Every time I think of getting a tattoo I can hear my mothers voice in my head. “Sailors, prisoners, gang members and bikers get tattoos Celine, not nice young girls who want to sing opera.” While she might have been right twenty years ago, I don’t think that it is really the case anymore. In the Western World tattoos were once the mark of the outcast, the rebel and the rock star, but now soccer moms, college students, dentists, and yes, even aspiring opera singers have tattoos.
Obviously, the idea of a tattoo is not new. In 1991 Oetzi the Iceman was discovered in the Alps he was mummified, but dates back to Neolithic times somewhere between the fourth and fifth millennium BC and had 59 tattoos. In the West before the Christian era Germanic and Celtic tribes were often heavily tattooed, but sometime after the 12th century tattooing disappeared completely from western culture. In 1769 tattooing was re-introduced to western civilization. Captain Cook brought a heavily tattooed Polynesian man named Omai with him to London. Omai became a sensation among the upper class. It became a huge trend and many people had small discrete tattoos, but ultimately upper classes turned away from tattoos. By the 20th century it became completely socially unacceptable and only social deviants or freak shows were known to have them.
In the late 1960s people began once more to see tattoos in a positive light. Janis Joplin got a tattoo of a Florentine bracelet in black ink on her wrist. This brought the art into the mainstream and women turned to tattoos as a sign of feminine empowerment.
Somehow inexplicably, tattoos were transformed from low culture to something high. They allowed people to take control of their own bodies. The ordinary stretch of skin on an arm, leg, or stomach could be transformed into a canvas for a statement. Whether it is artistic or counter-cultural is up to you. As for me? I haven’t decided yet. Fashion might be for now, but a tattoo lasts forever.