Army recruiter: Tougher tattoo rules bring fewer — but better — recruits

Uncle Sam still wants you — just not as heavily inked.

More than three months after the Army implemented a more stringent tattoo policy, recruiters say they are the ones feeling the pinch.

“It certainly makes our job a little more challenging,” said Staff Sgt. Carrington Oliver of the South Holland recruiting station.

The new regulations, which went into effect around April 1, mean turning away about 10 to 12 potential recruits at his office each month, Oliver said.

Still, he endorsed the changes. “It’s all about projecting a more professional image.”

The tighter rules ban body art on the head, face, neck, wrists, hands and fingers. Soldiers are allowed a maximum of four visible tattoos below the elbow or knee, but they must be smaller than the wearer’s hand, which means that “sleeves” are also prohibited. (Extremist, sexist and racist tattoos have always been taboo.)

The Army now has the toughest tattoo policy of all the branches of service. It’s not the first time that the top brass has turned thumbs down on being overly tatted up, said Wayne Hall, an Army spokesman at the Pentagon.

However, following the 9/11 attacks, when more recruits were needed in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Army took a more lenient stance — and the inkwell flowed with abandon.

But the Army decided it was time to reassess. Existing soldiers who are non-compliant with the revised policy are grandfathered in.

“Any time you make something tougher, you’re going to see a reaction. But, ultimately, it’s more rewarding because we’re bringing on board the highest quality soldiers possible,” Hall said.

The new policy is included in the Army’s publication on proper appearance in uniform. The 56-page publication spells out every possible fad and fashion — from tongue bifurcation to ear gauging to dental ornamentation (all of which are outlawed).

In South Holland, military hopefuls typically respond by promising to have their conspicuous body art removed, Oliver said. “They are very motivated …and say they’ll be back after having them removed.”

At Advanced Dermatology in Lincolnshire, Steve Prus, a physician’s assistant, is treating one potential recruit who is deleting the oversized art from his forearm. Laser removal can cost $400 to $600 and take anywhere between 5 to 15 sessions, depending on the size.

The tattoo being removed?

His mother’s name.

Vandal gives Marilyn Monroe statue makeshift tattoo

Marilyn Monroe got an overnight tattoo, courtesy of an unknown vandal.

The 26-foot-tall statue of the screen legend continued to draw gawkers to North Michigan Avenue Saturday, some of whom posed smiling for pictures next to an ink message, apparently scrawled with a marker of some kind on the back of her right calf.

The graffiti appears to include the words “Pi$tola” and “Ariel” with a heart between them, along with other doodles.

Witnesses noticed the damage to Monroe Saturday morning and informed police, who are investigating.

Pat Johnson of Calumet City was not amused. “I think it’s horrible,” she said with a shake of her head while gazing at the statue in Pioneer Court north of the Chicago River. “It’s like ‘Only in Chicago.’ ”

Johnson came downtown with her husband and stepdaughter and made a special stop to take photos of Monroe in her iconic wind-blown skirt pose from the 1955 film “The Seven Year Itch.”

“I had to come see Marilyn,” she said. “I’m not disappointed by the statue, but I am disappointed by the graffiti. It’s a shame people can’t just appreciate public art.”

Police said that they are investigating.

Officials with the Zeller Realty Group, which curates Pioneer Court, said they did not know about the tagging until a Chicago Tribune reporter notified them today and said the office was closed until Monday.

Ink with meaning: What we can learn from the tattoos of our ancestors

(CNN)Eight thousand years ago, a pencil mustache was tattooed onto the upper lip of a young Peruvian man. His mummified body has since become the oldest existing example of tattoo art on the planet.

