Taboo or Mainstream: Tattoos and Society
Throughout history, tattoos have raised a fair share of eyebrows, not leaving a single person indifferent. As one of the oldest forms of art, tattoos have always been a part of different societies, but their meaning and the attitudes towards them have changed. Although they were often believed to be a passing fad, it seems that they have become a timeless trend that will always have a place on the skin of many individuals. However, after all these years, the question remains – are tattoos taboo or mainstream?
HOW IT ALL BEGAN
Being an essential element of many rituals and different traditions, tattoos date back to the earliest days of human history. As it’s often claimed, the art of tattooing has existed since 12,000 years BC. The first known records trace them back to Egypt and the time of the construction of the pyramids, even though the “trend” began much earlier. As the Egyptians expanded their empire, they also spread this form of art to Greece, Crete, Persia and Arabia. China has embraced tattooing approximately 2000 years BC. At the time, tattoos had different meanings, depending on different cultures and traditions.
In many tribes, women used to tattoo different symbols on their forearms, denoting the skills they possessed. In other cultures, they signified a belonging to a particular clan or tribe, a meaning that is quite common even in today’s culture. The old Greeks used them as a means of communication among spies; the Romans used them to mark slaves and criminals, while tattoos on the hands of Dayak warriors evoked respect. Polynesians introduced tattoos to New Zealand where Moko, a special style of facial tattooing, was developed. Slowly, the art of tattooing spread to the west, and the Britons used them in their ceremonies, while the Danes, Norse and Saxons had their family crests tattooed, a tradition practised even today. Tattoos spread at a slow pace, because of the painstaking procedure they involved, where each puncture of the skin was done by hand. Not until 1891 did Samuel O’Reilly develop the first electrical machine based on Edison’s electric pen, which revolutionised tattooing.
TATTOOS AND STEREOTYPES
Eventually, tattoos became a part of an underground culture and many stereotypes and prejudices slowly developed. The main cause of such attitudes was the fact that tattoos were common among sailors, prisoners, gang members and “circus freaks”. Other, “respectable” members of society often frowned upon them. In the 1940s, this form of art was often considered an antisocial activity and tattooed individuals were seen as social outcasts who deviated from accepted social norms.
THE MOMENT IT ALL CHANGED
A turning point in the status of tattoos in modern society was the launching of the TV show, “Miami Ink”, that showed what happened behind the scene. This was the moment when the art of tattooing slowly entered the world of mainstream culture and became a “must-have”. Nowadays, you can see anyone tattooed – famous actresses and actors, singers, writers, scientists and many others. However, there are still those who are uncomfortable with the idea of tattooing, even though tattoos are widely accepted as a part of pop culture.
THE MEANING OF TATTOOS TODAY
Almost every tattooed person was asked “what’s the meaning of your tattoos?” at least once in their lifetime. The meanings and stories behind tattoos are numerous and various. For some individuals, tattoos are symbols of a membership to a certain groups, for others they are reminders of important events, while some individuals have certain tattoos done just because they find them beautiful. My personal story is a symbolic one – I did all my tattoos in Sydney, which has become a little tradition of mine. The moment I saw the ink under my skin, I couldn’t wait to come back and do another one. And then several more. Each one of my tattoos has a certain charm, a story that makes it special, simply unforgettable.
Tattoos have always been, and continue to be, an important part of human culture and tradition. Although their roles and status has changed, they have remained a true form of art.
Author Bio – Samantha has a B.Sc. in nutrition, and has spent two years working as a personal trainer. Since then, she has embarked on a mission to conquer the blogosphere. When not in the gym or on the track, you can find her on twitter, or in a tea shop.