Imagine my delight when my copy of the Smithsonian magazine arrived yesterday, with cover art featuring a tattooed man, and a story inside about photographer Chris Rainier who travels all over the world to take pictures of people’s body art. (The image at right is not from that article, I hasten to add.)
Rainier’s work seems to bear out what I’ve felt for a long time, that decorated people were more numerous than the plain-skinned sort, at least up till recent times. And times are changing; according to the story, up to 40% of Americans between the ages of 26 and 40 have been tattooed. I’m outside that age range myself but my daughter’s firmly in it. 🙂 Given how difficult, painful, and hazardous primitive skin-marking methods were, this says a lot about how strongly people felt the need to be decorated.
The article includes some links to other fascinating Smithsonian stories about tattoos, which are well worth investigating. One talks about the differences in regional tattoos in the USA, and one talks about a new type of tattoo ink that’s designed so that a special kind of laser can remove it completely, without causing the kinds of problems conventional tattoo removal can.
Public attitudes in “industrialized” societies have seesawed back and forth over the years. What started out as something only sleazy sailors did soon became something that the upper classes were mad about (according to the story, King George V had a tattoo) and from there went back to being something only sleazy sailors did. Now the pendulum is swinging the other way again.
My dad never knew about my tattoos, but I have a feeling he would not have approved. After all, this was the man who didn’t want me to get my ears pierced because it “looked cheap.” His attitudes toward that kind of thing were formed in the 1940s and 1950s when you pretty much only saw tattooed women in the circus.
I for one am glad times have changed, and I’m also glad we have modern equipment and sanitary practices!