Beautiful Bodies; Tattoos
Rosanna Hill charts the history of tattoos and remarks on its prevalence today
Tattoos are often viewed as a radical or rebellious choice (especially if you want to piss off your parents) but this body decoration has been a part of society for thousands of years. The oldest human tattoos ever uncovered in archaeology are believed to be from between 3370 BC and 3100 BC. We as a species have been illustrating our bodies since before the wooly mammoth went extinct.
As it requires a painful process to create them, and often can take many hours of work, these ancient tattoos are often imbued with symbolism and status, denoting religious elders or great warriors, it is therefore surprising that tattoos carry with them such a sense of stigma. Tattoos are generally frowned upon in a professional capacity and it is often advised that ink should be covered by clothing so as not to show it in the workplace. How has such an ancient and formerly respected practice become negatively associated with an alternative lifestyle and discouraged to this degree? The answer lies in the social connotations of the societies that we have inherited our perceptions of tattooing from.
Previously used to distinguish criminals, deserters and mercenaries in western civilisation, the rise of the popularity of tattoos has happened from the ground up. The next echelon of society to embrace tattoos were sailors, who created an entire codified system to meaning of each piece of ink. A tattooed swallow meant that that sailor had travelled five thousand miles, while a fully rigged ship meant that they had successfully travelled around the Cape of Good Hope.
Nowadays the meanings of tattoos can be widespread, from the hopeful statement of a semicolon tattoo to the lethal connotations of a teardrop below the eye but just as often a tattoo can be an exclusively aesthetic addition as a way of decorating the body. Modern tattooing methods have caused a rise in the more casual tattoo. The permanent state of the ink is also less rigid, as while tattoo removal is known to be unbelievably painful, it also provides an out-clause for any really regrettable ink.
Tattoos have also become increasingly visible in popular culture such as Post Malone’s ‘Always Tired’ beneath his eyes or Scarlett Johannson’s cherry blossom back piece, which has helped with raising the public image of this physical form of self-expression. Tattoos have again become a part of mainstream society and whatever your views on body art, the future appears to be becoming as illustrated as our past.