TATTOOS: Fashion statement, Cultural tradition, or Personal ads?

What do tattoos really say about you?

Tattooing has a very long history and it would take a book to cover all the variations and reasons for tattooing. I’ll be brief in description, many cultures used tattooing as a coming of age rite, some ancient people tattooed around areas of pain with symbols meant to help relieve said pain, some to show they were convicts (the original purpose of ancient Japanese tattoos, which later became a sign of being in the Yakuza and for some fighters), some tattooed as a sign of power as in warrior status, some for decoration and celebration, sometimes to record familial ties, and some a combination of all those (and that includes temporary tattooing like henna).  I would like to note that, while I’ve heard of ancient Egyptians practicing tattooing (the Smithsonian has tools they say were for tattooing), I can find no pictorial evidence.

Henna tattoos, they are interesting, pretty and temporary.

One mummified example with tattoos, is Ötzi the mummy found in the Italian Alps in 1991. No one really knows what they mean, as they are lines and dots, but some scientists speculate that they were for “pain relief”. (You can see more about Ötzi the “Iceman” here the New Science site but, please be warned, it is a naked mummified human body, and if this will disturb you, do not go there).

Some of Otzi’s tattoos

In 1993, near the Altai mountains in Siberia, archaeologists found a burial of a woman with artistic tattoos. This woman was from the nomadic Iron Age Pazyryk people, kin to the Scythians, who lived in the Ukok plateau (more about those people can be found at the Hermitage Museum  Her tomb was elaborate and fascinating archaeologically, but I only want to point out her tattoos. (here is a link to the BBC program about this woman

Though tattooing is an ancient practice, it has continued into modern times, and has become very popular. Tattoos are interesting and say a lot about the people that have them, no matter the culture.

My problem with modern tattooing (the permanent kind) is that I am not the same person I was 5 years ago and hopefully, I will keep learning and be better, so that I can say in 10 years that I’m not the same person I am now.  I’m not saying all change is good, some things must remain a constant, that’s just good physics. But, a little change, change for the better, is what I seek and art is something that can always be improved upon. What I’m trying to say is this, what may be someone’s “personal” emblem today, may not exemplify them next week or a year away. For example, that butterfly tattoo they got on their face when they were 17 really meant something to them at the time, but when they are 27, will it still mean the same thing? Would drawing that on your face (or photoshop it) and photographing it mean just as much?

Or is there something more to tattooing than just the image? Does one really need the pain and the permanence of a tattoo (well it used to be permanent), in order to get the validation they seek? I have asked people why they got tattoos. I am that curious about people and the world around me, and if a person has a tattoo for all the world to see, then they should expect curious people, like me, to ask about them… which in retrospection is probably why they got the tattoo in the first place (joke…*cough*). I like people that are different, yet one doesn’t have to be loud, overt, use expletives, act like an idiot, or any other attention seeking action to be different (being different to me means being your self, not following the crowd!)

But, if they are just trying to be different for attention, or heaven forbid, to fit in, then I am less interested. I will not enable that need for attention, I have parents that need that kind of attention. And, I will never understand the desire to “fit in” or conform to what other people think is the norm. Who decides that anyway? Fads and big ad corporations, that’s who! And, I am not buying into it! Sadly, even tattoos have become so much a fad that they are considered a fashion statement. When did this happen? Stupid fan boys and fan girls!

There are different kinds of tattoos and the ones people choose to use also gives more information about them. Picture tattoos are one thing, but typographic tattoos are a whole separate kind. Okay, so even scientists are afflicted, erm, I mean, interested in the fad of tattooing, though as a scientist, I am more inclined to approve of their choices of tattoos than those of “normal” people. I suppose it’s only natural, being fans of science and wanting to exhibit what interests them, like sailors with naked lady tattoos? Makes one wonder… The tattoo of Zermelo-Fraenkel with Choice axioms of set theory, is one I like to call, “Why no, professor, I’m not cheating, I really love math that much”.  How could I not include one of the golden ratio, or Fibonacci equation (heh).

