What do you think? I will be looking at this from a British point of view. Although Britain is part of Europe, I think there may be more similarities with regard to women having tattoos with the USA, than the rest of Europe, but I stand to be corrected as I am not an aficionado on the subject. I am writing this article from an observational angle, with a few hypothesis thrown in. Others views on the subject are very much welcome, especially women with views on this subject.
Before we move on I must point out that I am neither for, or against women having tattoos. That is a personal choice for the individual. I chose, as a 16 year old to have a few tattoos, so am in a position as a 50 something, to know how it feels to do something as a youngster and live your life with that decision. Saying that, they are a part of me that will always be there, and I don’t even notice them, a bit like a scar you picked up as a youngster when you fell off your bike. Others may notice it but you don’t. I wanted to include this paragraph, so that when you read this article and it may seem that I am putting down tattooing, or promoting it, by comments I have made, it is neither, they are observations and thoughts. All the images shown are shots I have taken candidly when out shooting in the city, and are just a small number that I have seen with my D7000.
Growing up in the 60’s & 70’s I saw many men with tattoos, but never, ever women, except in books and on TV, in documentaries of tribes in foreign lands where sometimes the women had tattoos. The only other occurrence was when you heard of the old time circus and the “Tattoo’d Lady”. How times have changed, even my daughter has tattoos. You can walk down any High Street in Britain and you will see many women with tattoos. Depending on the season and therefore the clothing women wear, you can see everything from a little heart or flower, right through to almost the whole body being covered.
In years gone by, attitudes to women having tattoos were really frowned upon, and it was regularly heard that the only women who have tattoos are criminals in prison and prostitutes, and women should be ladies and not be associated with such things. This brings to mind Elton John’s song, with words by Bernie Taupin, “Sweet Painted Lady”, the chorus:
“Oh sweet painted lady,
Seems it’s always been the same,
Getting paid, for being laid,
Guess that’s the name of the game.”
When did this change? When did it become fashionable and also to a degree acceptable, for women to have tattoos? Travelling abroad on holiday, for many years, I have seen girls and young women having Henna tattoos, my own children did, it wears off. But when did the permanent ink tattoo style start?
I don’t know the answer to this, although thinking back it was probably since the Millennium. there were obviously women before that time, but hitting the mainstream, I think, would probably be from then. Why then? Was it something that came from the USA? I read recently that in the USA, more women than men have tattoos. This was a surprise to me. Was it the importation of US TV shows such as Miami Ink, where all the patrons, and tattooist are cool dudes and it is fashionable to have your child’s face or a dead loved ones image tattoo’d on your body? Well that is how it is portrayed, or should I say edited.
Whilst writing this, I thought how odd attitudes to tattoos and gender are, and have been. What I mean by this is that all through the 1900’s men didn’t wear make up of any kind, but were the ones to have tattoos. Whereas women who would wear all manner of make up, foundation, lipstick, blusher, and also jewellery, such as earings and necklaces, but didn’t have tattoos. Then I thought was this because Tattoo Artists were looked at as back street parlours, or that what women were wearing were non permanent?
What are the reasons for having a tattoo?
There are so many, it is all down to the individual. Sometimes it is because the people they associate with have them. For some it is to commemorate something, like a birth, or death, or both. Sometimes it is just the date, or name or maybe a drawing from a photograph, so used as a memory. Sometimes it can be a quote, or just text that they like. Others may just like an image or images, whilst others see there bodies as a canvas and some or all of it being covered in different images. I imaging some women probably think they would like to have that one small tattoo, to say they have “done it”, so to speak. Then when meeting with other women they start to contemplate another and then like everything else some become more adventurous. Older women may gradually have them to feel young again, as that is what younger women are doing, and this seems to be happening in the world of fashion. You also have the women who see them as a statement, as a “this is my body and I will decorate it how I wish”. Then we come to the younger girls, and rebellion. They have them because they have been told they shouldn’t or they weren’t allowed to when they were younger.
A lot of women from all walks of life, of different ages, and for many differing reasons, have their bodies tattoo’d. But what designs do they have? On what parts of their bodies? And why do they have them?
The answer is simple. Anything, and everywhere. They range for simple “blue” images such as, hearts, flowers, cartoon characters, names, to full blown, full colour images that cover the whole of the body, with everything in between. The photos in this article are a minute example of what you can see in any city in the UK on any day of the week. Women of all ages, with different fashion ideas, have joined the “inked generation”.
