Body modification is the intentional change of someone's physical appearance. Physical appearance, an assertion of identity, is modified in ways that are viewed as routine and normative (Foster, Hummel, 3). A change in physical appearance can be made through a number of different options but tattooing, specifically refers to a mark (a person or a part of the body) with a permanent design by inserting colored ink into punctures in the skin. For a practice so commonly connected to the youth, tattooing is actually a very old tradition.
It’s been said that tattooing has been practiced across the world since at least Neolithic times, based on mummified preserved skin, ancient art, and the archaeological record (Penn State1). Both ancient art and archaeological findings of tools possibly used for tattooing, suggest it was practiced pre-Neolithic times in Europe. The only evidence of tattoos on a mummified human skin date back between 3370 and 3100 BC, found on the body of Ötzi the Iceman (Penn State, 1). The preserved body of Ötzi was found in the Alps between Austria and Italy in 1991. Egypt's international trade was the founding father for spreading the practice of tattooing to Crete, Greece, and Arabia (Penn State, 1). Other tattooed mummies have been discovered since, in at least 49 archaeological sites including locations in India, Japan, Indonesia, Samoa, New Zealand, and the Philippines. Although Otzi is the only evidence of tattoos on a mummified skin, it is stated that the practice of tattooing dates back long before Otzi. Tattooing is as widespread as it is ancient, popping up on every inhabited continent for decades (Penn State, 1).
Depending on the location, tattoos are and can be called something completely different. The meaning of a tattoo and reasoning behind it also relies on location, varying throughout different cultures. In the past tattoos have been used as cultural symbols among many tribal populations (Penn State, 1). Some people like to express themselves through art, writing, singing, dancing and even tattooing. Throughout time, tattoos have mainly been used to portray an important message through a visual image. The art of tattooing has given so any people the freedom to openly express themselves on their bodies, allowing them to create limitless ideas to display for anyone to see. During the early 17th century, criminals were widely being punished by getting tattooed. Criminals were marked with symbols typically including crosses, lines, double lines and circles on specific parts of the body, mostly the face and arms. These symbols sometimes labeled the places where the crimes took place. Tattooing become widely popular in the late 18th century among British sailors around the time of Captain James Cook’s voyages to Tahiti, and were also present for some time in the western world, mostly on the bodies of seamen returning from the South Pacific (Penn State, 1). The art of tattooing went through a re-emergence among the British privileged classes after King George V and later Edward VII were tattooed with a dragon and a cross, respectively. Foreign courts shadowed the British Court's lead, initiating a rash of tattooed royalty during the nineteenth century (Penn State, 1).
For some time now, tattoos have been used as a tool for identification. The Romans identified their criminals and slaves by tattooing them, a practice that was adopted by the Japanese. The Nazis tattooed numbers on the arms of Jews during the Holocaust to brutalize concentration camp inmates and to later identify their corpses. In a sense, tattooing of the criminals is like the tattooing of gangs and gang members. It doesn’t necessarily label the crime in which they committed, but a bond to an extended family. Some of these tattoos can help with identification, for the police or other gangs so they know who they are dealing with. In today's society, people typically use tattoos to explain a personal story or to admire a loved one. Since the late 1900’s, tattoos have become a normal part of global and Western fashion. Popular between both sexes, to all classes economically, and ranging in age groups from the later teen years to middle age.
In America, the tattoo to our youth has taken on a clearly different interpretation than for previous generations. The tattoo has made a full 360 in regards to meaning, shifting from a form of deviance to an acceptable form of expression. Tattoos have experienced a resurrection in popularity in many parts of the globe, more so than others in Europe, Japan, and North and South America. Pop culture also helped with the expansion and acceptance of tattoos during the early 2000’s. Television shows about tattoos began to air nationwide, as well as more celebrities started practicing the art of tattooing. Over the past thirty or so years, tattooing has become a routine that has crossed social boundaries from the lower class to the higher class, along with changing the power dynamics regarding gender. Even in present time, its roots in unique tribal practices of the Native Americans and the Japanese, are still being seen. Although tattooing has regularly risen in popularity since the invention of the electric tattoo machine in the 1890s, it was not until the 1960s that the place of tattooing in popular culture completely shifted. People with tattoos, as part of the counterculture began to display their body art as signs to show resistance to the values of the white, heterosexual, middle-class. The people known for getting tattoos changed from sailors, bikers, and gang members to the middle and upper class joining the phenomenon. With the growth of Christianity, tattooing became even more so linked to paganism and the criminal class, and was banned in Europe under the first Christian Roman emperor, Constantine (Penn State, 1). In ancient China, tattoos were looked at as a barbaric practice. Also having often been referred in literature portraying bandits and folk heroes. In the muslim culture getting tattoos are frowned upon, it's forbidden. If someone within this culture was to get tattoos they would not be able to be buried with their family. Tattooing hasn't always been viewed as a negative practice though. In Japan, the Samurai picked up the art of tattooing as replacement for the armor they were forced to take off and burn down.
