Tattoos, body piercings and various forms of body ornamentation have been found not only in modern society but dating back thousands of years becoming a more and more mainstream as the years go on. How people experience living with tattoos and piercings can affect their sense of self identity. The aim of this particular study was to find out how a person living with tattoos and piercings today experiences this throughout his or her life to the present moment, focusing on how it has affected their sense of self identity. The articles used in this particular study show different areas of investigating tattoos and piercings, whereas the current study solely investigates the participants experience taking a qualitative approach using phenomenological analysis. Six main themes were found that ran throughout both participants interviews, finding both male and female experiences were different but were made up of similar components. The themes concluded of theme 1 representations of people, theme 2 preserving memories, theme 3 self-image, theme 4 experiences, theme 5 sense of self identity and theme 6 sense of meaning.
Background and research question
Phenomenological psychology involves the application of concepts from phenomenological philosophy to psychology. With many significant philosophers starting with the idea of phenomenological philosophy and reworking the original ideas. The aim is to access and encourage participants to elucidate their experience, providing as much concrete detail about the experience as possible. The rationale for this particular study was to research how a person experiences living with tattoos and piercings and how this can affect their sense of self identity. It gives an individual’s perspective and experiences, providing deeper knowledge of trying to understand their lived experiences, explaining how the participants themselves make sense of their experiences, the way they perceive, think and feel about the particular topic of living with tattoos and piercings. It uses a phenomenological psychology analysis as it aims to offer insights into how a person makes sense of a phenomenon, using a detailed description of social experience through the senses. The existing literature found and used for this study was in the form of six particular articles, where each showed different areas of quantitative research investigating tattoos and piercings, whereas the study in question investigated the participant’s experience. The first article Carmen et al (2012) brings an evolutionary perspective arguing that motivations for getting tattoos and piercings are proximate behaviours for an ultimate evolutionary reason. This article has used adaption evidence as a method, whereas the current study uses phenomenological analysis, taking a qualitative approach using semi- structured interviews. Article 2 reports the survey of 400 undergraduates in a large south-eastern university, finding that 27% of women had more tattoos than men and found significant gender differences for tattoos. Where 69.7% of women compared to men reported having any piercings. The method used was a 52-item anonymous questionnaire on ‘Attitudes toward tattoos and piercings’ (Horne et al 2007) this paper is relevant to this current study as it looks into the attitudes, behaviours and interpretations of tattoos and piercings. The next article by Hinz et al (2008) had the goal of reinvestigating the issue of tattoos, body piercings and self-injury to see if there was a connection. The methodology used a large sample of individuals with body modifications, focusing on the motives and relations to biographical events were used. The main findings showed that body modifications changed the participant’s attitude towards their body considerably. Article 4 is a cognitive social psychology paper and finds significant gender differences, where women are higher in the participation of body art (Schulz et al, 2006) The next article researched took the focus of tattoos and the link to a need of uniqueness (Tiggemann et al, 2011) Finally article 6 by Quaranta et al (2011) looks at the knowledge and awareness of health risks with tattoos and piercings, therefore having a medical theme. There is various research into medical and information support but not a great deal about pure experience of living with tattoos and piercings like the current study. Arriving at the research question ‘How is a person’s sense of self identity altered by their experience of living with tattoos and piercings?’ Method
This study used a qualitative approach employing a phenomenological psychology analysis, using a semi- structured interview with two participants. Each participant was interviewed and recorded for approximately 30 minutes within a safe and suitable environment. There was ten open ended questions asked to the participants. (See appendix 1 for questions) Participants