Today’s world is, of course, almost unrecognizable by comparison. But according to Professor Nicholas Thomas, Director of the Museum of Archeology and Anthropology at Cambridge University — author of a new book about body art — the tattoo has made a powerful comeback.
“There has been an extraordinary, epochal change in the last 25 years,” he says. “When I was a child in the 1960s, we didn’t see tattoos everywhere. But there has been an explosion in popularity, and this tells us a lot about who we are, both culturally and as individuals.”
In fact, according to some studies, up to 38% of Americans and a fifth of British adults have some type of long-term body art.
Many interlocking factors have a bearing on the popularity of the tattoo. Foremost among them is a change in the popular conception of the body.
“Because of advances in technology and medical science, people no longer understand the body as something natural that you’re born with and live with. Instead, we understand it much more as something that is changeable and mutable,” says Professor Thomas.
“People have all sorts of surgical interventions, medical and cosmetic. It is even possible to change your gender. This means that we now see our body as something we have a responsibility to design and make. Even something as simple as a fitness routine or a tan indicates this attitude.”
Read: Society isn’t quite ready for facial tattoos
A permanent stamp of identity
In addition, as global mobility leads to the increasing pluralization of society, identity is also being seen as something to be designed rather than inherited.
“People are no longer simply British or Australian or Californian,” he says. “Our identities are far more particular, linked to our interests, affinities to cultural or spiritual traditions, tastes in music, and subcultural allegiances. The tattoo has become a vehicle for that sort of particular identification.”
The recent surge in popularity for tattooing started in the California counter-cultural scene of the Sixties and Seventies. During the 20th Century, tattoos had become associated with criminals, sailors and members of the military, who had become dislocated from mainstream society and wanted to stamp a commemoration of that experience on their bodies.
The Californians took that trend and subverted it, inventing their own designs and viewing body ink as an art form rather than a type of social branding.
More recently, there’s been a return to traditional forms of tribal tattoos. Ancient Celtic designs, or those originating in the Pacific Islands, provide inspiration for a great number of body ink enthusiasts (although it remains unusual to see a young man with a tattoo of a pencil mustache).
In the past, however, tattoos were not used to form individual identities. Instead they tended to be a collective cultural project, constituting particular social markers. Sometimes they created a spectacular appearance when a tribe all shared the same design; in other instances, they were used as initiation or coming-of-age rites.
“In Samoa, men have elaborate tattoos inked on their thighs, buttocks and lower chest,” says Professor Thomas. “It is a painful ordeal that requires a man to submit to the authority of the elders. When he emerges, he is celebrated as a hero.”
Read: Tattoos and piercings: How young is too young?
Tattoos and individualism
The Samoans, and many other traditional communities, saw having a tattoo as an important process rather than a possession. The whole body was tattooed at once, and it was rarely supplemented. By contrast, the modern tattoo enthusiast tends to view them as an expanding collection that creates permanent markers of important moments in an individual’s life.
“Globalization is exposing us to a whole range of traditions from many places,” Professor Thomas says. “Body art is becoming the opposite of conformity, a sort of badge of travel, or internationalism. People visit places and make them parts of themselves, so that they will forever bear marks of their unique visit.”
As Jonny Depp once put it, “My body is my journal and my tattoos are my story”. But does this indicate an underlying cultural anxiety? Are we literally growing less comfortable in our own skin?
“That’s part of it,” says Professor Thomas. “As the world opens up culturally and economically, there are fewer certainties than there ever were before, and far more multiplicity. So people are trying to invent themselves, and make it permanent.”
Often, he continues, people who feel that a spiritual dimension is missing in contemporary Western life may be attracted to the spiritual symbols of traditional cultures around the world, which are often “understood naively in terms of spirituality”.
Read: Suffering from ‘tattoo regret’
The Christian approach towards tattoos
The decline of Christianity in the West has also had a degree of influence on the rise of the tattoo. Some streams of Christianity have condemned body art due to the perceived sanctity of the body. But this is far from universal.
During the Renaissance, for example, European devotees who went on pilgrimage to the Holy Land often had tattoos of Christian symbols or scenes to commemorate the experience. Many were carried out by the Razzouk family in the Old City of Jerusalem (members of that family are still carrying out the service today).
But whatever your type of tattoo, research has shown that it profoundly alters the way in which you will be perceived. Adults with tattoos have been shown to be more sexually active; to engage in riskier behavior; and to have stronger self-esteem and body-confidence, though this sharply declined in women three weeks after the tattoo.
Moreover, academic studies of first impressions of people with tattoos have revealed that they were expected to have had more sexual partners, be less inhibited, and to be probable thrill-seekers.
Whether tattoos are the cause or the effect of such personality types is a moot point. But one thing is certain: given that the fragmentation and diversification of modern life shows no sign of reducing, body art is going to be here to stay.
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Highbrow Ink

The tattoo is no longer quite the symbol of rebellion and subculture it once was. Roughly one in five Americans has one, and that rate is much higher for Millennials than their Boomer counterparts. Popular tattoo artists such as Nikko Hurtado regularly have close to a million Instagram followers, and the stigma against tattoos in the workplace is slowly fading in many parts of the country. Another sign of America’s broadening acceptance of the 1,000-year-old art form? High-art tattoo auctions and museum exhibitions.


Why Tattooing Is Universal

In November the eccentric auction house Guernsey’s, which has sold President John F. Kennedy’s underwear and Cuban cigars, offered up a collection of 1500 images by some of the world’s foremost tattoo artists for between $50 and $50,000. A traveling exhibition that recently left Richmond’s Virginia Museum of Fine Arts features life-sized photographs of traditional Japanese tattoo art captured by the photographer Kip Fulbeck. In many ways, tattoos are fundamentally at odds with the fine-art world’s business model, which is based on buying, selling, and displaying objects. And yet, it seems almost inevitable that, given the popularity of tattoos, more art institutions will recognize the value of embracing the once-subversive art form.

The New York Times art critic Michael Kimmelman argued in 1995 that tattoos were most interesting to the art world because of their “outsider status,” even comparing them to “self-taught art, prison art, and art of the insane.” But this shouldn’t be seen as a knock against them. “If you look through art history, there’s always an art form that’s emerging that’s not as accepted,” says Lee Anne Hurt Chesterfeld, a curator at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. One example is woodblock printing, a key influence in Japanese tattooing. “It wasn’t exactly considered museum-worthy for a long period, and now every museum you walk into will have something related to woodblock printing,” Chesterfeld says.

A drawing by Horiyoshi III (Guernsey’s)
But beyond the question of whether tattoos are “museum-worthy” are more practical considerations. Tattoos simply aren’t objects that can be put in a glass case or inside a frame, similar to performance art, which specifically tried to resist the museum model and commercialization of art. Sometimes, the practice of skin-grafting is used to preserve a tattoo after the owner has died, but the piece loses something essential in the process. Many artists, such as the Japanese master Horiyoshi III, believe drawings can only fully come alive on the skin. “This is why I never show my designs as so-called art,” he told the Japan Times in 2007. As a result, facsimiles such as photographs and drawings come close but fall short of capturing the visceral nature of the designs and the human histories embedded in the ink.

It’s understandable, then, why many tattoo artists feel like their work is at odds with pieces usually presented by museums and galleries. “I think a lot of the general public considers us artists, but I don’t think the fine art world knows what to do with us,” says Takahiro Kitamura, a Japanese American artist who is famous for his large-scale tattoos and who has several works in the Guernsey’s exhibition. “They can’t own us.”

Kitamura notes an interesting divide between the more conventional artist—say, a painter, or sculptor—and the tattooer. Over the last century, tattooing has evolved away from “flash,” or pre-designed illustrations. Today, high-end tattoo artists can spend 30 or 40 hours (often at hundreds of dollars per hour) working on a single, custom piece and often develop close relationships with their clients. But once the tattoo is finished, their art walks out the door permanently—a fact that conflicts with the art world’s tendency to associate a piece of work with its author rather than its owner. “You get good at letting go,” says Kim Saigh, a Los Angeles-based artist who appeared on the reality show L.A. Ink. “Tattoos have a life of their own.”