This went on until the Meji Government banned the practice of tattooing as a whole, because of their belief of the art as having a lack of respect and monstrous. The ban forced these particular individuals away from everyday tasks because of their visible ink, which as a result forced them to act in deviant and criminal manners. Beverly Yuen Thompson stated, “When women collect tattoos, especially when they become heavily tattooed and go outside the boundaries of 'feminine' tattooing, they begin to face social sanctions that remind them that they are not acting appropriately as a woman” (The Huffington Post, 1). Studies from a Fox News survey, suggest that women have grown speedily more comfortable with tattoos in recent decades than in the past (The Huffington Post, 1). Males view themselves as more attractive when their arms are tattooed (Psychological Report, 1). This can stem from a number of things, one being the attention they receive from the opposite sex once one is obtained. The positive attention, typically does its job of boosting ego and confidence. As stated before not all attention received towards tattoos are positive. On the behavioral side, those who were identified with tattoos reported smoking more cigarettes than the untattooed group.
Tattooed men also reported to have more sexual partners, were more likely to report they had been arrested, and were more likely to have body piercings. Seeing someone with tattoos opens a door for them to be misjudged, not everyone with tattoos are murderers or criminals, just like everyone with piercings aren’t “freaks”. Some people with tattoos such as lawyers and doctors are upstanding people under all that ink. “ In time, it is very possible that tattoos themselves are not seen as criminogenic, even though they do often relate to criminality” (Jennings, Fox, Farrington, 2013). “This new argument proposes that individuals with certain psychological and personality traits that make them more accessible to act in criminal behavior are also more likely to get a tattoo”(Jennings, Fox, Farrington, 2013). The possibility that tattooing, personality, and criminal behavior are indirectly linked is also supported by Walters (1990) criminal lifestyle theory (Jennings, Fox, Farrington, 2013). “This theory explains why certain individuals become “lifestyle criminals”, or people who have chosen criminality as a profession and a total way of life” (Jennings, Fox, Farrington, 2013). In Egypt, things were done a little differently because the vast majority of tattoos were found on women, indicating status.
Tattoos were also used for healing, religion, and as a form of punishment. The earliest existence of tattoos on women were in the circus in the late 1800s. These women, better known as the 'Tattooed Ladies' were covered in various images with the exception of body parts such as their faces, hands, necks, and other readily visible areas. Today, women tend to use tattoos to symbolize some sort of bodily redemption after traumatic experiences like abuse or breast cancer. For the first time in American history, tattooed woman outnumbered tattooed men in 2012. In 2013, Miss Kansas also known as Theresa Vail, became the first Miss America contestant to display their tattoos during the swimsuit competition. This was such a phenomenon because women weren't always able to express their artwork, so being that she did so in the manner of a competition was ground breaking. The tattoos that she showed off were the symbol of the U. S. Army Dental Corps on her left shoulder and the other tattoo were the words 'Serenity Prayer' along the right side of her torso. “A survey from the Huffington Post concluded that of the surveyed, 47 percent of women under 35 are tattooed, while only 4 percent of women over 65 are” (The Huffington Post, 1). This survey expressed that socially it was becoming more acceptable for women of all ages to have and show off tattoos. “Thompson points out, that women usually stick to getting small, cute and unseen tattoos that have become socially acceptable” (The Huffington Post, 1). Tattoos such as small exotic fish, flowers and fairies, not bigger than a few inches were common to have. The areas most commonly known for having these tattoos were on the ankle, shoulder or hip (The Huffington Post, 1)
Women who don’t fit in the typical classifications tend to face side-eye. In particular, women who choose to tattoo themselves heavily, risk societal judgment (The Huffington Post, 1). The association of visible ink with sexual promiscuity and deviance somehow still linger today (The Huffington Post, 1). Tattooed women were usually more likely to report deviance in their life such as the use of drugs other than alcohol, shoplifting, and body piercings in places other than their ears (Psychological Report, 1). Today, women are utilizing tattoos to communicate an abundance of messages both cultural and personal (Pretty in Pink, 1). This act challenges the longtime stigma associated with tattooing and masculinity (Pretty in Pink, 1). Even today women still choose to get very small tattoos of quotes and symbols. But you also have woman that create art on their body that goes beyond the stereotypical small tattoos. Arm sleeves, entire back pieces, rib tattoos, thigh tattoos and even chest tattoos are becoming more popular among younger women.
This era of women are becoming more and more comfortable in their bodies, because women getting tattoos are more acceptable now and less frowned upon. Younger women either have tattoos, piercings, or an equal amount of both, and view it as a form of expression and preference.
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