Perception of Tattoos in Society

  • Updated October 31, 2021
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The decoration of the human body has taken place since the beginning of the species. Outward appearance is as important, if not more important, than inward beliefs. It allows humans to form an idea of a person’s personality before even meeting them. Even societies which never met each other developed their own ways to decorate themselves. Clothing, makeup, jewelry, and piercings are all common around the world. However, while all of these are clearly important to society today, none are quite as permanent as tattoos. The perception of tattoos has changed drastically throughout society.

The art of permanently injecting dye into the skin has been controversial at many times in history, but it has also been common practice. Of course, there is the fact that tattooing was common among sailors and bikers only decades ago. These are not the only cases. In fact, there are recorded periods amongst the 19th and 20th centuries where tattoos were popular in the public. “Tattooing is on increase: Habit not confined to seamen only,” reports the New York Times in only 1908. A writer for the Milwaukee Sentinel writes in 1933 about how “smart young women have taken up tattooing.” Not to be outdone, in 1958, the Times describes tattooing: “A fine art. Four colors to suit all tastes, not excluding the ladies.” Clearly, tattooing has been mainstream in times past. The question must then be proposed as to how it got such a negative connotation only a few decades ago.

One theory is that if a person doesn’t understand the want to inject a permanent design into their skin, they may see it as a sensational practice even if it is not new. To many, tattoos are a way to claim an identity. For example, the guitar is a common instrument which many people are skilled at. To have a room decorated with musician’s belongings and posters of great guitarists is one thing. However, all of these claims to an identity are “stationary.” To bring their identity with them always, a guitarist may decide to get a “mobile” tattoo related to their identity. This may seem like an extreme practice to some.

A tattoo is not an indicator of someone’s personality. Oftentimes, people who get tattooed are more adventurous, but this is still not true for everyone. Tattoos are simply another tool used to express one’s identity. Tattooed and non-tattooed individuals tend to do equally well at school and in their careers. It is best to judge individuals not on the fact that they have a tattoo, but what that tattoo is about. For some, it is another way to decorate their bodies. For others, a tattoo may hold a deep emotional weight. An individual can have both meaningful and non-meaningful tattoos.

A study conducted by Jordan Ball and Robert Elsner shows the change tattoos cause in an individual’s self esteem. Sixty college students were given temporary tattoos for the experiment. Over the duration that the tattoos lasted, Ball and Elsner monitored the students’ self esteem. What they found was that those who have tattoos are not necessarily more confident than those without. However, those who get tattoos are more confident after getting a tattoo than they were before. In fact, two of the students were so happy with their designs that they got a permanent version of their temporary tattoo when the study was finished.

When they interviewed the students, Ball and Elsner discovered that 25 of the students had at least one parent react negatively to their temporary tattoo. This is one factor which may cause some to avoid getting a tattoo. The fear of judgement is unavoidable. Religious families and communities in particular tend to resent tattooed individuals, and a person who gets a tattoo for the first time may experience judgement or even isolation in those communities. Danielle Giesen, a young adult from a conservative Catholic home, describes the attitude about tattoos growing up: “Tattoos were what made people “freaky” and the attitude expressed by my father . . . was that there would be “no freaks in [his] house.”” She goes on to explain that his parents, her grandparents, were also against the idea of tattoos and that her father likely got that belief from them. Giesen was never against tattoos herself. When she got her first tattoo, she says her parents were shocked, but soon got over their biases.

As for her reason for getting a tattoo, Giesen said it was simply “pretty.” She got her favorite flower tattooed just under her collarbone. Her attitude about tattoos is very accepting. Aesthetic reasons, she says, are just as worthy as sentimental tattoos. As long as the person getting tattooed knows what they want, they should be able to decorate their bodies however they see fit. She has plans in the future for six more tattoos that she is considering. Giesen did state that when she tells people about her tattoo ideas, they often state that she should have them done in places where they can easily be covered up in the workplace. Most who give her this advice have aspirations of working in corporations or offices. Since her career plans lean more towards small businesses, she feels she will be allowed more creativity with her style: “Slacks and stiff collared button ups do not do it for me.” Often, small or non-corporate businesses are more willing to allow their employees to have different styles.

Tattooing as a practice has had many different connotations throughout history. Although it has been common in some societies, those who cannot empathize with the want to create a “mobile” identity often show concern at the idea. For that reason, tattooing has been introduced repeatedly to the mainstream even though it is in no way new. This period in society is a time where tattoos are once again becoming more mainstream. In fact, almost 40 percent of people ages 18 to 69 had tattoos in 2017, up from 21 percent only 5 years earlier. It is a trend affecting both young and old people. More women than men are tattooed.

Appearance is incredibly important to how humans act and interact. From jewelry to clothing, these things can show social status, personality, and personal values. However, tattooing has been one practice which has remained controversial and common throughout human history. The perception of tattoos has changed drastically throughout society, but their permanence as part of one’s identity causes some to misunderstand their purpose. The best course of action is to look not at the tattoo, but at the person who chose it. Tattoos are just another way to claim an identity. To better understand each other, humans must overlook their biases, and instead look at each other.

Cite this paper

Perception of Tattoos in Society. (2021, Oct 31). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/perception-of-tattoos-in-society/

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