This kind of client-oriented artistic arrangement is reminiscent of the Renaissance-era patronage system, where a wealthy sponsor would pay the living wages of an artist in return for both commissioned work and the cultural cachet of being associated with them. In the era of Michelangelo and Leonardo, the cult of genius was born, and artists went from being considered technical craftsmen to virtuosos—an arc that mimics the evolution of tattoos and their fairly widespread acceptance. Along with Saigh, artists like Los Angeles’s Mark Mahoney and Dr. Woo have achieved celebrity status, with potential clients waiting from several months to several years for an appointment.

More than just beautiful designs, tattoos are reminders of the unique stories that can be told on human skin.
In light of this exclusivity and the growing mainstream respect for artists, it makes sense that the fine-art world is embracing tattoos. Kitamura, who curated the Virginia Museum of Fine Art exhibition, sees the show as a welcome acknowledgement that tattoos are finally appreciated for their high-art caliber. “If the VMFA is putting us in the same museum as Picassos and Rembrandts, then I think that’s a pretty good argument that [tattoo] is an art form,” he says.

In recent years, the art world has fully opened its doors to another stigmatized form—street art. A 2011 show of graffiti at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles was the most-attended exhibition in the museum’s history, perhaps a clear sign of the general public’s interest in unconventional, yet familiar art. The same seems to be happening with tattoos: The exhibition at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts was extended because of its popularity, and will travel to several other cities now that it closed in late November.

Bringing an intimate and personal art form such as tattoos into museums, galleries, and auctions gives the practice a new, institutional legitimacy and a special kind of accessibility. For a long time, tattoos would only be experienced by the artist and those close to the person who wore them. However slowly or messily, the art world is beginning to understand the special value tattoos have as aesthetic objects. More than just beautiful designs, they’re reminders of the unique stories that can be told on human skin.



Transitioning in the Middle of Nowhere

A woman living in the Canadian Rockies is the only visible transgender person in a remote region.

Katharine Schwab
KATHARINE SCHWAB is a former editorial fellow at The Atlantic.
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How Instagram Has Indelibly Redrawn the Tattoo World

With links to your potential ink now only a click away, body artists and their work are being embraced and engaged by their human canvases like never before.
There’s a corner of Instagram full of limbs and lines. The images are carefully composed, often black and white or gently filtered. Set against pale walls, arms and legs bear delicate flowers, bosomy Sailor Jerry-type women, skulls and snakes, animals of all sorts, and plenty of hands doing all the things that hands do.
This is Tattoo Instagram at its height: part art collective, part marketing tool, part window-shopping for new ink. Through hashtags and artists’ accounts, window shoppers can find virtual galleries full of body art, all carefully curated and enthusiastically faved.
It’s how I found my first tattoo. I’d had an idea for years—three small asterisks forming Orion’s Belt—but always felt intimidated about the process. Then a friend found an artist she loved on Instagram. She and I had chatted about taking the plunge together—the sort of conversation that comes up right after a third round of drinks, always decided on but never planned for. Finally my friend bit the bullet, put a date into an email, sent it to the address in the artist’s Instagram bio, and we had an appointment. We sent ideas and received sketches in return. A few weeks later, we had ink on our skin.
Of course, immediately afterward, we whipped out our phones to search for the best camera angles for our flowers (hers) and stars (mine). We took photos of ourselves, of each other. Our tattoos were thrilling on their own—uniquely ours, permanent, very pretty, a first for each of us—but the subsequent social shares provided endless aftershocks of excitement.

Like an artfully garnished avocado toast or a just-setting sun, no tattoo is now complete without its companion Instagram: First comes the ink, then comes the photo posted so friends can affirm your decision—or whatever reason it is that you tell yourself you’re using the country’s eighth-most-popular app.

While the check-out-my-new-ink update has been around since social networks were born, this habitual cataloguing of our lives has turned body art into much more than the newsfeed item of the day. Thanks to a number of features rolled out in the past two years, Instagram has transformed the tattoo industry, and handpoking in particular: from the way artists promote their business and publicize their work, to how we shop for our own.
It’s made tattoos—learning about them, browsing them, booking them—far more accessible, particularly for those not well-versed in what they want.
“Before I had tattoos I found it intimidating to walk into a shop and ask questions, in the same way that a very cool record store felt intimidating when I was a teenager,” said Jamie Keiles, a Brooklyn-based writer who has found the majority of her tattoo artists on Instagram. “It let me educate myself to a point where I could develop a taste of what I like, and also learn the words to describe it without having to take up an artist’s time with a million basic questions.” Ten years ago, you may have found tattoos you liked in magazines like Inked and Tattoo. Now, just scroll right through, hopping from hashtag to hashtag far more quickly than one could ever go from tattoo shop to tattoo shop.
Hashtags are a boon to the artists, too: They increase visibility and connect them with other artists and potential clients alike. Tea Leigh, who tattooed me and who specializes in handpoking, used them to gain traction when she was new to tattooing; these days, with almost 50,000 followers, she no longer uses them. But the biggest shift, she saw, arrived with Instagram’s Discover feature, which lets an algorithm suggest photos for you to like and accounts for you to follow, complete with market-savvy controls on target audiences and names and click-right-here contact info right in your bio. “That changed a lot of things for a lot of tattoo artists,” Leigh said. It made Instagram a true social network, “not just a place to post photos. That’s when people said, ‘Oh, these are tattoos that I want.’ From there, [my account] turned into the brand that it is today.”