Just as in the regular art world, artistic talent is not always equal in the tattooing realm. That’s why most tattoo shops have books or posters exhibiting the artists work so that you won’t asked for a tattoo of something and then be surprised when you see it! Even with displays of their work, it’s obvious that some need to practice more. You can buy “stencils” of tattoos you want, that’s how prevalent they are now. You can choose from thousands of designs, and types. It boggles the mind. If you do decide to get a tattoo, make sure you and the artist speak the same language, who would imagine otherwise, but it happened.

I have an idea for all those tattoo fashionistas. Why just try to be cool, and fit in, when you can make money with your body? (No, not that, stop thinking like that, it’s not what I meant!) I mean, look at this way, laser removal is getting cheaper, oh yeah, it’s a little painful, but you went through the pain of getting that tattoo in the first place. This is for information purposely only.

So, here’s my idea: be a walking billboard! Seriously, have a company pay you to wear a nicely done tattoo of their product or logo, and factor in the price of the laser removal (not kidding, well okay, sort of kidding). You will be making a statement, have a tattoo to “fit in” with the crowd and it can be changed every few months, and you make money from it = bonus! Think of it as being like a race car promoting your favorite, or maybe not favorite, products, and like race car companies, you get paid for it!

Almost makes me think of getting one, but I like my anonymity too much, and there are no products I would endorse. (Well, maybe I’d get a suicide booth tattoo, but Dr. Who fans would think it’s a Tardis, and I’d get some kind of nerd street cred, so that’s out!!!)

No songs, something different, but maybe entertaining and educational.

Rhett and Link (internet comedians) making of the tattoo commercial.

Rhett and Link tattoo commercial

(Photo credits: In the links, or from the net)

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One Response to TATTOOS: Fashion statement, Cultural tradition, or Personal ads?

  1. kim c. says:

    i have to say as a person who has 5 tattoos–yes 5!!!….and my most recent one being only one week ago….i have to agree and disagree with some of your statements above….while you ARE right in that tattoos are PERMANENT!!! …..and is a VERY serious decision….and one not to be taken lightly, or something to do because you and your friends are on spring break together, and want to commemorate it by getting matching tattoos–this is the rest of your life, and how you will feel about that image being a part of your body FOREVER is a HUGE deal–what I can say about my personal history with them is this–I got my first tattoo at 18….and it was a botched experience.
    I didnt do my research, and the guy I chose did a wreck of a job of a design that 12 years later, I still love…..the needle went too deep into my skin, and the tat is now one big scar, the ink rejected because of this, and as it was supposed to be a circular design–it was crooked on top of everything else….I had to pay to get it fixed…to make it round, and to get the color put back in it. It was a complete disaster, but–since then, I am VERY particular about who touches me with a needle, and have found an AMAZING shop who does only the very best work…..I have to say that while I have gotten my tattoos over the course of the last 12 years of my life…looking back, they are nothing that I regret in the least….they are like milemarkers to me….they remind me of where I have been–I do not regret who I have been, or where I have been in my life….without those steps, I would never be where I am today…my most recent tattoo is in honor of my new marriage, to my husband, who is of Jewish origin….it’s in Hebrew, on my wrist, and reads “I am my beloved, my beloved is mine”,….and no matter what happens with our relationship from here, I will never regret it….choose wisely….think about your design for a while–i would suggest afew months– and then if you still feel strongly about it, go for it!! And also–a good tattoo artist is going to be expensive….but, a cheap tattoo looks like a cheap tattoo–you are paying for quality of work…its ALWAYS worth it, and besides, you may have to pay the pricier shop to fix someonelse’s mistake… do your homework on both your tattoo design, and your tattoo artist….great article, and thanks for writing it….i hope maybe you can find that design one day that really speaks to you… when its right, you’ll know it!!

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