The consideration that many make with regard to individuals who choose to have body art, tattoos and piercings is that they are scary or, in some way, less sophisticated than those who do not. Historically speaking, this is an extremely modern day controversy as originally, in western culture, tattoos were prominently associated with naval men but today, they are more commonly an aesthetic decision to indelibly mark the body with an image. Although many claim that their tattoos represent various things of importance to them, they lack the discreetness of their naval predecessors and body art often covers a significant portion of the body which holds associations with various negative connotations. To some, tattoos are a sign of expression – a way of presenting oneself in a certain way whilst to others they represent a large number of negative connotations that indicate a lack of civilization and dirtiness.
Tattoos and body art are widely considered to be a “’thumbing of the nose’ to mainstream society” and in this sense, it is designed “purposely to offend mainstream or conservative sensibilities” (Napoleon 43). This point of view can be seen from a negative or a positive angle: for the purposes of this paragraph, it will be seen from a negative view as it is this idea which seems to upset mainstream society the most. To many people, tattoos present quite an unprofessional image and this association is frequently made due to their connotations with street gangs and criminals (Roberts 6). This association immediately brings to mind images of dangerous people who are unwilling to conform with society’s rules and expectations and so tattoos and body art become symbols of rule-breaking, aggression and anti-societal attitudes.
However, tattoos and body art must not always be immediately dismissed as symbols of deviancy as individuals who choose to mark their body do not always do so to declare their devotion to rule-breaking. It is estimated that around 36% of 18-25 year olds have a tattoo (Caldeira & Ferrante 494) which should immediately raise the question of whether that same percentage represents the deviant proportion of that age group which, in reality, seems unlikely. The choice to modify their body is one which only the individual can and should make alone and frequently, this does not reflect their willingness to conform to society or its rules, but rather one which they feel better expresses them as an individual. What is, arguably, often forgotten is that the tattoo or body art is attached to a person whose personality is not fully understood until they are spoken to – it is unfair to immediately judge a person based on their choice to add a tattoo to their appearance.
Whether the reactions that tattoo-owners receive are positive or negative, it is invariably these reactions that they speak of first when asked about their body art (Atkinson 85). This demonstrates how the opinions of others do affect their self-image and perhaps fuels their reason for getting a tattoo in the first place. It is clear that public opinion of tattoos and body art revolve around the idea of their association with deviancy and criminal activity, however falsely. The discrimination experienced by tattoo owners is a unique one as it generally would seem that the vast majority of those who hold such opinions fail to observe that beneath the tattoo, is a person.
Atkinson, Michael. Tattooed: the sociogenesis of a body art. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2003. Print.
Caldeira, Chris & Ferrante, Joan. Seeing Sociology: An Introduction. Connecticut: Cengage Learning, 2010. Print.
Napoleon, Anthony. Awakening Beauty: An Illustrated Look at Mankind’s Love and Hatred of Beauty. Texas: Virtual Book Worm, 2003. Print.
Roberts, Derek John. Secret ink: Understanding contemporary American tattoo practices. Michigan: ProQuest, 2008. Print.