Archive for Sunday, September 3, 2006

Women shrug off the tattoo taboo

September 3, 2006


Kendra Herring's personal journal is on her skin, for all to see.

The tattoo ink that marks her arms and legs is a narrative of the important moments in her life.

She has body art that represent her grandmother, her 25th birthday, the five-year anniversary with her boyfriend - she got a spoon on her forearm, and he got a fork.

There are seven tattoos in all, mostly on her arms.

"It's a way to kind of chart the important relationships and periods of my life, I guess," says Herring, 34. "And I'm a visual artist, so it's just another way to surround myself with visual art, really."

Once considered taboo or, at best, risque among women, women now make up at least half the clientele at tattoo parlors.

"It is acceptable," says Marta Vicente, a Kansas University assistant professor of women's studies who researches women's body image. "But I think it's still risque. If tattoos were piercing your ears as a woman, it would not be the same. But it's like piercing your ears as a man - it's accepted, but it's still shocking or being different."

Gender split

One poll by the Harris Poll service, conducted nearly three years ago, showed 15 percent of all women had tattoos, trailing men by only a percentage point.

Kendra Herring, of Lawrence, displays one of several tattoos she has on her body. Studies show that an increasing number of women are getting tattoos despite former taboos about the body art.

Kendra Herring, of Lawrence, displays one of several tattoos she has on her body. Studies show that an increasing number of women are getting tattoos despite former taboos about the body art.

A more recent poll, published in this month's edition of the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, examined some details of women who are getting tattoos. They're most likely to get them on the ankle, upper back or chest, and 52 percent reported having only covered tattoos. Also, they favor smaller tattoos, with 80 percent of women reporting having tattoos palm-sized or smaller.

Those are trends that make sense to Joe McGill, owner of Joe's Body Art, 714 Vt.

"Women seem to prefer smaller tattoos," he says. "But occasionally you'll get some one who wants a bigger one, too. ... Women seem to go for stuff they can cover up. More often than not, they don't want tattoos on their arms. It's usually their backs or shoulder blades. And ankles are pretty common."

McGill, who says his clientele is split in half between genders, says some women make a spontaneous decision for body art, while others plan.

"A lot of times it's been a real spontaneous type of thing," he says. "They'll come by and see a cool design and say, 'Man I want to get one.' Or they'll get it in memory of a brother who was killed, or a sister they lost or their dad that has died. Some will think about it for a long time and then finally get the bug somehow."

'Freedom of choice'

Jan Bishop, owner of Skin Illustrations, 1530 W. Sixth St., has seen similar trends recently. She says about 60 percent of her clientele is female.

"It's been headed that direction all along," Bishop says. "In the past couple of years, we've seen older women come in, too. One woman who came in was 85 years old."

The client had requested the tattoo for her birthday, Bishop says.

Herring displays tattoos on her wrists.

Herring displays tattoos on her wrists.

"She asked her kids for a hot-air balloon ride for a present, and then she came in for a hot-air balloon tattoo after that," she says. "She brought all of her children and grandchildren along."

But other reasons for women to get tattoos vary.

"I think sometimes the attraction is freedom of choice," Bishop says. "There are a lot of women who, if you ask why they wanted a tattoo, they say their boyfriend or husband told them they couldn't have a tattoo or piercing. They'll say, 'I just got my divorce, and I can do what I want.' It's an act of freedom or independence."

Sexual feeling

Vicente, the women's studies professor, says tattoos are the latest trend in women having control over their bodies.

"Women have always had a much closer relationship with their own bodies, as well as a problematic relationship," she says. "Men do not have that same relationship with their own bodies."

In modern culture, with pressures about body image everywhere, Vicente says women need to feel like they're in control of their own bodies.

"In this world of media bombardment, the need to have control over one's body, for women, is very important," she says. "Tattoos are something that are maybe seen as something that women choose to have, a form of empowerment."

She recalls a 12-student graduate studies seminar last semester, when a student presented a paper on female empowerment as it related to tattoos. After the presentation, 11 of the 12 women revealed they had tattoos.

Somehow - and Vicente isn't sure exactly how - tattoos went from being something sailors got when they were at war, to something women find as sexy. In fact, 42 percent of women in the Harris poll said having the tattoo made them feel sexy, compared with 25 percent of men.

"In the wars in the beginning of the (20th) century, it was seen as a very masculine thing, very physical and macho," she says. "So I'm sure the women who had tattoos in the '70s and before were seen as lesbians. But now it's something that can be sexy and feminine."

Vanishing ink

That's not to say some women don't regret the choice later.

Andrea Albright, a mother of two who is expecting her third child, is thinking about having the 1-inch-tall shark on her left ankle removed.

