For many years, getting a tattoo was seen as an act of rebellion, westerners who wore tattoos in prominent places tended to come from ‘edgy’ portions of society: teddy boys, Hells Angels and rock musicians.
Tattooing has its origins much further back in history and in some countries was very commonplace. Maori’s and the natives of Hawaii decorate their bodies with patterns of a linear, block style, often to mark a significant event or as a rite of passage. Nowadays the art form is seen as more mainstream, to the point they are even a field of academic research! The possession of a tattoo is no longer stigmatised as a sign of being uneducated or from lower social strata, and these traditional designs influence the tattoo scene as strongly as more modern styles.
Historically having a tattoo was an exotic mark worn by someone who had journeyed to other lands. Those whose living was seafaring used tattoos for their work, having gained them on their travels, tattoo shops mostly clustered around ports. For them, tattoos were badges of honour – 1 swallow represented every 5,000 leagues the wearer had travelled. The swallow was a talisman for good luck, to bring its wearer safely back to dry land. By decorating their arms and knuckles with anchors and ropes, sailors pinned their hopes on the tattoos to help them ‘hold fast’ to the ropes as they operated the ship.
Aristocratic gentlemen in the late 1800s early 1900s chose tattoos of their family crests or coats of arms on parts of their body not visible when clothed. In this era, ink on skin was a predominantly male domain; to be heavily tattooed was viewed as freakish, hence many with heavily inked skin worked as part of a circus.
During the 1950s, line drawings of pin-up girls were popular enhancements to the arms of young men. Around the same time, female tattoo artists began to establish themselves, a development which meant that gradually women began to decorate themselves with ink. Nowadays, it’s in no way unusual for women to have tattoos, models, recording artists and porn actresses leading the way. A woman’s motivation to get ink often differs from men, plenty cite needing a tattoo to be commemorative, which guides them to make choices which have meaning to them.
Lou got her first tattoo at 38
Her choice of location (shoulder) was for her to enjoy more than to show it off. She admits some of her motivation was rebellion – knowing her parents and her ex-husband would not approve. A small seahorse was all she could afford, but once done, Lou was hooked and a second tattoo followed quite quickly. This time she chose a dragon. She now has several of these mythical beasts adorning her body. She uses tattoos to tell a story / commemorate events in her life.
Women generally handle the pain of getting a tattoo better than men, plenty choose the site near their rib for artwork – very painful for a tattoo because it’s near the bone – as is the neck/throat which is often favoured by men. Fleshy areas are more bearable, but in places where the skin is prone to stretch, such as the breast, be warned that the tattooed motif may become distorted.
It’s important to have the right mental attitude when getting a tattoo, diet can either help or exacerbate the discomfort, for instance, alcohol in the system makes you more sensitive. Some people report feeling sleepy during the tattoo process, but for most people, the pain, like treatment at the dentist, must simply be endured. Once you move into hours of tattooing at a time, pain levels are pretty high, making the person feel they’ve been hit by a truck afterwards. However, getting ink can deliver an adrenaline buzz at the needle site and a completed tattoo can make its owner high with a sense of bravery/achievement.
Candy saw tattoos as a fashion statement not an act of rebellion
In her twenties, she became aware of a growing number of alt. models with gorgeous colourful tattoos and hair, which greatly influenced her look. She describes her tattoos as whimsical and ‘sceney’. While she doesn’t dress specifically to show them off, being located on her arms and legs they’re often on show. She gets lots of comments, 90% of which are positive but there will always be detractors ready to tell her it’s “unladylike” or “too much”.
Candy isn’t alone in noticing the growing number of models, dancers and performers – people for whom their body is a tool of the trade – who have adorned and decorated themselves with permanent artwork. It’s currently seen as an attractive way to express their individuality. For centuries it has been true that where prominent figures in society lead, the masses will follow and this still holds true, the media heavily influences our choice of icons.
Eve noticed the trend for women getting tattoos 5 years ago
However, she doesn’t see a hard line between tattoos the genders choose. Many male friends display sleeve tattoos she could as easily imagine on women, both genders have text tattoos. Pin-up style tattoos seem the preserve of women. Tattoos relating to strength are a male choice: lions, flags etc. and she’s seen many guys with tattoos of poor quality. Generally, women are more discerning, she thinks they’re likely to take time to find an artist who can do justice to their idea.
Eve says:“My tattoos should say something about me, provide a narrative of my life, a statement of who I am.” When she’s out she enjoys them being admired. “I love compliments! And my tattoos are artistically top drawer. “
Candy says:“I have no issue with anyone’s opinion on my tattoos. Love them or hate them, it doesn’t affect how I feel about them. I chose each one because I love it. My only issue with “admiration” is when it’s used as an excuse to touch. This happens a lot and I tend to say: They’re not braille… people can look without touching.”
Lisa’s tattoos are out of sight Each butterfly represents an egg which was harvested but unused for her fertility treatment. Whilst not a fan of tattoos in general, Lisa wanted to commemorate and remember the cells which might have been her babies. Now they ‘flutter’ round her ribs and back and she reports experiencing a ‘settled’ feeling since their existence was recorded on her body.