Two participants were carefully recruited, undertaking careful considerations of potential effects that may be an issue, with care for any possible needs for additional emotional support. The participants were found via indirect contacts through social networks, male and female aged 25 and 29.Both participants were fully briefed and told the nature and purpose of the research, being made aware that they have the right to withdraw from the research at any time and that any data or information collected will be disposed if withdrawing. Once briefed each participant signed the consent form and was informed that all data and information will be confidential and anonymous and stored in safe storage where I the researcher and tutor will have access. (See appendix 2 for signed consent forms) Materials
An iPhone used to record the participants
Pen and paper for notes
Four copies of consent form
Participants volunteered via message on a social networking site, of the participants that came forward two were contacted and asked if they would be prepared to take part in a recorded experiment that would be confidential and take between 30-45 minutes overall to complete. Prior to the interview each participant had signed the consent form and was informed as to the nature of the study with the aims of the research and reassured that they were free to refuse to answer any question or withdraw at any point. When the interview came to an end each participant was fully debriefed and asked if they had any questions. After the recordings were listened to numerous times, they were typed up into a transcript, notes were added and from this themes were identified and connections were made. For this particular study care was taken to ensure that respect was given and judgement was avoided. (See appendix 3 for ethical approval form) Analysis
The current study arrived at six main themes-
Main themes Life World Themes
Theme 1 Representations of peopleTemporality
Theme 2 Preserving memoriesSpatiality
Theme 3 Self-image Embodiment
Theme 4 Personal experience Intersubjectivty
Theme 5 Sense of self identity
Theme 6 Sense of meaning
Within the current study the two participants interviewed were found to produce similar themes, therefore arriving at 6 main themes for both. Starting with participant 1 in order of what tattoos and experiences the participant talked about (from line 1- 290) it can be seen that the first tattoo that she had was in memory of the loss of her Granddad, ‘I got that in memory of my Granddad when he passed away’. This shows theme 1 as it was a representation of her Granddad and it has a sense of meaning showing theme 6, so this was preserving his memory. Theme 2 shows a sense of meaning as to why she got the tattoo as it was from one of his favourite books which has a meaning to him. ‘15 KERRY: The script was just something from one of his favourite books’. The second tattoo was a bird on her left hand side, this was done as she liked the symbol and what it stood for – freedom. Intersubjectivity can be seen in the relationship in which she experienced, it was a particularly bad relationship, although a negative memory, she wanted to make it positive and remind herself that she was strong enough, this shows theme 2, it also shows theme 5 as an identity to herself that she was strong and dealt with it and theme 6 as it had the meaning of ‘freedom’. ‘22 tattoo I got was the bird on my left hand side (.) that was purely just for me because I liked the’ ‘23 symbol of bird which meant freedom (pause) um I just thought it was quite a nice meaning at the’ ‘24 time’ ‘26 For what I was going through at that time (.)’ ‘134 Yeah um obviously the bird represented freedom um for me and I’d come out of a’ ‘135 (pause) particular relationship um (.) and for me it was getting out of that bad relationship it’ ‘136 symbolised that I was then strong enough to get out of that relationship cause it wasn’t (.) a’ ‘137 particularly nice relationship so for me even though it’s a reminder that yeah ok I was in that’ ‘138 position it’s more of a reminder that I was strong enough to get out of that um so a lot again so’ ‘139 if I was to have any more it’s on the experiences I’ve had in life um (.) and just yeah things that’ ‘140 have made me stronger or (.) more powerful as a person to me’. This section of participant 1 speaking seems to show a lot of pauses, this may be due to bringing up the past which was a hard time to experience, showing temporality and intersubjectivty. The participant also mentioned that she had stretch marks (image) due to having a child (experience) so this tattoo was not only for a meaning of an experience in life theme 4 but also for her self-image theme 3 as an individual. ‘276 Yeah (laugh) in a way (.) I liked my body more I like because after I’ve had a child I’ve got’ ‘277 quite a lot of stretch marks on my body (.) and the bird on my side covers up quite a few of’ ‘278 those um (.) so I actually felt (pause) I felt sexier again I felt I felt better about myself I didn’t’ ‘279 mind then looking at my body and instead of seeing all these scars I decorated I had made’ ‘280 myself look pretty again in my own eyes I didn’t mind what other people think of me’. Embodiment can be seen as she talks a lot about one’s own body, the experience of this tattoo and the meaning is from a bad life experience as it was not what she desired, which led to having work done, which resulted in her being too scared to get anything else done. This account shows theme 3 as her sense of self-image was somewhat ruined in her eyes, but also a positive for