Tattoo: The Fascinating Body Art Has Gone Mainstream
Sat, April 10, 2021

Tattoo: The Fascinating Body Art Has Gone Mainstream

Previously associated with indigenous tribes, punk and metal groups, criminals, and deviants, tattoos have become mainstream too and have even attained a cool and sexy status, thanks in large part to celebrities who have embraced the art form / Photo by: Anton Ivkin and Alexander Kuzovlev via Wikimedia Commons

 

More and more people in the world today are accepting the idea of tattoos as simply personal accessories similar to earrings and necklaces. Previously associated with indigenous tribes, punk and metal groups, criminals, and deviants, tattoos have become mainstream too and have even attained a cool and sexy status, thanks in large part to celebrities who have embraced the art form. The acceptance is widespread especially among the younger generations who have adopted body art. For them, tattoos show their identities and are an expression of their unique selves.

 

The Beginning

Tattooing has been practiced by different cultures all over the world since thousands of years ago. The earliest evidence of the ancient body art dates back between 3370 BC and 3100 BC when the mummified body of the Iceman called Ötzi was discovered in September 1991. He had a total of 61 tattoos in different locations of his body.

While Ötzi may have the first known tattoo evidence in the history of mankind, the long and rich history of the art emerged later from more than 49 different locations around the world. Ancient Greeks used tattoos as a means of communication among spies from the 5th century. Romans used it to mark their slaves, the Japanese and Chinese branded criminals on their faces to warn people they cannot be trusted, and Egyptians used tattoos for decorative and medical treatment purposes since 2000 BC. In Mayan, Incan and Aztec cultures, tattooing was used in rituals while Britons used tattoos for certain ceremonies. In Europe, crusaders tattooed a cross on their hands to indicate their participation and desire for a Christian burial should they die.

Tattooing has been practiced by different cultures all over the world since thousands of years ago / Photo by: Information Association of New Zealand via Wikimedia Commons

 

Today, the popularity of tattoos has surged. One recent survey showed that 38% of global respondents have at least one tattoo. Among the tattooed people, 75% of them have two tattoos or more. By country, Italy ranked first with the most tattooed people at 48% of its population, Sweden was second at 47% and the US third at 46%.

The reasons for getting tattoos vary: as a source of power, as artistic expression, as a status symbol, as a permanent cosmetic, as a protection, and many more. A recent study by psychologist Luzelle Naudé of the University of the Free State in South Africa, found that 25% of participants have a tattoo to commemorate a significant event or struggle in their lives, 12% said it is an expression of who they are, for others it was to keep their mother’s memory alive or honor a first child, and there were those who regarded it as an appealing form of art. One respondent said his tattoos are the stories of his life.

Unique Tattoo Styles Around the World

Tattoos have gone mainstream in both developed and developing countries around the world. Here are some unique tattoo styles worth exploring.

1. Irezumi originated from Japan and was in vogue as far back as 14,500-300 BCE. The art form took a negative reputation later when it became closely associated with criminality in the country. Although the young generation embraced body art, Japan still struggles to shake off its damaging status.

This type of tattooing uses needles with silk thread attached to a long wooden handle to create rich but subtle shading from specially made inks. Inspired by Ukiyo-e, woodblock prints and paintings, artists create a full-body suit that is invisible when wearing a kimono. The body art imagery used globally includes dragons and cherry blossoms, samurai, carp, and oni, the Japanese folklore troll.

2. American traditional tattoos maintain their appeal because of their unique style. Distinguished by their bold outlines and clean shapes, the tattoos use bright but limited inks on designs such as hearts, swallows, mermaids, anchors, ships, daggers, and pin-ups. Nautical themes are evident as sailors and soldiers were the first to get inked. By the 1950s and 60s, motorcycle gangs embraced it, followed in the 70s and 80s by those who were into punk and metal movements.

3. Mehndi is a body art using a paste made from the dried leaves of the henna plant to create intricate floral designs and geometric shapes usually on the arms, hands, and feet. The paste is applied wet and let dry before the outer coating is removed. Mehndi is customarily applied during Hindu weddings and festivals in India and celebrations like the Muslim’s Eid al-Fitr.

Henna tattoos are temporary, lasting about two weeks and work as souvenirs of travel abroad. Mehndi kits are available in craft and hobby shops around the world. Brown henna instead of black or red henna is safer to use during street henna tattooing

4. Sak Yant is Thailand’s magical hand-tapped tattoos highly sought by backpackers and celebrities. The ancient tradition has deep roots throughout Southeast Asia and is practiced in Laos, Myanmar, and Cambodia administered by Buddhist monks. The freehand designs consist of geometry, symbols, deities, and animal figures believed to provide magical protection. Each tattoo design brings a particular type of protection and luck. A set of guidelines to keep the magic working is provided to the wearer.

5. Polynesian tattooing is deeply embedded throughout Southeast Asia, New Zealand, Tahiti, and Hawaii. The placement of the tattoo affects its meaning. The upper half is linked to heaven whereas the lower part signifies Earth. Artists today practice both the traditional hand-tapped method and modern machine methods. The inked designs tell a story: traditional designs are about heritage, maturity, and status whereas modern designs focus on aesthetics. Tattoo designs include turtles and turtle shells, lizards, tiki figures, waves, people, and shark’s teeth.

Henna tattoos are temporary, lasting about two weeks and work as souvenirs of travel abroad / Photo by: Campbelltown City Council via Flickr

 

Getting Inked

Modern artists use hand-held machines with attached needles to prick and inset drops of ink on the outer layer of skin. Since anesthetic is not used, it can be rather painful. Adverse reactions may occur when getting a tattoo: allergy, skin infection, tetanus, Hepa B or C from contaminated ink and needles.

Be safe and follow these rules:

• Do not let yourself nor an amateur do the tattoo. Find a reputable artist and tattoo shop.

• Ensure tattoo employees are properly trained. Artists must wear disposable gloves to avoid contamination.

• Needles should be disposable or sterilized. Pigment trays should be new.

• Sterilization should use bleach-based disinfectants.

Most importantly, think long and hard before getting one. A tattoo may be trendy and exciting but it can be forever. Sure, you can have it erased, but it usually leaves an ugly scar.