Ink is a powerful thing. A strong form of expression that sends a message or just a beautiful piece of art that allows people to be more confident about their bodies. As tattoos become more commonplace, it's important to explore whether body art needs to be given importance as a tool for self-healing.
With 20% of adults in the UK now having some form of body ink, it is becoming more common to run into people with tattoos in public spaces.
While there might be some argument as to whether it is a trend seeing an uptick lately, it cannot be denied that the effects of such a trend are pretty long term.
Also considering the lifetime commitment that tattoos demand, there are very few impulse-driven tattoos out there.
Professor Viren Swami, a psychologist that specializes in the study of body image said that tattoos are far from being a superficial trend.
“Given their permanence, and the pain that’s involved, and the planning that often goes into getting a tattoo, it’s very difficult to conceptualise tattooing as a fashion accessory,”
He also says that tattoos are usually used as forms of self-expression, as artistic endeavours, body ownership and identity.
He also says that noting the history of tattoos is also important in order to understand their place in society today.
We previously discovered how mummies with tattoos were uncovered in multiple historical sites, each with varying social significance.
This body of a male that was recovered from a frozen spot in Itali sported 51 tattoos.
Dr Swami added, “I think it’s much easier to understand tattooing from a social and cultural perspective than it is from an evolutionary perspective,”
Even in the UK, tattoos seem to have a history that has since been forgotten. In fact, the name Britain may have been derived from the Celtic word Pretani which means the ‘painted ones’.
“The twist in this tale, though, is that in the late 19th century, once the first electric tattooing machine had been invented, tattooing suddenly flipped and became very popular among the upper classes in England,” Dr swami said.
“and for the upper classes, it was much more about expressing their worldliness.”
King George himself had a tattoo of a red and blue dragon.
In recent times, however, tattooing became taboo and associated with aggression and gang culture.
“Tattooing can mean different things for different people but I think this idea of agency is really important – the ability to mark our bodies and say ‘this is meaningful to me.”
Dr Swami’s research tried to ascertain whether the stereotypes of aggression and tattoos were true. While he did find some associations, they were statistically minimal.
“In statistical terms, they are negligible. Tattooed individuals today are essentially identical to people who have no tattoos.”
He also found that people with anxiety around self-identification felt better immediately after the3ir tattoos and the results stayed around over the long term.
“You can see the trajectory here. Once you get your tattoo, you feel much closer to your body.”
Tattoo artist Mowgli says, “When it comes down to your body, I think it’s the most sacred thing that you’ve got,”
As she talked about bereavement tattoos she added, “Memorial tattoos are not about death. They are really an expression of that bond and how that person influenced them.”
Telling the story of a couple that lost their son, she said, “They had given their son a hard time about him getting a tattoo, and pretty soon after he died, the father went to the same tattoo artist and got the same tattoo that his son had.”
From survivor tattoos to bereavement, to journey markers, tattoos can have different meanings and significance and as they become more ubiquitous in the world, it is still strange that they must be covered up in places of work.