The tattoo, which she got in 1990 at age 22, came when she "was just tipsy enough to think that this was a good idea, and we were all riding the new wave of grunge music and the style that accompanied it."

These days, when she's asked to attend a convention or meet with a client for her job with a local architectural firm, she makes a point to wear pants instead of a skirt.

"I don't remember a professional situation where anyone has asked me about the tattoo, but I have worried that - whether right or wrong - the tattoo's mere existence would cloud someone's opinion of me," says Albright, now 38.

She also worries what her children will say or ask about down the road.

But even as she's changed her personal feelings on her tattoo, she realizes society has become more accepting of body art.

"Today, every college girl and mom at the swimming pool has a tattoo or two," Albright says. "In addition, tattoo artists and 'tattooees' have come up with a much wider repertoire of artwork. If you're a young woman getting a tattoo, there are lots of 'safe' designs to copy from.

"And maybe most importantly, these days everybody knows you can have a tattoo removed. It's not the lifetime commitment it once was."

Typical trend

Herring has felt a few of those uncomfortable moments. Sometimes, she wears long sleeves to avoid questions about her tattoos.

"My parents aren't into them," she says, "but my nieces think they're very cool. My grandma is, like, horrified of them. She didn't even want to hear the story."

But, generally, Herring feels people are accepting, or at least tolerant.

"I think they're completely mainstream now," she says. "I don't think it's this renegade ... punk-rock thing to do. I think I've seen that change as I've gone through this."

She wonders if, someday down the road, women's tattoos will be looked at as the "Afro" hair style was 20 years ago - completely cliche.

"It's almost like now, it's something that was once regarded as something shocking, but now it's almost like middle-of-the-road - almost an obvious thing to do," Herring says.

"That's really why I'm so glad I haven't gotten half the tattoos I thought that I wanted. I look at people with full sleeves, and that's fine. But I wouldn't want that. It's mainstream now."


DoughnutLover 11 years, 8 months ago

Tattoos are a sign of low self-esteem and insecurity. They are trying to improve their peronality and the way others perceive them by embellishing their image. As people mature, they become more confident and accept their image. That is why you see less tattoos as people age.

Speakout 11 years, 8 months ago

Beauty in every human being is not what is on the outside. I have seen many people construe beauty to only be what they look like. "Ugly" people may really be beautiful if we get to know them and appreciate their special talents or personality.

Tattoos are the ugliest things people put on their bodies and I have to agree with Marion makes one (male or female) look cheap. If you want to look cheap, get an expensive tattoo-A real tramp stamp.

I have seen people who can barely pay the rent, pay for a thousand dollar tattoo. How smart is that? Save your money, the fad will fade and you will look strangely funny. And what about when you get older, the beautiful tattoo will look faded, colorless and wrinkled, just like YOU!

Hilary Morton 11 years, 8 months ago

If tattoos are a fad, it's been a 70 year fad in this country. Personally, I don't care whatsoever if people have tattoos. If it's a cool one, if it represents something personal to them, so be it. As long as it's not an eagle, or Jesus laughing, they're fine with me.

BlondeTiger 11 years, 8 months ago

Tatoo's don't make people look cheap, and they aren't for the ones with low self esteem. That is like saying everybody who puts on make-up, tans, buys only certain looks and types of clothes, exercises, loses weight, has low self esteem. That would mean everyone in lawrence is severly in need of help. Most of you have to many double standards.

fascinating_person 11 years, 8 months ago

Doughnutlover - just as people - more often females - wear rings, necklaces, earrings, etc to enhance their appearance and embellish their bodies, i would imagine people also get tattoos for a more permanent version of the same idea. do you consider people who accessorize, or get a new haircut, to be necessarily insecure? there's nothing unconfident about wanting to look sharp. (granted, HOW people go about attempting to look sharp doesn't always yield the desired results, but that's not my problem.) and for the opposite end of the spectrum of tattoo getters: Marion - I think a major point emphasized in the article is that tattoos have at least been historically seen as masculine. following that logic, i wouldn't imagine that all females get tattoos to result in a "sweet lookin'" or beautiful appearance. in fact, i believe the article indicated that some choose to get tattoos to defy males' perceptions of how females - excuse me, "gals" - should look! and on a final note. i've only seen about 4 tattoos in my life that were well done, well placed, and well thought out.

fascinating_person 11 years, 8 months ago

BlondeTiger, exactly. although i must say that i think most tattoos DO make people look cheap, it's the concept of personal appearance, personal choice, and, yes, personal opinion that's the issue.

davisnin 11 years, 8 months ago

I can't believe so little information could be stretched into an article this size.

BlondeTiger 11 years, 8 months ago

Fascinating person- thank you so much. I appreciate you seeing where i was going with that, and i respect your opinion.