how she felt, it shows theme 4 as it was a negative experience in her life but one she does not regret. ‘52 Um the bird on my left side I don’t like that anymore. ‘54 But the tattooist (.) messed up the birds face a little bit so then I went to another tattooist to’ ‘55 have some (.) work done to it’ ‘57 (.) I said I wasn’t happy with his face cause he face looks cross and wasn’t meant to look cross and’ ‘64 I had tattoo removal so she she tattooed over the top of the tattoo and told me that it’ ‘65 would calm down after a couple of years um but it hasn’t and now it’s like a raised scar on his’ ‘66 face so it actually looks (.) worse’ ‘68Yeah I’m not happy like I want more work done to it but I’m too scared to have anything’ ‘69 at the moment’. With reference to this tattoo, the meaning behind it and her experience of it, you can see temporality, embodiment and intersubjectivity emerging. Temporality as she talks about the past experience of why she felt she needed and wanted to get this done, embodiment as she had scars which she was self-conscious of and felt having this tattoo made her feel ‘sexy’ and ‘nicer’ in her own body again and intersubjectivity as the main meaning and reason for getting the tattoo was the experience of a bad relationship. The third tattoo was for her Nan showing theme 1 as a representation of her loved one, theme 2 preserving her memory and theme 6 has a meaning to her for her Nan as a symbol of how her Nan was before her dementia and how she would like to see her Nan as being ‘free’. ‘27 I had the one on my wrist done two three years ago (.) and that’s for my’ ‘28 Nan (.) that one’ ‘30 Yeah the meaning behind that one where the birds freeing freed from the bird cage’ ‘31 because um she’s got dementia’. With reference to the tattoos for her Granddad and Nan these show strong evidence for theme 1,2 and 6 also showing 4 as her experience of this and her relationships (intersubjectivity) ‘86 I just thought um it was a nice way to have a 87 constant reminder of them with me’.
Looking at participant 2 interview (from line 1- 225) once again in order of tattoos and certain experiences they went through it can be seen that his first tattoo of his date of birth on his eighteenth birthday shows a representation of himself, preserving this certain memory with a sense of meaning and shows his identity. ‘12 Uh I got my date of birth on the inside of my wrist on my eighteenth birthday as a little 13 celebration’. He mentioned he had his initials on the other wrist, this shows theme 5, 6, 3 and theme 1 a representation of himself. The second tattoo ‘13 then I got uh the one on the inside of my arm (.) uh my brother was out urm’ ‘14 in Iraq at war (pause)’. When talking about his second tattoo for his brother, he seems to pause a lot, this seems to have been a stressful time for himself, his brother and family and this can be seen as the interview went on. His second tattoo shows theme 1 as a representation for his brother and has a certain sense of meaning (theme 6) to himself, his brother family showing intersubjectivity. ‘30 the one in the inside of my arm the Arabic writing is for my brother who was’ ‘31 out at war ‘never give up’ that’s another little family motto and I got that for him’. He shows theme 4 as he talks about the experience at that time and as to why he got the tattoo he did. ‘108 Well my brother was in the army at the time and he was out in Iraq at war for nine’ ‘109 months and obviously you know um it was a very stressful time for myself and the family and it’ ‘110 was just a family motto really like my dad’s never told us ever to give up and you know’ ‘111 everything in life so you know I felt like I wanted to get that for him because he was struggling’ ‘112 out there quite a lot at the time and he was calling and writing home and I just wanted to show’ ‘113 my support to him (.) by getting that tattoo cause that’s what we have always gone off through’ ‘114 our whole lives with that saying so I thought that would be a nice thing to get for him and show’ ‘115 unity as a family (.) (pause)’. The third tattoo of his families initials he states ‘27 from the bottom up the one on my ankle obviously my family initials it’s just uh something for’ ‘28 everyone’. This shows a sense of identity theme 5, representations of people theme 1, theme 2 preserving memories and theme 6 as the sense of meaning to why he got the tattoo. The next tattoo on his chest ‘32 my chest was a cover up for a name that I got off a girlfriend and um I got a little quote ‘you only 33 live once’ which is lyrics off one of my best well favourite rappers Drake (pause)’. He states he ‘I got the name because I was in a relationship at the time and I suppose I was just young’ ‘44 and naïve in hindsight but at the time (pause) it just felt like a nice little thing to do she obviously’ ‘45 got my name on the back of her neck so it was like uh (.) sort of uh pre engagement sort of tattoo’ ‘46 to show how much we meant to each other (.)’ The original tattoo of his girlfriend shows theme 1 as representation of her and his love for her, theme 2 preserving memories of when and why he got her name and theme 5 as it has a sense of identity, showing embodiment and intersubjectivity. The cover up he decided to get was a cross and a quote, the quote he got resembles theme 5 a sense of identity, the lyrics have a sense of meaning and is from one of his favourite rappers, so a representation of him you could say (theme 1). ’49 Uh at the time I just started going to church so I was quite involved with that and the’ ‘50 Christian cross urm just seemed like a fitting cover up and to be honest I just liked the fact of’ ‘51 having a bold tattoo on my chest as well and obviously it it wouldn’t say hurt me emotionally but’ ‘52 it was closure to that relationship (.) obviously that had been over for quite a while but yeah you’ ‘53 know it was just something that the closure of the relationship it wasn’t going to go any further’. The reason behind the cover up of a cross shows theme 4 as what he was experiencing at that stage in his life, it has a sense of meaning to him (theme 6) and he liked the fact of having a bold tattoo (theme 3,self-image). He talks about the past (temporality) and the experience of his relationship (intersubjectivity). This particular tattoo he talks about his experience (theme 4) of the pain and how he is not happy (theme 3 self- image). ‘38 the only one I’m not happy with is the one on my chest because the cover up wasn’t’ ‘39 wasn’t to to good uh the name that I initially had underneath the cross is uh a bit scarred’ ‘40 and it’s a bit raised so you can still see it in some light’. ‘92 case the one in my chest was one of the worst by far the most painful but saying that I had the’ ‘93 small one on the inside of my ankle and that was only five minutes long and that was probably ‘94 on par with pain with the one on my chest urm but yeah despite the pain I still think that I will get’ ‘95 some more’. The tattoo down his ribs and on his ankle both show theme 1 as they are representations of people, theme 2 as they are preserving memories, theme 4 as it has been something in family that he has experienced and his best friend both experienced it together and theme 6 as they both have a sense of meaning. ‘28 the one on the inside of my ankle I got the uh matching tattoos with my best friend’ ‘29 just for a laugh one day just randomly got a family motto on my ribs ‘be as one’ as what my Dad’ ‘30 always said to us’. When talking about his the piercing of his ear, he talks about the reasons behind it as to why he got it done (temporality) ‘201 the sake of my sisters practice (.) but everyone was getting earrings then and um this was when 202 we were young so and I really wanted uh a Nike gold earring (laugh) which I made my mum buy 203 me in order to let my um sister do the piercing’. This shows a sense of self-image (theme 3) as everyone was getting them done at the time and he would have it done if he could have the ‘Nike’ earring. It was interesting as further on in the interview he mentioned ‘57 my earlobe sometimes I just wear an earring sometimes I don’t depending on how I feel’. ‘213 buy one but sometimes with outfits as well sometimes I think that a little earring looks good 214 with a t-shirt’. ‘218 Oh yeah I don’t wear it because I necessarily like them I will actually no I like wearing an 219 earring because I might think it will look nice or good but I don’t really like wear it for the sake of 220 other people I wear it just because I want to and I don’t really care if people like it or dislike it or 221 notice it or not (pause). So again theme 3 shows in the sense of how he looks with the earring and what this portrays to him. Participant 2 talks about the reason to why he got the tattoos, this has similar reasoning to participant 1. He talks about the meanings of tattoos and that he wouldn’t get one if it didn’t have a particular meaning or if he hadn’t had a particular experience. ‘58 Uh (.) I wouldn’t change any of the tattoos that I’ve got them for for decent reasons in my eyes. ‘98 Yeah definitely I think I would get some more urm I’m not really sure I don’t really like 99 getting tattoos that don’t really mean something I like everything to have a little story behind it. 171 think of something meaningful I think I would probably get my nieces name put into172 the tattoo but um like I said I don’t just like random pictures or tribal tattoos that don’t 173 necessarily mean anything but look good I would rather get something that meant something 174 then rather something that looked good visually’. So from both participant’s even though male and female they both had similarities into the reasons behind why they got the tattoos they did, stating they have or had to have some meaning to why they had or would get the tattoo in the first place. The sense of meaning behind each tattoo was either a representation/relationship of a family member or a loved one, a particular experience or a certain time in their life, which involved preserving certain memories, a sense of identity for themselves and an image of what this brought to themselves. Discussion
