of quotes, sayings and reminders."
--Reef Karim, D.O., pioneer in the field of addiction medicine,
mental health and relationship therapy
According to some research studies by the Pew Research Center, three out of four people between the ages of 18 and 40 have a tattoo. Out of that number, 59% are female. What was once considered self-mutilatory behavior and a psychiatric problem has now become almost normative behavior. So normative, in fact, that the annual amount of spending in the United States on tattoos is $1.65 billion at the nation's estimated 21,000 tattoo parlors.
Doctor of Osteopathy, Reef Karim, recognizes the change as a sign that our current society craves individuality and self expression. He believes we are having more trouble communicating with each other than ever before, as electronic communication will never replace face-to-face human contact. According to Karim, "It's not surprising that there's a growing trend toward communication via body ink. We don't have to talk, we just have to look."
(Reef Karim, D.O. "Tattoo Psychology: Art or Self Destruction? Modern-Day Social Branding. The Huffington Post. November 09, 2012)
(Michael R. Mantell, Ph.D. "The Psychology of Tattoos." San Diego Magazine. August 08, 2009)
If tattoos are social brands, then what do they actually "say" to those who wear them and those who "read" them?
Considering that tattooing is still controversial, one must question the trend while considering its new popularity so strongly associated with the young. What are these youth thinking as they insist on permanent inking and spending their money on body art?
Here are some reasons people give for getting tattoos:
* To enhance their sexual prowess or feed their exhibitionist side (31% according to Pew Institute)
* To feel rebellious (29% according to Pew Institute)
* To honor or show dedication to a loved one
* To symbolize a life-changing event
* To express the love of art
* To express a religious or a cultural belief
* To promote a group affiliation. "I stand for..."
Where people place tattoos, how may tattoos they have, what the tattoos are and the size of the tattoos all help shape the emotional response of the viewer. We must not be naïve or in total denial: tattoos are going to have a significant positive or negative influence on people.
Like it or not, we must realize tattoos make a vivid first impression, and the factors that affect another person's interpretation of body art cannot be controlled by the exhibitionist. Most important to consider is that tattoos will elicit responses in most all observers, and they could be anyone from a potential boss to a family member to a date.
Here are some popular beliefs held by people concerning why someone would wear tattoos:
* To signal they engage in risky behaviors: drink a lot, have a lot of sex, take drugs, or have experienced a rough childhood (The tattoo to these folks is considered a "tramp stamp.")
* To show they are creative, edgy, independent thinkers
* To associate with the criminal element or gangs (to "look tough")
* To accommodate a fashion statement (Some believe one that is "out of control.")
* To assert individuality (Yet, some think it's a shallow way to do so.)
Actual research on tattoos reveals some interesting findings:
- Adults with tattoos have been shown to be more sexually active than controls without tattoos.(http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1743-6109.2012.02791.x/abstract)
- People with tattoos have been shown to be more likely to engage in more higher risk behaviors. (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/16/people-with-tattoos-drink-alcohol_n_1429880.html)
- Women who get tattoos are more than twice as likely to get them removed as men. (http://courses.ttu.edu/jkoch/Research/Tattoo%20Remover%20AoD.pdf)
- In studying first impressions of people that have tattoos, researchers have found that avatars (neutral) with tattoos and other body modifications were rated as more likely to be thrill and adventure seekers, to have a higher number of previous sexual partners, and to be less inhibited than non-tattooed avatars. This study looked at general stigma associated with people sporting tattoos. (http://psycnet.apa.org/index.cfm?fa=buy.optionToBuy&id=2009-02004-001)
- And another study showed both men and women had higher body appreciation, higher self esteem and lower anxiety right after getting new tattoos. Surprisingly, three weeks later men continued to have less anxiety but women had a sharp increase in anxiety that may be associated with concerns about body image. (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1740144511000507)
My Bottom Line
To tattoo or not to tattoo? Getting ink involves more than a rash decision to follow a popular fad. People make much ado about the permanence of the art for good reason: personal beliefs do change over time and what you believe may be a fitting "tribute" today may be a regrettable "defacing" tomorrow. Getting mass quantities of tattoos is definitely risky business. And, besides, what is fashionable artwork as opposed to cheap-looking signage?
You see, fads that create permanent changes tend to create problems for the individual as times change. People who still groom and dress like Elvis Presley look pretty silly today…except in Las Vegas. Senior citizen “hippies” are considered oddities with little interest shown in their philosophical beliefs. Tattoos could date you in time and cause others to see you that way.
Also, the inescapable negative reactions of others to a tattoo may be reason enough to "do it" the old-fashioned way and let the skin God gave you represent your true outer organ.
You may wish to take a cue in that employers are now restricting the visibility, number, and location of tattoos and piercings. Individuals who have facial tattooing and piercing may be proud of their stylish appearance but they may be unemployable or only acceptable in low-paying positions.
The character of your skin itself marks your very boundary of identity in the world. The skin is the organ intended to protect you from outer harm. The skin functions in regulation of temperature, excretion of waste, immune response, and protection of the underlying tissues.
And, of course, the skin is the foundational character of your body that promotes not only health but also beauty. I cannot imagine famous paragons of feminine beauty such as Grace Kelly, Audrey Hepburn, Rita Hayworth, Jane Russell, or Natalie Wood sporting bodies riddled with tats.