Tattoos and Culture

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Tattoos and Culture

Body modification has been found in all cultures throughout the world. Tattoos are a perpetual form of modification known historically and globally. It is impossible to visit a grocery store, drive down the street or watch television without seeing a tattoo. It is unknown when, or who developed the idea of tattoos, but there is evidence that the art has been around since the ancient Egyptian times, about five thousand years ago (Allen, 2009). Although tattoos are common in many cultures, it means different things to individual cultures. Tattoos have been a way to capture status and identity, religious and spiritual devotion, as well as containing symbolic reasoning. Tattoos have served to display the status of an individual throughout history. In most other parts of the ancient world, tattoos were disfigurements used merely to identify criminals or slaves. The Romans would tattoo their slaves as a way to proclaim their status, and as a way to mark their territory. Tattoos on the slaves were a way of branding them like one would do to an animal. Besides demoralization, slaves were also marked with tattoos to identify them if they tried to escape from their masters, so they could be found easily. The Romans also used tattoos to display their status in the Roman army, but this was more rare (Allen, 2009). Today, and throughout their cultural history, Tahitians wear tattoos as a privilege and to show the status of members of the tribe. “Tattoo” comes from the word “Tatu” originating from the Tahitians. “Tatu” is translated as “making a mark” (Carpenter, 2008). The tattoos consist of symmetrical shapes and designs that the men wear covering their entire bodies; their torsos, arms, legs, and ears, but excluding their face. Only priest and warriors carry tattoos on their faces and it is to show high rank and honor. Some of the different status categories to which the men can become a part of are: gods, priests, leaders of war, or chiefs (Resture, 2009). Identity is another feature that tattoos express. Just like the way someone may dress to express oneself, whether is be bright clothes and flashy hair, or black clothes and dark makeup, tattoos are a more complex way one can project their personal identity to society. Tattooing in the U.S. is often due to identity reasons and is a huge countercultural movement, which includes people whose sense of community is strengthened through this form of body modification. Thirty-six percent of Americans from the ages of eighteen to twenty-nine have tattoos (Carpenter, 2008), and forty percent of Americans from the age of twenty-five to forty, have at least one tattoo. People feel they are special and have a visual form of individually that can been seen from the outside, although sometimes, this is translated as the tattooed is a trouble maker or a rebellion (Carpenter, 2008). A tattoo gives one a sense of belonging to another. For example, a punk-rocker with a certain type of tattoos can relate to other punks who have the same type of tattoos and for the same reason. They then become a part of a formed subculture. People use the practice of tattoos to show that they belong to a group of people, but on the contrary, they use it to prove they are separating themselves from the ordinary. Although everyone is made special and unique, tattoos make this lucid (Ellis-Barrett, 2008). “It’s not that we’re sheep, getting pierced or cut just because everyone else is. I like to think it’s because we’re a very special group and we like doing something that sets us off from others…” (Miller, pg. 241) On one hand tattoos bring subcultures together, but on the other hand, it separates them from others by sometimes being “tagged” as nonconformists and they judged as those who are deviant. Some studies claim that an abundance of tattoos are related to antisocial disorders because they are willingly alienating oneself from everyone else (DeMichele, 2000)....
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