This was also a time when handpoking—a style of tattooing that employs handheld needles instead of machines and results in a delicate, distinctive look—was experiencing a boom. While it’s an ancient tradition, it has only begun to skirt the mainstream—and enter tattoo parlors—in the last few years. Instagram has increased its visibility, exposing millions of people to a style they may never have learned about otherwise. While all sorts of tattoo styles thrive (and inspire their own family of hashtags), handpoking has seen a particular boost thanks to Instagram.
The app has also fostered a fellowship among artists. “I’ve met a lot of friends through traveling or doing guest spots, and they are really supportive,” Leigh told The Daily Beast. “It provides this unique space for artists to really support one another’s work—we have a network of tattooers that we look out for and are excited to see grow. When a friend of mine gets another 2,000 followers, it’s like, ‘Yes!’ It’s not a competition.”
She estimates 70 percent of her business comes through the app, which she calls her “moneymaker.” But she also uses her account to promote the work of other artists—tattoo and otherwise. “I want to use my follower base as a platform for anyone that I can; for me, that’s the sole purpose of Instagram,” she told me. “Part of my personal brand is promoting the art that I want other people to know about.” Interspersed with her elegant ink work, you’ll find illustrations, paintings, and photos from her own travels across the country.
You’ll find this personal/profession balance on many artists’ accounts—and not just because they like sharing beautiful images from their own lives. “Tattooing can be an intimate experience: You’re [sitting there] with the tattooer, and there’s a lot of trust involved,” explains Louis Brengard, another Brooklyn-based tattoo artist who works in both handpoking and machine tattooing. “So some people are selling who they are, and what the experience is.” After all, you’re not just buying a piece of art; you’re signing up for an experience, and with it a memory. Just as we like to know where our food comes from and the name of the person who knit our Etsy-sourced infinity scarf, many of us want a story to tell about the person who inked the naked lady on our calf.
Eva Bryant, a Vancouver-based handpoke tattoo artist, finds this balance important, so much so that once she gained a certain following on Instagram, she retroactively deleted some of her earlier, more personal posts. “At this point I’ve gone back and removed most personal photos so [that] my Instagram is my portfolio,” she told me, “with enough of my life shown that prospective clients can find me accessible, relatable, and interesting.” Two-thirds of her work comes from Instagram and other digital sources, she says, and has helped her connect with a wide range of other artists. These connections make a big difference: When she traded tattoo images with esteemed artist Pony Reinhart in Portland, Oregon, her following quickly grew by 5,000.

This social calling card has also supplanted the traditional résumé. Brengard, who now operates out of a shared private studio thanks in part to the work he’s found on Instagram, used to work at Brooklyn’s Black Square Tattoo, and did some of their hiring. “Instagram is a big thing that we would look at,” he remembers. “Usually if we wanted to interview someone, it was based on their Instagram account.” And it’s important for “guest spots,” too, when a visiting artist will work out of a tattoo shop for a few days or weeks at a time. “Any tattoo shop that sees you have 10,000-plus followers is going to know that you will make them money,” adds Bryant, who has a few upcoming stints in Europe this year.
Leigh compares Instagram to a sort of Yelp for tattoo artists, where you can both browse feedback from followers and clients. She recommends checking out those comments: A client commenting on a photo of their tattoo with thanks and praise is a good sign that they had a positive experience, and you will too. That little bit of research is important, particularly as more of these Instagram accounts appear. “Instagram enables a lot of tattooers to run their independent businesses but also gives into the idea that anyone can do this,” she says—which isn’t always a good thing. So she encourages prospective clients to follow tattoo artists for at least a few weeks, to get a sense of both their work and their relationships with their clients.
I’ve continued to follow Leigh ever since that first email, and through her I’ve found other tattoo artists—like Brengard and Bryant—whose work I enjoy, whose work I could see living on a limb of mine someday. It’s led me to artists as far-flung as Moscow, which allows for tattoo daydreaming to coexist with vacation daydreaming.
Now my own feed has become something of a fixation, a seed in the back of my brain. It has fostered an appreciation of the craft and a plan to expand my collection. “These days, it’s more appealing to many people to collect tattoos from as many great artists as possible, rather than the old-fashioned thing of having an artist you must remain loyal to,” Bryant said. Tattoos have always served as a way to collect images and memories on our bodies; thanks to Instagram, that curation feels all the more meaningful, and all the more self-directed.

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The latest trend among chefs: Food tattoos

Michael Voltaggio has no idea how many tattoos he has. The question makes him laugh. The wise-cracking 33-year-old chef is pretty well covered. The name of his restaurant, after all, is Ink. Before dinner service on a recent Friday, Voltaggio plays around with an insulated bucket of liquid nitrogen, dipping his hand in it and tossing the residue on the floor where it morphs, CGI-like, into little rolling marbles of chemistry before dissolving into wisps of smoke. He laughs like the 15-year-old kid he was when he got his first covert tattoo, a crude three-leaf clover on his ankle.

“I started getting them before they were trendy; now you can get tattoos that are nicer than most clothing,” says Voltaggio, who is surrounded by employees sporting tattoos. In L.A.’s professional kitchens, tattoos, often with a culinary bent, are as ubiquitous as paring knives and just as sharp.

In the foodie-driven world of chef-as-rock-star, it makes sense that these rebellious spirits would hew to an aesthetic that helps them stand out from their uniform chef whites. As Voltaggio points out, tattoos in the restaurant industry are hardly novel, but the fact that some of L.A.’s favorite chefs have chosen to mark themselves with the very symbols of their trade, namely images of food or their restaurant logos, is worth taking note of.

And when it comes to the tattoos the chefs choose to get, the reasoning behind them is as varied as the fantastical designs printed on their skin.

Carolynn Spence, formerly of New York’s hammy Spotted Pig and now executive chef at the Chateau Marmont has a slew, including a ruler on the side of her hand, along with tattoos of a teaspoon and a tablespoon. She calls this her “working-class hand.”

“The first ones start out having some heavy meaning, but the more you get, it’s like, ‘Give me a break,'” she says. “After a point it’s just art.”

That’s why she has a whimsical trio of anthropomorphous veggies — an onion, celery and a carrot — posing in the classic “hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil” pose. She says she was going to get the vegetables tattooed in their natural form, but when her tattoo artist came to her with the “silly” idea, she just couldn’t say no.

Bruce Kalman, the culinary director for Acme Bar Group, which owns Urbano Pizza Bar, Laurel Tavern and Library Bar, among others, recently got a full sleeve of fresh produce, including a lovingly rendered ear of corn up the back of his arm.

Kalman opted for a more baroque depiction of the produce in his tattoos, which are based upon a collection of prints that his tattoo artist had of produce from the 1700s.

