In recent years, tattoos have emerged as a powerful tool for individuals to challenge traditional gender roles and embrace their true identities. Tattooing allows people to reclaim their bodies, expressing themselves beyond the confines of societal expectations. It provides a visual representation of personal experiences, gender identity, or feminist ideologies.
Tattoos serve as a medium for self-expression, enabling individuals to communicate their beliefs and values through art permanently etched on their skin. For some, tattoos symbolize empowerment, breaking free from gender stereotypes and reclaiming control over their bodies. In a world where gender norms can be restrictive, body art offers a canvas for individuals to push boundaries and embrace their authentic selves.
"It's Not Just Sailors and Bik s Not Just Sailors and Bikers Anymore Anymore"
- Morgan Stevens, University of New Hampshire, Durham
While previous research has primarily focused on the stigmatization faced by individuals with tattoos, there has been a lack of attention given to the experiences of tattoo artists themselves.
Understanding the experiences of tattoo artists is crucial as they occupy a critical position as both subjects of stigma and agents challenging it. Tattoo artists not only face stigma related to their own occupation but also witness and navigate the stigmatization experienced by others in the industry.
To shed light on these topics and examine how the occupation itself is influenced by gender, a study was conducted involving thirteen semi-structured interviews with tattoo artists in New Hampshire.
The findings revealed that the experience of stigma for individuals working in deviant occupations can be understood through the delegitimization of their career as a legitimate job, perpetuated stereotypes that affect the entire industry, and the presence of a few individuals within the occupation who contribute to misunderstandings and a negative reputation.
In terms of the gendered nature of the occupation, female tattoo artists face additional challenges in managing how their gender is portrayed in their work. They often have to engage in extra labor to navigate societal expectations and stereotypes associated with women in the tattoo industry.
As perceptions and acceptance of tattoos continue to evolve, and as tattoo artists are increasingly recognized as the artists they are, there is a need for further exploration on how stigma can be transformed. There's an importance to understanding the experiences of tattoo artists, their role in challenging stigma, and the potential for shifting societal perspectives on tattooing as an art form and a legitimate occupation.
Japan first accepted tattooing back into its culture, and that spread around the 19th century. This influence was so powerful, that the Japanese tattoo style remains popular today in Europe, the United States, and many other parts of the world.
This Japanese influence over the world as it relates to tattooing is in part how tattoos became associated with sailors.
They were among the majority of Europeans and Americans who were able to travel and receive these traditional Japanese tattoos, and the influence spread from there.
Tattoos at this time had also been a part of a ritualized process for indigenous communities around the world, for both men and women (Morgan Stevens, 2021).
Social Stigmas and Yet, Tattoos Are on the Rise
The world of tattoos encompasses its own social types and markers of deviance.
According to a study by Irwin (2003), two main social types in the elite tattoo world are elite collectors and tattoo artists who command high prices for their work.
These groups embody both positive and negative deviance, as they simultaneously challenge societal norms while experiencing stigma.
The stigma experienced by these elite collectors and artists within their social groups is also directed towards individuals who choose small and socially acceptable tattoos.
This duality of negative deviance from mainstream society and positive deviance within their elite group contributes to their social standing.
However, despite their elevated status, Irwin (2003) argues that tattoo artists and collectors still face the effects of stigma and deviant labeling in mainstream society.
Their norm-breaking behavior is determined by the responses of others, which can serve as positive or negative reinforcement. Elite collectors and tattooists still encounter disregard from individuals who adhere to traditional appearance norms.
Factors such as the willingness to cover tattoos, social context, and gender influence the varying degrees of negative reactions.
Irwin's research indicates that women who are elite collectors or tattooists face unique forms of negative reaction due to the violation of conventional feminine beauty norms, resulting in accusations of being "masculine," "ugly," or "slutty."
While social norms surrounding tattoos are evolving, the existing literature suggests that widespread acceptance of tattoos is not yet fully achieved.
Tattoos still carry the stigma associated with deviant subcultures, such as inmate counterculture or street gangs.
Studies have revealed subconscious negative stereotyping towards individuals with visible tattoos, associating them with attributes like risk-seeking behavior and lower honesty.
Despite these stereotypes, the percentage of people choosing to get tattooed has been on the rise in recent years.
For more information on our sets, please take a look at our piece on Xtreme Inks: Artist Collections.