Permanent Art: The Significance of Tattoos

Whether you agree or disagree with the practice of tattooing, think about the last time you saw someone with visible tattoos. Did you ever find yourself asking questions like, who is the artist that designed and applied the art? Why was that particular piece chosen? What do the tattoos mean? What is this person’s story?

According to data obtained by the Pew Research Center that was published in 2010:

  • 72% of adults with tattoos say their tattoos are hidden from view
  • 70% of millennials say their tattoos are not usually visible
  • 73% of adults 30 and older say their tattoos are not usually visible
  • Men are more likely than women to have visible tattoos
  • 1 out of 10 women say the visibility of their tattoo/tattoos depends on what they are wearing

History of Tattoos

The word tattoo is believed to come from the Polynesian wordta” which means “striking something,” and also the Tahitian word “tatau” which means “to mark something.” Prior to the discovery of electricity, tattoos were done completely by hand and depending on size were time consuming, labor intensive, not to mention painful. The history of tattoos dates back thousands of years. The oldest known tattoo is from 3000 BC and was found on a mummy called “Ötzi the Iceman” discovered in 1991.

Individualized art

The most common tattoos are decorative or symbolic. Even with the advancement of technology the general principle of tattooing is the same – the artist uses a sharp object to deposit ink into the skin. However there now exist machines with different types of needles, and many different types of ink that can be used to create an infinite amount of designs. Gone are the days of just black and grey and color options for tattoos. There is even black light ink that will only glow if the design is placed under a black light. There is also glow in the dark ink that absorbs natural light when exposed to it, and then glows when a person moves into a darker space. There is also vegan ink for people who prefer to use ink that doesn’t contain any animal products.

Aesthetics

Although one might make the assumption that tattoos are obtained just for the purpose of showing off an artful display, developing an individual identity, or to rebel against common social norms. Sometimes tattoos serve a more functional purpose. Take microblading for example, a tattooing technique that serves to create a more natural semi-permanent aesthetic look usually done on eyebrows. However, people can also have other procedures done to apply semi-permanent makeup like eyeliner, and even lip color. The needles used for microblading are much smaller than traditional tattoo needles, and the pigment is not deposited as deeply into the skin as body tattoos and usually need to be touched up more often.

There are also tattoo artists who specialize in tattoos meant to cover up scars from injuries, illness, or surgeries. Take breast cancer survivors who have had unilateral or bilateral mastectomies with breast reconstruction. It is possible for women to have very realistic, and anatomically accurate nipples tattooed onto the breast reconstruction to help women heal from their experience, and embrace their post-surgery bodies.

Symbols of Commitment

The art of tattooing wedding rings has also become more common. And these wedding ring tattoos are as unique as custom made wedding rings. For people who are non-traditional, or non-materialistic, and/or don’t see the value in spending hundreds or even thousands of dollars on engagement and wedding rings, tattoos are a much lower cost option. Even celebrities like Beyoncé who is married to Jay Z, Behati Prinsloo who is married to Adam Levine, and Dax Shepard who is married to Kristen Bell each have a unique tattoo on their ring finger.

There are also many different jobs where wearing a wedding ring isn’t always possible or practical. A couple examples are fields like construction and healthcare. Sometimes it isn’t wise to wear expensive jewelry, like when travelling which might result in misplacement, theft, or loss. Couples who gravitate toward a wedding band tattoo tend to like the idea that the tattoo is a much deeper symbol than a piece of jewelry. For one the ring is permanent. It can’t be taken off, lost, or misplaced. The tattoo becomes a part of you, and is a constant reminder of the love and devotion two people share with one another.

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