“I gave her my wish list of the produce I wanted — all based off of the produce I get at the market,” explained Kalman, who is devoted to sourcing as much as he can for his kitchens from the Santa Monica farmers market. “In California, there’s no reason you should buy produce anywhere else.”

Both Kalman and Spence have sizable artichoke tattoos, her because “it’s such a cool vegetable — very layered, very challenging, very rewarding,” and him because “they are so big and meaty and delicious.”

Voltaggio’s most talked-about tattoo is of a small knife and fork on his hand. He got it on a whim with his chef de cuisine Cole Dickinson at a “down and dirty, no-name tattoo shop on the Venice turnaround,” just as the pair was about to open the Bazaar by José Andrés.

“The quality of the work is not as good as the rest,” says Voltaggio, rubbing the tattoo absent-mindedly. “But because of what it is, I get the most comments.”

People always say the same thing about tattoos

News just in – tattooing is no longer the preserve of bikers, sailors and convicts. More than that, celebrities are getting tattoos. And women too. But hang on, haven’t we heard all this before?
“Tattooing is on increase: habit not confined to seamen only,” proclaims one headline, while a second article declares: “Tattoos are no longer the trophies of rockers, sailors, bikers…”
The first appeared in the New York Times in 1908, the second appeared on this website two years ago.
New York Times, 1908
The story – that tattooing has “entered the mainstream” – is just one of a number of tattoo tropes recycled relentlessly over the decades, suggests Dr Matt Lodder, art historian and tattoo expert at the University of Essex.
Others include:
Everybody seems to be getting tattooed, should we not be concerned?
Surprise at women, the young or the old getting a tattoo
The pain during a tattoo
The issue of regret at having a tattoo
In the late 19th Century, Princess Waldemar of Denmark’s tattoo was big news. As was the inked skin of Queen Olga of Greece, King Oscar of Sweden and the Grand Duke Alexis of Russia. These were the celebrity figures of their day.
Modern day equivalents might include David Beckham, Cheryl Cole or David Dimbleby. Although the names, faces and places might change, the stories remain largely the same.
Tattooing is not uncommon – New York Times, 1893
Almost 20 years after the New York Times reported in 1876 how tattooing had taken hold and how women were amongst those getting tattooed, the same title reported how tattooing was no longer uncommon and how a number of aristocrats were getting “marked”.
Jump forward another two decades and the British title The Graphic was reporting, in 1917, how tattooing had entered society at large, via the sailor.
“Today,” says the author, “it is in full force.”
14th November 1936: A film fan uses a mirror to admire the image of film star Gary Gooper she has had tattooed on her back by George Burchett a London tattooistImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES
Tattooing is rage in London society – Milwaukee Sentinel, 1933
In 1933, the Milwaukee Sentinel broke the news that tattooing was all the rage in London. Conversations among the “smart set”, the Sentinel explained, ran thus: “How gorgeously divine my dear! Now you must really give me the address of your tattooer.”
The author notes such conversations were once heard about “the new hairdresser, or the new milliner”.
And then comes that now familiar line that “smart young women have taken up tattooing”.
Times 1958
A piece in The Times in 1958 reported how tattooing was “a fine art” for people “not excluding the ladies”.
A similar theme was taken up in 1964 by a magazine called Men in Danger, which again expressed surprise not only that women were getting tattoos but were making “men look like pikers (a gambler who only places small bets)”. The eyes of any doubters were drawn to an image of a young woman, and a tattoo which read “I love Elvis”.
Show to get under the skin – The Oregonian, 1979
In 1979, The Oregonian told readers how tattooing had leapt beyond the realms of “bikers, gangs and prisoners” and on to the skin of an “entirely different clientele”.
The Oregonian went on to tread familiar ground in 2013 with a report that “getting inked has become increasingly common in the western world in the past decade”.
Modern fashions in tattooing – Vanity Fair, 1926
“Once the mark of sailors and bikers, body art is now sought after by the fashion-hungry,” said the Observer in January 2011.
This line might ring a bell with (very) long-time readers of Vanity Fair, which told the world in 1926 that: “Tattooing has passed from the savage to the sailor, from the sailor to the landsman. It has since percolated through the entire social stratum; tattooing has received its credentials, and may now be found beneath many a tailored shirt.”
The Observer piece said the “burgeoning” tattoo scene was a “a long way from the stereotype of tattooing as the preserve of sailors and soldiers”. The article was keen to point out, however, that “tattoos were once popular with Victorian aristocrats and even, it was rumoured, the royal family”.
Tattoos were once the domain of sailorsImage copyrightALAMY
More than a rumour, in fact, as the Prince of Wales, later Edward VII, was one of many European royals to be tattooed.
So what are we to make of all this?
The stories leave Dr Matt Lodder with a wry smile. Lodder compares media representations of tattooing with the film Groundhog Day where Bill Murray’s weatherman finds himself living the same day over and over again.
“Sure, tattoos are not confined to sailors, bikers or convicts. My point is that they never have been. And strictly speaking, when the media says tattoos were ‘once associated with bikers and sailors’, that’s true – they have been associated, but by the media.
“It is like same old, same old,” says Lodder. “It is like, ‘Wow tattooing is the new big thing, it used to be like this but now it is like this.’
“But what I can’t quite work out is why that is the case, and why these myths persist. My working hypothesis is simply that if people can’t empathise with somebody who has a desire to mark their body then it comes as a surprise and they go, ‘Wow, that’s weird and strange and people are actually doing that.’
For Lodder it was strange when Cheryl Cole got a tattoo that the reaction was very similar to the tone of the New York Times in 1876.
Tattooing in NY. A visit paid to the artist – New York Times 1876
“It has to be pointed out that even though tattooing is popular, it is still kind of ‘dangerous’ in a way. There is a frisson of the counter-cultural, that tattooing is not hegemonic or sanctioned. It has never been morally safe, normative or accepted. It involves breaking the skin, of being touched by a stranger and of course there’s the permanence factor. If it was true that tattooing was everywhere, and staid and boring, there would be no articles about it.”
Established tattooists are happy to admit there is nothing particularly new in the phenomenon.
“Tattooing is not the new big thing,” says Naomi Reed, manager at London’s Frith Street Tattoos. “It has been around since the earliest civilisations. Everyone from all walks have life have been getting tattooed as long as we have tattoos recorded, from tribal leaders to the monarchy.
Advice on tattoos