The current study found 6 main themes, that were used for both participant’s, finding that behind each tattoo was a sense of meaning (theme 6) with a trend for a representation of a person (theme 1) or preserving certain memories (theme 2) of people or experiences (theme 4) with each tattoo and piercing emerging a sense of identity (theme 5) portraying ones self- image (theme 3). The current study was taken from a phenomenological approach whereas the articles used each show a different perspective. They look at trends through statistics (quantitative) not through experience (qualitative) as the current research does, the current research focuses on individual experiences not language or general trends, whereas the articles are more broad in their research using statistical analysis’s not embodiment. The article by Horne et al, (2007) paper is relevant to the current study as it looks into the attitudes, behaviours and interpretations of tattoos and piercings. This paper found significant gender differences, where the study in hand interviewed male and female participants to see if this would make a difference to their experiences of living with tattoos and piercings. Carmen et al (2012) brings an evolutionary perspective arguing that motivations for getting tattoos and piercings are proximate behaviours for an ultimate evolutionary reason. This article has used adaption evidence as a method, whereas the current study uses phenomenological analysis, taking a qualitative approach using semi- structured interviews. The current study even though only interviewing two people, disagrees with Schulz et al (2006) The next article researched took the focus of tattoos and the link to a need of uniqueness, the current study shows participant’s wanted unique designs that meant something to them. (Tiggemann et al, 2011) Finally the article by Quaranta et al (2011) looks at the knowledge and awareness of health risks with tattoos and piercings, therefore having a medical theme. There is various research into medical and information support but not a great deal about pure experience of living with tattoos and piercings like the current study. Phenomenological analysis offers an adaptable and accessible approach to phenomenological research, it aims to give an in-depth account of an individual’s experiences. Limitations of this research is that researchers may find it difficult to remain objective, and how a researcher interprets the data will be dependent on their own phenomenological worlds and experiences. Therefore different researchers will interpret the data and complete the write up from a different view point. If the study was to be repeated again, I would make sure to take more time in the area of finding and investigating the articles. As for the study itself, there could be more questions asked, having a wider variety, as I feel more questions could have been asked to the participant when interviewing them. Listening to the recording back I feel there was missed opportunities of questions and feel that as it was my first time interviewing people my nerves and mind were overplaying, so really listening between the lines to what the participant was saying would of helped. I feel if the study was repeated by myself again I would know what to expect and would change my interviewing technique, as I would be much more at ease with flowing and moving to a variety of questions to find have much more in depth view of the person’s different experiences. As for any ideas for future research, I think it could open up a window to look as male and female experiences of tattoos and piercings but to look at it from a variety of ages and cultures.
Carmen. A Rachel, Guitar. E Amanda, and Dillon. M Haley 2012. Ultimate Answers to Proximate Questions: The Evolutionary Motivations behind Tattoos and Body Piercings in Popular Culture. Vol 16. (No 2) 134-143.
Hinz, A and Stirn, A. 2008. Tattoos, body piercings and self-injury: Is there a connection? Investigations on a core group of participants practicing body modification. Vol 18. (No 3) 326-333.
Hollway, W. (2012) Self in Hollway, W. Lucey, H. Phoenix, A and Lewis, G. Social Psychology matters (2nd Edition p. 119-144). The Open University, Walton Hall, Milton Keynes.
Horne, J. Knox, D. Zusman, J and Zusman, E. Marty. 2007. Tattoos and Piercings: Attitudes, behaviours and interpretations of college students. Vol 41. (No 4) 1011-1020.
Langdridge, D and Finlay, L (2012) Embodiment in Hollway, W. Lucey, H. Phoenix, A and Lewis, G. Social Psychology matters (2nd Edition p. 199- 224). The Open University, Walton Hall, Milton Keynes.
Schulz, J. Karshin, C and Woodiel, K. 2006. Body Art: The decision making process among college students. Vol 21. (No 2) 123-127.
Tiggemann, M and Hopkins, L, A. 2011. Tattoos and piercings: Bodily expressions of uniqueness? Body Image. Vol 8. 245-250.
Quaranta, A. Napoli, C. Fasano, F. Montagna, C. Caggiano, G and Montagna, M. 2011. Body piercing and tattoos: a survey on young adults’ knowledge of the risks and practices in body art. Vol 11. (No 774) 1-8.
Questions asked to each participant
1 What tattoos or piercings do you have?
2 When did you get each of these?
3 Why did you get these/it?
4 Do they have any particular meaning to you?
5 Has the meaning changed over time?
6 Are you still happy with it/them?
7 Do you think they affect the way you are perceived or treated as an individual? 8 Is there any experiences of this?
9 Would you change anything?
10 Would you get any more tattoo or piercings in the future?