There is currently a trend for tattoo shows on TV, talented artists creating designs on people’s bodies. In counterbalance, there are tattoo fixing shows where permanent designs which people regret having are inked over to turn them into something which better expresses the owner’s taste.
KK’s fascination for tattoos began with TV
She admired the tattoos she saw being created by Kat von Don her show.Soon, as a reaction to life events, KK wanted to enhance her body with a permanent design, but something individual, not a tattoo that anyone else had. KK’s therapy, to help her get through something, is to get a tattoo. It not only helps her come out the other side, but it reminds her of the challenge. She doesn’t wear clothes to flaunt her tattoos, simply because they are placed in areas not easily available to see.
In my interviews, I asked if people thought having tattoos had become more mainstream, and the resounding answer was yes. Most felt that, in the last 2 decades, tattoos had become acceptable because so many prominent figures have them. The consensus of opinion was that keeping their ink covered in the workplace was only necessary if the person worked front-of-house. Tattoos on the face or those depicting something offensive/ non-PC seemed to be the only residual ‘taboos’.
Petra finds the look of tattoos attractive on other people too
“For sure, a tattoo sells a body so well!” There are locations she dislikes and types: Football badges or anything pornographic. In her work situation she doesn’t hide them but tends to dress conservatively so not display them. She doesn’t think any job should make a tattoo owner feel inappropriate. She says “I would love to see a judge with ink!”
Tattoo removal has got easier recently, but covering up one tattoo with another is still the preferred option. If the original design was light or the ink has faded, the task is easier. This is what Petra had done on designs with which she became unhappy. If the unwanted tattoo is dark, then laser treatment can be used to fade it first.
I asked Petra if she had ink in any intimate areas. She has a groin tattoo but assures me getting it “was not embarrassing, as they’ve seen more than I showed them! It was a male artist too.”
A quality tattoo artist will be focused and clinical about the entire process, if a client asks for a design in an intimate area they are likely to be very professional, the only issue being that some areas of skin are hard to access. The females I interviewed preferred to build a good relationship with the person responsible for inking their skin, Candy says her technician is “like her uncle.”
During the eighteenth-century fad for fake beauty spots (silk or velvet), their placement on the wearer’s face or decolletage was a dialogue with the observer, offering clues as to their wearer’s disposition [passionate, capricious, majestic]. Tattoos may be the modern way of intimating clues about the owner’s personality or preferences. Candy’s cute and girlish tattoos depicting images in bright colours (My Little Pony, cakes and lipstick) portray her fun, flirtatious nature while supporting her love of quirky retro fashion.
Many people choose artwork of a darker nature: flames and daggers or supernatural beasts in colours at the more vivid, heavy end of the spectrum. Larger designs of predatory beasts, daggers and serpents or foliage which curls around body parts, imply their owner has no fear of them. Dark subject matter or artwork which covers a large surface area is no longer confined to male presenting bodies. Nowadays all genders choose any design to indicate their interests, spirituality, music or sports allegiances.
Tattoos are both an art form and a body adornment, used by people to increase their confidence and express themself, they are now commonplace in mainstream life. In an industry such as porn, where not only outer clothes but the underwear tends to come off during the action, a model’s choice to enhance their body with a tattoo may be to give them an edge of individualism.
In recognising that attitudes to tattoos have changed so drastically, it seems significant that some porn sites have categories for the viewer to select films featuring participants with tattoos. Does this indicate that skin decorated this way still sends a subliminal ‘edgy’ message, in the same way as fishnets, latex or leather accoutrements? Are they the mark of a ‘wild’ or ‘free’ spirit when we’re living out our fantasies? I suspect for many, watching a film where the participants have tattoos feeds into a kink.
Perhaps in today’s pornography, men with tattoos still play into a stereotype of bad boys, when they remove their biker’s leather or utility workwear, their inked designs are still evident, a permanent accessory which appeals to our subliminal triggers. Is the same true of women in porn? I put this question to Anna Richards, founder of Frolicme.com
“When we are trying to portray a particular mood or intensity, the female model’s tattoos can sometimes pull focus in the film, they can be a distraction to the feelings she’s trying to convey; in such instances, it’s necessary to cover them with sexy lingerie or beautiful silky garments. Women choose such personal tattoos that having them visible could (subliminally) jar with the role they need to play. In these scenarios, we use makeup to disguise the inked designs, or we hide them with a sexy cover-up garment such as a basque. Now I’ve shared our secret you’ll wonder, whenever a guy’s shirt is slung artfully around a lithe female body, is it there to hide a secret beneath?
However, plenty of times, the model’s tattoos can enhance the scene. Once their clothes are off, the tattoo designs add an extra dimension by giving a sexy focal point to the bodies as they undulate together, making beautiful pictures and shapes, and meaning to their character” For example, our film Beautiful Ink really makes a feature of the tattoo enhanced body.
Whatever our personal opinions on tattoos, the truth is, they are endlessly fascinating!
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