Ask someone you know who has had a tattoo where they would recommend
Visit as many tattooists as you can. Ask to see a portfolio of their work and certificates of training and hygiene/first aid. Take someone along with you if this makes it easier to ask
Trust your instincts. Does the place feel, look and smell clean? Can you trust the tattooist? Are they open to questions? Do they explain things well? If you’re not sure – leave
Source: BBC Advice: Tattoos
NHS Choices: Getting a tattoo – the health risks
BBC World Service – Why do we have tattoos
“Obviously tattooing was prevalent amongst sailors and the working classes but tattoos can be seen on different social groups the world over. Surprise at women getting tattooed is akin to being surprised at women wearing trousers or demanding an equal wage.”
But there are still those who argue that someone getting a tattoo can be an event worthy of remark, says Nina Jablonski, professor of anthropology at Pennsylvania State University and author of Skin: A Natural History.
“Tattooing is a subject of fascination because it was, for all intents and purposes, forbidden for centuries,” she says. “Added to the weight of the apparent biblical injunction against tattooing was the Victorian attitude that associated tattooing with the under-classes.
“So now tattooing still titillates because celebrities, sorority girls and accountants are now engaging in something that was previously forbidden and the province of gangsters and prostitutes.”
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In today’s Magazine

Ancient China & Tattoos: A Complicated Relationship

If anyone has had a troubled relationship with tattooing, it’s the Ancient Chinese. While the art has been practiced since the early sixth century, it has mostly been looked upon with distaste by the general population throughout the course of history.

The art of tattooing is known to the Ancient Chinese (and in some cases, still today) as Ci Shen or Wen Shen, which translates to the phrase ‘puncture the body.’ To most Ancient Chinese citizens, tattooing was considered detrimental, as it defamed the body. There were those who still partook in the art form, however, and perhaps didn’t help to edge the general populace into favoring the practice. These were more often than not individuals of lower moral standard – in a word, criminals.

Ancient Chinese Tattoo

Despite the art being largely uncommon, you can still find many references to the practice throughout Ancient Chinese history. In fact, the practice of inking the body appears in one of the four classic novels of Chinese literature, Water Margin. This body of work discusses the Bandits of Mount Liang, who were active during the twelfth century. Within the story, over 108 companions of the famous bandit Song Jiang were said to be covered in full body tattoos.
Another story of legend tells of the Chinese general Yueh Fei, who served the South Song Dynasty. According to history, during a battle with enemies from the north, Yueh Fei’s Field Marshall defected, betraying his troops and changing sides. In disgust, Yueh Fei left his post of service and returned home. As the story goes, he didn’t receive a very warm welcome. His mother, furious at him for resigning, decided to teach him a lesson he would never forget. She used a sewing needle to tattoo the characters jin zhong bao guo across his back. This roughly translates to ‘Serve His Country with Ultimate Loyalty.’ That’s some serious parenting!

The Ancient Chinese government had a hand to play in the reputation of tattooing, as well. Criminals were often marked with face tattoos and exiled for their punishment. According to the Han Shu (an official document on Punishment crafted by the Han dynasty in the early sixth-seventh Century), there were over five hundred crimes considered to be worthy of tattoo punishment – mo zui, or ‘ink crimes.’ This list included crimes such as adultery and robbery.
Confucius also spoke on the matter, implying that it is “honorable to preserve the body in the form created by the parents.” This highly popular religious model referred to any form of body defilement as immoral, helping to shine the light of negativity on this art form.

There were Chinese minorities, however, that partook in the art of tattooing quite avidly. These were tribes of people that had a different view of the art form and included the Dulong and Dai tribes and the Li people of Hainan Island. Tattooing to the Dulong tribe, which lived along the Dulong River and were often found to be under attack by neighboring tribes (perhaps due to their unique location). The women were often carted off during these attacks and utilized as slaves, often being raped along the process. As retaliation, the women began tattooing their faces in an attempt to disfigure themselves and make themselves less attractive, and in turn, less likely to be raped. This became the norm for this tribe, and at the age of maturity – often 12 or 13 years old – all women would be marked on their faces, almost as if a rite of passage. The Dai tribes used tattoos to accentuate their features – with the men tattooing along muscles, as if to draw attention to that area.

These tattoos were seen as a sign of strength and ferocity and often included a dragon, tiger, or other vicious beast. The women of the Dai tribes were most likely to be tattooed across their arms, between their eyebrows (a small dot, similar to the Indian practice), and across the backs of the hands. Again, tattooing was used as a passage into adulthood for children on the cusp. In the Li people, tattooing was kept generally within the female gender, however, has been seen as a medical treatment in men on occasion. Young women of the tribe would, over a four day process, be tattooed across the upper chest, neck, and face as a symbol of passing into full womanhood. This process would continue over the next few years, as the woman’s arms and legs would be tattooed. Their hands would remain tattoo free until after they became married.

These Chinese minorities were deemed uncultured and not accepted in mainstream society due to the excess of their tattoo practices.

Between religious stigmas and tattoo punishments for criminals, it is no surprise that the Ancient Chinese people looked upon those with body ink as barbarians and considered them uncultured and unwanted in their ‘civilized’ society. This principle has carried on into modern culture, with the practice of inking the body still being associated with criminals and gang life. Today, Chinese characters are a staple in Western tattoo parlors. Quite intriguing, given its rocky history in its country of origin. Perhaps food for thought?