KS 11 years, 8 months ago

In the not too distant past, some buddies and I were walking along the beach in Ft. Lauderdale FL. We all could not help but notice an extremely well built, very beautiful female walk by in an extremely revealing bikini. One of my friends commented that what made her so striking was that she did not have one tatoo. We all agreed. Maybe the gals think they are cute, sexy or whatever, but I can honestly say from the male point of view, they are ugly and most guys don't like them on women. Why mess up a beautiful thing?

KS 11 years, 8 months ago

When you all are about 50+, just think about what those "beauties" are going to look like? Did you ever see a "mass run of ink"? Ugh! It won't wash off either. Oh well, maybe they will fit in with the wrinkles? Hope you all enjoy them. I tend to think a little further ahead.

SeaFox 11 years, 8 months ago

Doughnutlover said:

"As people mature, they become more confident and accept their image. That is why you see less tattoos as people age."

HA! What an logical fallacy.

It might be because when these people were younger tatoos were more taboo and less simply risque. As tatooing becomes more acceptable the number of people getting them is going to go up, and acceptance is a social factor, so it's going to change as the populataion ages. More elderly people don't have tattoos becuase they have the mindset that tattoos being bad still ingrained in them from their youth.

I suppose owning a computer is a sign of not accepting ones image, as people age they learn to accept themselves and that's why you see fewer older people with PC's.

MerryPresent 11 years, 8 months ago

Can't believe anyone who cares about their body/their image would get a tatoo. They never look good. Why does so much bad art end up on people's bodies?

I too, am surprised the J-W quoted stats from some dermatological association but then didn't mention the health risks. Doctors hate tatoos and piercings.

heather5 11 years, 8 months ago

I don't know why people are saying tattoos on females are trashy. I have a small heart tattoo on my shoulder and I have never once had anyone tell me it looks trashy or had a guy not like me for it. People judge others because they have tattoos and that is stupid because you don't really know a person until you sit down and have a true conversation with them. We are in 2006 quit judging people until you get to know the "real" person on the inside not just what they look like on the outside.

acg 11 years, 8 months ago

Funny, my doc has a tat. I can't wait til that faction of negative, old curmudgeons die off so the rest of us can live our lives in peace.

Christine Pennewell Davis 11 years, 8 months ago

personal choice people. You do not like them do not get one. And if all you have seen is ugly tatoos then you are not looking to hard, have seen some tats that are as good as anything hanging on a wall anywhere, you just have to look. But like I said personal choice people.

brotherskeeper 11 years, 6 months ago

No tattoo I have ever seen is worse looking than wearing mom jeans.

h9shrosa 8 years ago

"Tattoo's don't make people look cheap, and they aren't for the ones with low self esteem. That is like saying everybody who puts on make-up, tans, buys only certain looks and types of clothes, exercises, loses weight, has low self esteem. That would mean everyone in lawrence is severly in need of help. Most of you have to many double standards."- Blonde Tiger

Basically what the author is stating is that by having tattoos it does not define the person as an individual. Tattoos do not indicate that a person is cheap or insecure of their bodies. People are constantly doing things to change their image, it doesn't necessarily mean that the person is insecure. It could imply as a personal choice to benefit their image, health and overall appearance which is nothing wrong with trying to better yourself. This statement also says that regardless that tattoos are a body accessories that indeed are optional, however; it is a personal choice. So why should people be judged based on their own personal choices and form of expression? Why are people constantly caring what others do? Tattoos have always been associated with negative connotations. For what? Tattoos have been around for centuries and have been known to hold and symbolize meaning for the individual. So why do people still care and get down on people for their personal choice of getting a tattoo? Why are their only negative stereotypes associated with tattoos?

Personally, I feel strongly about the art of tattoos. I am born in raised in Hilo, Hawaii, and have been surrounded by the art of tattoos. Back in ancient Hawaiian history, tattoos held great importance and symbolism that even indicated a person's social status. I feel that tattoos are beautiful, not only as a form of art work but also the meaning that is held behind the tattoo. I agree that having a tattoo is a personal choice, and it is indeed not for everyone. But the people that don't care for it should keep their negative comments to themselves. In my culture, having a tattoos do not indicate that you are cheap and have low self esteem. It is apart of my Hawaiian culture, so by me having a tattoo that symbolizes my family and culture does that make me cheap or show that I have low self esteem? When all I want to do it is display the art of my culture and the beauty and meaning that holds with in it. I feel that tattoos are a form of expression that is beautiful and valued, I'm not saying that everyone should have one. I am saying that it is a personal choice that should not be considered degrading, disgusting, cheap or any type of negative connotations and stereotypes. Because why bring someone down based on their personal form of expression? People should be more optimistic and open to other forms of expression.

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