like jewelry or a hairstyle that you can change when you grow tired of it! Great hub, voted up! Tweeted!

tillsontitan profile image

tillsontitan 4 years ago from New York Author

Definitely needs to be thought out Stephanie, you are so right, it stays with you forever! Thanks for reading, voting, and tweeting.

mary615 profile image

mary615 4 years ago from Florida

My granddaughters all have tattoos, and I do not approve! OK, I'm old fashioned. I can't imagine all these young gals with tattoos when they get old.....tattoos in their wrinkles!!!

I know all the young folks have them these days. I can see getting eyeliner done.

I did vote this UP and interesting.

tillsontitan profile image

tillsontitan 4 years ago from New York Author

Its a sign of the times Mary. I believe as long as they are 'tasteful' they are fine .... and they'll laugh at them in their wrinkles ;)

Alecia Murphy profile image

Alecia Murphy 4 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

I'm young but it's never been something I've seriously considered. Like Mary said- imagining a tattoo on my aged skin is something I fear. But overall my reasoning for not having one is mainly because I never feel the need to do what anyone else does to validate my identity or self-value. Some people seem to get tattoos just so they can "fit in." However, I think it's ridiculous if you have your own name tattooed on yourself- can you not remember it?

A fun and interesting hub!

tillsontitan profile image

tillsontitan 4 years ago from New York Author

Alecia, I love your comment about having your own name tattooed..."can you not remember it?" Thanks for your comments...always appreciated and always fun to read.

jenbeach21 profile image

jenbeach21 3 years ago from Orlando, FL

Great information on the history of tattoos. I currently have 2 tattoos and only regret one of them, my "tramp stamp." I think when tattoos have personal meaning then it gives the tattoo a purpose and you are less likely to regret it later on.

tillsontitan profile image

tillsontitan 3 years ago from New York Author

I agree Jenn, if a tattoo has a personal meaning you certainly will not regret it. I appreciate you stopping by.

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