Despite immense popularity, the practice has not left much of an historical record

The etymological origin of the word ‘tattoo’ is believed to have two major derivations; the first is from the Polynesian word ta which means striking something and the second is the Tahitian word tatau which means ‘to mark something’. The use of tattoos is recorded to have begun thousands of years ago and its history is as varied, colorful and diverse as the people who carry them. From a simple scientific standpoint – tattoos are created the insertion of colored materials beneath the skins’ surface or epidermis. The first tattoos were most likely created unintentionally. Someone with a small wound or gash happened to rub it with a dirty hand that was covered with soot or ash. Once the wound had healed, they realized that the skin had healed over the ash and that the mark became a permanent addition.

Our knowledge of tattooing in Europe really begins with the Ancient Greek and Roman historians. The only sources of information before this are archeological finds which are scare and, above all, open to interpretations. It is possible that tattooing cultures already existed in Europe before the last Great Ice Ace, 12,000 years ago. Bowls with traces of black and red pigments along with sharpened flint instruments were discovered in the Grotte des Fees (Fairy Grotto) in Chatelperron – France, 1867, and in caves in Portugal and Scandinavia. The shape and size of the tools suggest that they have been used for tattooing.

Images of people decorated with what appear to be four tattooed horizontal lines on both sides of their noses have been found on prehistoric stone pillars in Aveyron and Tarn, France. Clay Cucuteni figures dating from 5,000 BC showing traces of tattoos have been found in the Romanian Danube region. Drawings and figurines discovered in a Thracian burial mound near Philippopolis may depict tattooed people, but considering the complexity of the decorations it is more likely that these represent body painting or finely worked figurines. The main reason for the disappearance of ancient traditions in many places was the ending of their almost total isolation. After centuries of living as more or less equivalent cultures indigenous populations were overwhelmed by the dominant European seafaring nations. The technological and militarily superior Europeans introduced their own value systems based on Christian beliefs. Like the Greeks and the Chinese before them the Europeans disdained the practices of the inhabitants of the newly discovered regions. It could not have escaped the notice of the natives that many of the mainly male adventurers found the permanent body decorations of the ‘otherwise so attractive’ women disdainful. Similarly, many Greenland Inuit women rejected the traditional facial tattoos, fearing that mainland men would find them unattractive.

Bronze Age
In 1991, ‘Otzi the Ice Man’ made the headlines of newspapers all over the world when his frozen body was discovered on a mountain between Austria and Italy

Pazyryk Culture
In 1948 – just over 200 kilometers North of the borders between Russia and China – Russian archeologist Sergei Rudenko began excavating…

Various written manuscripts, actual physical remains and works of tattoo art pertaining to the Egyptian period had mostly been ignored by earlier Egyptologyists

The earliest evidence of tattooing in Japan is found in clay figurines with painted or engraved faces representing tattoos

From Southern China the practice spread along the silk-route

In pacific cultures tattooing has a huge historic significance. Polynesian tattooing is considered the most intricate and skillful tattooing of the ancient world

New Zealand
The Maori of New Zealand had created one of the most impressive tattoo cultures of all those in Polynesia

Borneo is a rare example of where traditional tribal tattooing is still practiced in just the same way as it has been for thousands of years

India / Thailand
Hanuman in India was a popular symbol of strength on arms and legs

In Africa, where people have dark skin, it is difficult to make coloured tattoos as we know them

Ancient Greece & Rome
The Roman tattoo culture derived from that of the Greeks, a pattern common to many aspects of Roman culture

The Celts
Were a tribal people who moved across Western Europe in times around 1200 and 700 B.C.

Central & South America
In Peru, tattooed Inca mummies dating to the 11th century have been found

North America
Early Jesuit accounts testify to the widespread practice of tattooing among Native Americans

Middle East
During the time of the old testament, much of the Pagan world was practicing the art of tattooing as a means of deity worship

It is very likely that the vikings were tattooed

Explorers returned home with tattooed Polynesians to exhibit at fairs, in lecture halls and in dime museums…

In the 18’th century, many French sailors returning from travels to the South Pacific often arrived back in port tattooed

Stereotypical and Sensationalized Associations of Tattoo Designs
Often returned to port with tattoos they received during their voyage

For hundreds of years the practice of tattooing was believed to be reserved for sailors, cultural outcasts, the marginalized and criminals

The prevalence of tattooing during the late 19’th and early 20’th century owed much to the once popular circus

tattoo flash
As with other artistic mediums and cultural developments, vocabulary continually evolves

A History of Chinese Tattoos and Chinese Tattooing Traditions

The entry of the word “tattoo” or wen shen (“to pattern the body”) into the written history of China extends back to the Han Dynasty (206 B.C. -220 A.D.). Although there are several other terms associated with the practice of tattooing like mo (“to ink”), lou shen (“to engrave the body”), xiu mian (“to embroider the face”) among others, it is widely accepted that wen shen is the most appropriate historical term for two reasons. Why you may ask? Because the word is used more frequently than the others in ancient texts, and more importantly the character meaning “to pattern” is believed to symbolize an anthropomorph or individual with a tattooed chest.

Regardless of these associations, in antiquity tattoo was typically associated by the ruling Han elite as a “barbaric” practice reserved for ethnic minorities and other “foreigners”. The Han considered themselves to be the only “real” Chinese people and all others as man or yi – tribal “primitives” who cut, scarred, or tattooed their skins with permanent marks. In other words, if you were not Han, you were “uncivilized” and perhaps even considered to be an “enemy” of the state like the inhabitants of Wo in Japan who in the third century A.D. were said to “tattoo their faces and bodies.”

Evidences of these characterizations are clearly brought out in very early texts like the following dated to the third century B.C.:

“If a lord is aggressive and wants to rise in power, he will be forced to employ his own people. Then the people will love me, instead, with the love of parents. They will find my scent like that of the iris and epidendrum. They will turn from their lord and look upon him as if he were tattooed, as if he were their sworn enemy.”