I have known many women, of all ages, who have had tattoos. More often than not they are small, and quite often in discreet places. I must point out here that I haven’t necessarily seem them, but have been told. Quite often they are a heart, flower or maybe someone’s name, a child or lover. They are quite often on the foot, shoulder, top of the buttock and breast, to name but a few. Places where most of the time they are hidden, or can be hidden. It doesn’t matter how you feel about tattoos, but that first impression at a job interview, could mean the difference between getting or not getting the job. There are still a lot of people, mostly of the older generation, who still hold those views I mentioned above. So hence the reason they can be covered for that reason.
Another reason for tattoos on show is fashion. With women wearing more revealing clothes, as society becomes more liberal, i.e. low cut stops and smaller bathing costumes, tattoos that they thought, when having them done, would only be known to them or people close to them, are on full show when wearing these garments. That is not to say all women want to be discreet about their tattoos. That may have been the attitude a few years ago, but now many women are proud to show them, having their hands, neck and even face tattoo’d. Enjoying when the weather breaks and being able to wear less clothing with their legs and arms bare, to show off their artwork.
When out shooting I regularly see young girls with their parents, dressed as Goths or whatever subculture they feel akin to. They wear weird or should I say outlandish or different clothes, with dyed hair of different colours. They are a mini image of the girls slightly older, but without the tattoos, and I regularly think to myself, she is going to have tattoos when she is old enough, when she can afford to and Mummy & Daddy don’t have a say.Sometimes I am surprised when I see how young these girls look. I don’t like taking shots of children due to the issues that surround this subject, and often find myself seeing a girl and thinking, I am not taking a shot of her, then as she walks past I notice the tattoo. Maybe this is just an age issue, in that I am old so kids look younger. Maybe a younger photographer would be able to guess the age better than me. Having said that, I believed the minimum age to have a tattoo was 18, so I looked it up. Yes, I was correct. It is a criminal offence to tattoo someone who is under 18. However it is the tattooist who is committing the criminal offence, and not the person being tattoo’d. Just for information and how I read it, the tattooist would be liable to a fine of £50. Less than a speeding ticket for doing 35MPH in a 30 zone.
Although many people are given the warning and advice that a tattoo is for life, I think that youngsters especially, don’t realise the enormity of it. What seems a great idea at the time, may well turn out to be something they regret at a later date. Remember the old saying, “act in haste, repent at leisure”. Things become a fad, add to that a youngsters peer pressure, and “want to fit in”. Admittedly it is now possible to have tattoos removed. I don’t know what the cost would be, but I have heard that it would cost a fair price to have a tattoo removed. Far more than it cost to have the tattoo in the first place, and added to this, it is reported to hurt a lot and it won’t ever put your skin back to how it was prior to having the tattoo. Removal also brings with it other issues, apart from the cost, and that is that the removal is a medical procedure, and a reputable person would have to do it. For these reasons most people either, just leave it be, or have it covered over with another tattoo, which is what almost everyone does, if they are set on removing it. Tattoos are fashionable at the moment, but fashions change. Unlike clothes where you can buy new, or even having a different hairstyle, or dying it, it can be dyed again, grown out or cut, and it will grow back as it was before.
Whether the trend will grow or diminish I have no idea. Being older and not part of the culture I am not party to what youngsters think and why they do it, these are just my observations whilst shooting Street. I recently heard a Sociologist, or similarly educated person talking about beards, and how they have grown to be very fashionable, a complete contrast to 10 years ago, but he felt that they were now becoming a trend. He said that history shows that when something becomes a trend then it starts becoming unfashionable. When I was in my teens, growing up in Cardiff, there was just one tattooist that I knew of, now there are tattoo parlours throughout the city. Will this be the case with women with tattoos? Will it become a trend? Will it go out of fashion? Who knows, but we will be seeing a lot of women with tattoos for many years yet as the youngsters grow older, even if the next generation move away from tattooing.
A Final Thought
As in all walks of life their are cowboys out there. Regulations have been brought in over the years, but there will always be people who ignore the laws. So if you are thinking about “getting inked”, please think about it very hard. Also check out the work of the tattooist, and their reputation. There are a lot of health & safety issues that can’t be ignored, from the risk of infection from deadly diseases, remember we are talking blood and needles here, and general infection from airborne bacteria, to the after care of the tattoo, which is down to yourself. Also a final note, don’t just go to the first Tattooist you see. Remember these are professional artists, and with all artists there are different styles & levels of competency. I have seen so many tattoos over the years where the basic drawing is so bad you might think a child had done it or the tattooist was drunk. Look at others, if you see a style or design that you like that has been done well, ask the person which artist did it. People really like others asking about their tattoos, they are proud of them. Go along and watch the artist work to confirm your thoughts and reassure yourself that this is what you want and this is the artist that you want to draw on your body, an image that will be there for the rest of your life.