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.
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 1900s, we find that tattoos were not considered mainstream by any means. Only lower-class people had tattoos. In the early 1920s, 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
Tattoos for Almost Everyone
I don’t know if the 1990s 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.
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.
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!
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This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
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© 2011 Mary Craig