Later texts clearly state that the only form of tattoo acceptable in Chinese society is that reserved as punishment for robbery, adultery and other grave offenses. In fact, the sixth-seventh century A.D. text Han shu (“Treatise on Punishment”) relates that there were five-hundred crimes punishable by tattoo. The term used in that text is mo zui (“ink crimes”) and tattoo was often combined with exile, “ensuring that the defiled person was removed as far as possible from law-abiding, civilized people.”

The religious beliefs of the time also dictated that tattooing was immoral and negative. This is because popular Confucian principles generally discouraged any kind of permanent body modification since filial conduct maintained that one’s body should remain as it was given to them by their parents. Some scholars have also suggested that the Buddhist idea of reincarnation may have also contributed to the tradition of keeping the body pure.

These negative connotations continued down through the centuries, and with the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in 1949 the Communist government implemented policies of pochu mixin (“eradicating superstitions”) and yifengyisu (“changing prevailing customs and transforming social traditions”). These laws were aimed at China’s fifty-six ethnic minority groups and ultimately led to the demise of tattooing amongst those peoples who practiced the indelible art including the Li of Hainan Island and the Dulong of Yunnan.

But this overview of tattooing in tribal China is not only about official views regarding the indelible art. Rather, it offers an exploration into the cultural history of tattooing among the Li, Dulong, and other “tattooed outsiders”. Of course, this discussion would not be complete if it did not include the aboriginal tattooing practices of the inhabitants of Taiwan who entered into the popular imagination of Chinese chroniclers as early as the seventh century A.D. As an “uncultured” people who “tattooed their bodies with snakes and insects,” the peoples of Taiwan shed light on many aspects of tattooing that have not been documented for other groups that also resided outside of the “official realm.”

Unfortunately, however, the practice of tattoo in Taiwan is now extinct in its traditional (hand-tapped) form. And within another generation tattooing will also disappear amongst the last generation of elderly tattoo bearers in the Chinese hinterlands.

Antiquity of Tattoo in China & “Curious” Caucasians

Since the late 1970s, hundreds of Caucasian mummies have been discovered in northwest China and some bear evidence of a highly evolved tattoo culture. Before the advent of written records in China, groups of these traders penetrated the far western frontiers of the country as early as 5500 years ago on horseback.

Although their origins have been obscured by time, recent DNA evidence suggests that these intrepid travelers where from South, Central, and West Asia. Meticulous studies of their clothing have revealed links to the Caucasus and Europe and it is believed that their language was of the Indo-European family. It is also quite probable that these Westerners brought the chariot, the wheel, bronze metallurgy, and perhaps even writing, surgical techniques, and knowledge of medicinal practices akin to acupuncture.

From the standpoint of their tattooing, however, we know very little outside of the intricate designs adorning many of their desiccated bodies. This is partly due to lack of access to the tattooed mummies, lack of documentation in the press and scientific community, and perhaps even disinterest in the ancient custom itself.

What is known is that some of earliest tattoos date to the second millennium B.C. and depict solar motifs. Not surprisingly, similar heliolatrous designs have been found at rock art sites across Central and South Asia, and also on the horse bridles of the Caucasian tribesmen who probably worshipped the sun. These motifs also appear on the famous 3800-year-old Cherchen man applied as body paint after he died.

Cherchen Man
Cherchen Man as he is called stood 6’6 inches tall. Red-haired, long-nosed, and with deeply set eyes, his physical appearance matches ancient Chinese texts describing “legendary” figures of great height, with deep-blue or green eyes, sharp facial features, full beards, and red or blonde hair. A painted solar symbol adorns his temple and may have served to carry him into the afterlife through ritual means of purification.

Interestingly, one 3500-year-old blonde female mummy is adorned with an incredibly intricate latticework of tattoos on the back of her hand that some scholars believe is a form of text. Shaped like a series of backward “S’s ” juxtaposed with other alphabetiform symbols, this indelible calligraphy resembles ancient Chinese characters. She is also tattooed on her forehead with a series of circular designs.

China tattoo pattern Chinese mummy tattoo patterns
3500-year-old Caucasian woman with tattooed forehead, hand and long braids. Writing in the first century B.C., the Chinese chronicler Wang Bao alludes to the Caucasian invaders as a people “who braid their hair, scar their faces, blacken their teeth, and whose eyes are set deep. There are also those that tattoo their heads.”

Taken together, all of the above findings shed negative light on many Chinese claims to history. And if it is true that these western “barbarians,” or peoples who lived beyond the boundaries of “civilization,” brought such technological advancements to China first, then that would change the course of world history as we know it. As Chinese linguist Dr. Victor Mair has noted, “For all their incredible inventiveness, the ancient Chinese weren’t cut off from the rest of the world, and influences didn’t just flow one way, from China westward.”

Otzi the Ice Man hand tapping
Do ancient Caucasian mummies from China bear therapeutic tattoos like those worn by the Iceman? Tattooed bracelets and other markings placed at specific points of the body have been documented for both sexes, but we are still waiting for answers. Simulation of Li hand-tapping among the Meifu tribe, ca. 1988. The Chinese call Hainan “The Tail of the Dragon,” a wild place at the end of the world that at one time or another was considered more remote and mysterious than either Tibet or Mongolia.
Tattooed Peoples at The Tail of the Dragon

Along the southeastern coast of China there lie two great islands, Hainan and Taiwan. For thousands of years they were regarded as the two “eyes” of China safeguarding the peace and order of the Middle Kingdom from threats by pirates and invaders from the high seas. As a consequence of the Sino-Japanese War which ended in 1895, one of the eyes – Taiwan or Formosa as it was formerly called – became blind and was subsequently ceded to Japan as the price for peace. This left only Hainan at the Tail of the Chinese Dragon.

Hainan has been populated by the Li people for over three-thousand years. And for centuries the Li were regarded by Chinese scholars as the “tattooed” or “scarified race” of the south who knew no civilization. Indeed, they shared with other “primitive” tribes in southwestern China like the Miao, Yao, Lolo, and Shan the title of “Southern Barbarians.” Perhaps that is why one of the Chinese characters for the Li translates to “black” due to their custom of tattoo.