The Thinking 

Women and Tattoos

September 7, 2017

I WAS IN a hospital emergency room today with my mother (it’s been a busy week) when a young woman came walking out of the triage room. She was wearing a tank top, slacks and a backpack. She was obviously there for some medical reason.

The arresting thing was, her arms and neck were covered with large, scribbly, black tattoos. It was as if a child had taken a black marker and scribbled all over her or a graffiti “artist” had used her as a canvas. Even in this age of tattoos, it was shocking how disfigured this young woman was. If she was there because of her tattoos, undergoing an emergency tattoo-removal by a concerned physician, that would seem right. But she was apparently there for some involuntary disorder and people were just acting as if it was all perfectly normal.

She reminded me of another woman I saw recently in a very different setting, on a beautiful lake beach in New Hampshire. She was about 20. Her hair was dyed black, she was wearing black-red lipstick and a black tank top. Her body also was covered with black tattoos. One of her arms was entirely blackened. It appeared to be an ink sleeve. I’ve never seen anything quite like it. All in all, she looked like a restless spirit who had risen up from the nether world to haunt children in the sand and rob them of their innocence.

When I returned home from the hospital (my mother is fortunately doing much better), I found a note from this bloggerDesire to Return, recommending his post on woman and tattoos. He writes:

These days, it’s rare to see a young woman in public who doesn’t have some ink on display, or who hasn’t added some metal adornment to her face via an additional hole.

I’m not crazy about tattoos on men either. But, they’re worse on women. Tattoos suggest toughness, pain, grittiness. However bad tattoos look on men they at least emphasize traits that are not at odds with the central nature of the masculine.

Not so with tattoos on women. A woman with a tattoo is declaring herself to be at odds with the essential nature of her own femininity. She has marked herself with a sign that says, “Look at me! I’m hard!”  The decoration on her skin suggests a distortion in her soul. It suggests that she does not see feminine modesty, elegance and reserve as valuable or worth cultivating.

Most women who get tattoos these days never think about this. Instead, they get tattoos because it’s just what girls do. In the absence of any real training in womanhood or grounding for their identity, women get tattoos to show their membership in a sisterhood, to be like their peers or to commemorate some event.

Tattooing took off between the nineties and now, in part, because of the increasing transience of our society. As we have discarded stable family lives and rooted communities for greater professional mobility, it is no wonder that young women look for a way of creating  on their bodies permanent souvenirs of people and places and events that once mattered to them but which they have lost.

The fleeting nature of everything now –families, lovers, jobs, whatever– is hard on men and women in different ways. Women, who long for security, have an even harder time finding it in a disposable culture. No wonder then that they turn to tattooing for something permanent and something a little like armor behind which they can hide.

The widespread practice of women getting tattoos, though it suggests a rejection of traditional femininity, actually affirms its unchanging nature. The feminine wants to belong. Women want to belong to a family. They want fathers. They want husbands. They want to be marked as belonging to t a family, a tribe, a community. When they are unable to find these things, unable to find a figure of benevolent authority who will mark them as his, we can hardly be surprised that they would mark themselves in some way.

Well said.

They seemed lost, but the women I described could miraculously survive. I hope that someday they will lash out at the forces that have robbed them of their honor and dignity.

— Comments —

Terry Morris writes:

Tattoos on women are extremely ugly and distasteful. One of my female relatives has a tattooed bracelet on her ankle. She doesn’t have any otherwise that I’m aware of.

We were in a conversation about tattoos on women after she bragged that she’d taken one of our nieces to get a tattoo. The intention in telling me was to get under my skin because they both know I deplore tattoos on women in particular, and am not fond of them on men either. In any case at a point in the conversation when I expressed my displeasure about her contributing to the delinquency of an adolescent, she said I should give them both a break; that the reason she had gotten her tatto years ago was because she needed to give off the appearance of a slut in order to catch a man.

This is also the reasoning she gave for our niece.

Personally I’m highly doubtful that was the real reason, but as I retorted, I’m not at all moved in favor by that “reasoning”; it seems to me that if a woman wants to catch a husband, one attracted to sluttiness or female promiscuity is probably not a good catch. But that’s just me.

Laura writes:

Tattoos on women have a sexual connotation. They say, “I’m wild and exciting.”

Lydia Sherman writes:

If I were a business person, there are two things I would not sell for a living, because a customer does not need them every day: permanent  tattoos and mattresses.  A customer is not going to buy another mattress for a long time and there won’t be as much repeat business. The best way to assure you are going to have a daily income is to sell people things they need to replace frequently.

The tattoo business is really not very smart, in my observation.

Henna painting is not the same as tattoos. It was first discovered in hot climates when a red clay was used to make hands and feet and other parts of the body feel cool. When the clay came off there remained a pattern that lasted quite awhile.

Today, henna painting is used for weddings and other celebrations, much like having your hair done.  The paintings will last awhile but eventually wear off.  See here.

One thing that puzzles me is why the tattoo businesses do not realize how much more profitable henna painting could be than tattoos.  Tattoos are expensive and once they are etched one time in one place, cannot be replaced.

There is no doubt a profit in tattoos, but one person’s body cannot support the tattoo business for a lifetime.  Why not sell removeable tattoos?  Women like changes in clothing and accessories. Why have your accessories permanently tattooed? A healthier  and more profitable art would be henna paintings that would need to be replaced. Replacing something always costs more, creating billions of dollars of business.

I don’t like tattoos or henna painting myself but henna paintings seem to be prettier and more refined. I can’t understand why henna painting shops are not competing all over the place and giving the tattoo business some competition.

There are also removable tattoos from papers you just soak in water and apply to skin. They don’t last long, but if you don’t like the design you aren’t stuck with it.

Laura writes:

I think you’re missing a psychological aspect of tattoos.

People are drawn to them because they are permanent. That’s what makes getting a tattoo an act of daring and wild adventure. Putting a sticker or paint on your body does not say, “I am ready for anything” the way a tattoo does.

There is an occult foundation to the tattoo business. It’s not just about money.

Jane S. writes:

Laura, I think you’re onto something. It’s the permanence of tattoos that makes them irresistable. There are plenty of henna artists out there. They’d be kept plenty busy, if that’s what people wanted.

I recently saw an employee orientation video for a large corporation whose name everyone in America knows.

The video made the usual obeisance to diversity. At the exact moment the voiceover said, “We respect diversity,” it showed a female hairstylist standing behind her client, with both arms raised as she styled the client’s hair, and both arms were completely covered from shoulder to wrist with ghastly tattoos.

Once something has been blessed by employers with the diversity seal of approval, it is part of the establishment. Does not matter whether it is good for business. Today’s workforce is a totalitarian regime. They care not what’s good for business.

Laura writes:


On your last point: “Diversity” is good for business. At least, in the short term.

S.K. writes:

It’s seems you’ve once again touched upon the topic of tattoos; that great cultural movement of my generation. We all know that women today are more likely to be tattooed than men, and with many more tattoos and menacing, ferocious ones to boot. Women over 50 with fresh looking tattoos are also to be seen everywhere. Many men lie to women about liking tattoos on them, in order to avoid an argument (which seldom actually occurs in my experience) and many women feel this gives them the go-ahead to get as many as possible. The future tattooed, single cat ladies will sit around wondering what they’ve done wrong. Permanent they are, but they are also indicative of almost no future orientation. What are these women to do when they fall out of fashion, as they will inevitably? As for guys with tattoos, so as not to pick on the women only, check out this guy in this video (profanity warning!).

 Good God, how ‘in the moment’ can you be. Unfortunately, this will be the future of ‘getting women.’

Lynette writes:

I have noticed occult elements in tattoos, one of which is the prevalence of skulls.

A tattoo parlor in my town has what appears to be a voodoo doll on the outdoor sign above the door. This parlor advertises new age items for sale in addition to it’s tattooing services.

Would you please elaborate on the occult connection to tattoos?

Laura writes:

I’m on my way out, but will respond soon.

Susan-Anne White writes:

Tattoos are ugly symbols of aggression and decadence. They are ugly on men and women. The solution to the problem will not be found by replacing tattoos with Lydia Sherman’s suggestion of henna painting. The article she gives a link to states that henna painting is an aspect of Hinduism so it is just as occultic as tattoos and looks just as bad, in my opinion. Think again Lydia, and when you spoke hypothetically of being a “business person” in your comment, why did you not say “business woman?”



Share:Email this to someoneShare on Facebook0Tweet about this on TwitterPin on Pinterest0Share on Google+0