Tattooing: The Body as a Canvas

General Overview

There are infinite means of expression for the creation of art. Art can take place in the form of painting, drawing or written communication. It can take shape as a kitchen table, a sculpture or hybrid plant. It can be poetry or it can be photography. It can pretty and it can be ugly. But one thing is common: it is always meaningful. Afterall, human beings are “a species of storytellers” (Rainier). People thrive on the ability to express their internal processes to the outside world. Tattooing is one method of this kind of meaningful art. Tattoos are symbolic in that they represent or stand for something else. They are a way of using a concrete visual system to explain abstract ideas or feelings. For this reason, tattooing can have countless meanings attached. Tattoo expert M. Young speaks to this idea in his book, Agony and Alchemy, Sacred Art of Tattoos. He emphasizes how in American culture following World War II, “through association the tattoo came to represent the image of confinement: an insignia of freedom and self respect for the prisoner, a symbol to mark the passage of return for the homebound sailor, and an enduring witness of racial inhumanity for the indelibly numbered Holocaustsurvivor. Yet somehow the tattooed arm or shoulder spoke of masculinity, of courage and hope in the face of the recent World War, of premature manhood and the prospect of returning safely home to the warmth of a mother's or sweetheart's arms.” In this way, tattooing was and is an important aspect in defining one’s identity. They help individuals confirm their affiliation with communities that they might not obviously belong to otherwise. This is why individuals who identify with non-normative and/or non-socially sanctioned communities gravitate toward tattooing. For example, prisoners and gang member are some of the most widely tattooed people in the United States. Additionally, tattooing may also be viewed in a religious context, in which the church, mysticism and animal spirits come to play an important role. Though tattooing has left a limited historical record, its history is vitally important to understanding the growing phenomenon in western culture that is currently enlivening social scientists.


body modification, body art, tattoo, scarification, origins, religious, spiritual, gangs, community, symbolism, historical context, anthropology, psychology, sociology, communication, inclusion/exclusion, aesthetic, dermabrasion, excision, laser removal, micropigmentation, modern primitive movement,tattoo machine, adornment

Historical Record

Tattoos have varied greatly across cultures in the world arena. They vary in the type of pattern, the location on the body and the reasons for tattooing. While many see tattooing as a recent fad, it is actually a well established ancient art. Originating from two ancient cultures, the word tattoo has two main derivatives. The Polynesian word for “ta” means to strike something and the Tahitian word for “tatau” means to mark something (Young.)

PICCC.jpgTattooing is found in ancient cultures as diverse as the ancient Mayan civilization, Japan and Polynesia. In the Mayan civilization, tattoing played an elaborate role; they tattooed their bodies for religious, aesthetic and adornment purposes (Rainer). In Japan around the 8th century BCE, Japanese emperors used tattooing to mark and punish criminals. In Polynesia, where tattooing has been taking place for at least 3200 years, the tattoos are designed in simple geometric shapes like lines, circles, squares or spirals. Polynesian boys who were not tattooed were not allowed to marry or speak to elders (Levy). In addition, the Maori of New Zealand used tattooing to denote rank. In particular, marks on the center forehead area were used to denote rank, tattoos on the area around eyebrows denoted status, marks on the temples denoted marriages and the area under the nose denoted the wearer’s distinctive signature (Rainer). Other examples include the ancient Celts, who used tattooing as a weapon to terrify enemies of war. Greek writers of the 5th century B.C.E. recorded that other civilizations in the area were using tattoos to indicate wealth, status, noble birth, or to mark ownership of slaves and for punishishment of criminals. Other prehistoric reasons for tattooing may have included warding off evil, expressions of religious devotion, proof of bravery, adornment, initiation into warriorship or the secret religious life of the tribe, protection and healing (Camphausen). Clearly, tattooing has been a critically important aspect in numerous cultures throughout the ages and around the world.

The oldest known example of tattooing was recently discovered in the European Alps. “The Iceman” is believed to be at least 5300 years old. The mummy bore approximately 50 tattoos, mostly groupings of lines along the body (Lineberry). Prior to the discovery of “The Iceman,” Egypt was believed to be the earliest known example of ancient tattooing. Female Egyptian mummies like Amunet, a priestess of Hathor (Egyptian goddess of love and protector of women) were found with patterns of dots and lines throughout the arms, legs, and stomach. No tattooed male mummies have yet to be discovered which suggests that the ancient art of tattooing may have been reserved for women (Currie-McGhee).

Tattooing declined in Europe during the Middle Ages from the 4th century until about 1450. Leading up to this decline, Constantine the Great converted to Christianity around 312 CE and consequently banned all tattoos. However, even though they were banned, tattooing continued to survive underground. Following the ban, tattooing continued throughout the Middle Ages. Then, in 1769, James tatihi_tattoo.jpgCook discovered Tahiti(Young). Tahitians practiced an ancient custom of dipping a sharp comb into the sooty juice of a candlenut. They then beat the comb into their skin leaving behind sacred marks. Cook wrote all about the “bizarre” practices he encountered. He misunderstood much of their culture including their fertility beliefs, their erratic sex lives and other similar practices. When he returned home to Europe, he described what he saw through a misinterpreted and convoluted lens. His misled explanation of Tahitian practices led to the formation of the connection between tattooing and taboo behavior in the eyes of the Europeans who were made aware of Cook’s account of Tahiti (Levy). Additionally, Europeans deemed tattooing as profane due to religious their beliefs in the bible. The Old Testament states that “You shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor tattoo any marks upon you” – Leviticus 19: 28 (Currie-McGhee p. 77). Moreover, the religions of Judaism and Islam view marking the skin as a sin.

Following the introduction to the western world, tattooing quickly made its way into the U.S. Navy. By the 19th century, 90% of sailors had tattoos (Steward). In response to the rapid rise in tattooing, Samuel O’Reilly devised a tattoo machinein 1891 that consists of a hollow needle filled with permanent ink that is pushed in and out of the skin powered by an electric motor. The machine quickly became the standard method for tattooing that is still used today (Levy). This new invention allowed for tattoos to become quicker, cheaper, and accessible to a wider population who otherwise would not have had the opportunity to get a tattoo. Thus, the result was that the working class began to get tattoos. Because of this increase in accessibility and decrease in price, tattoos became less unique which lead to a decline in tattooing in the upper class. This propelled tattoos into a new stage of development in which tattooing began to be labeled as a deviant stereotype (Demello).

tattooed_sailor.gifAs time passed, the deviant stereotype began to wane as tattoos became popularized in the 1960s in the U.S. with rock stars and counter cultures of the sixties getting tattoos at a wildly rapid rate. As tattooing shifted audiences from bikers and convicts to a young sixties counter culture population, the deviant stereotype around tattooing greatly decreased. Many people from the sixties counter culture used tattoos to explain their world beliefs and political stances. For example, Janis Joplin, a famous singer of the time, proclaimed that she “used her tattoos to reclaim the repressed forbidden ecstasies of the human body” (Currie-McGhee). Joplin and other musical artist's advocation for tattoos contributed to its growth in popularity throughout the 1970s. Then, in response to growing popularity, famous tattoo artists Ed Hardy and Lyle Tuttle aided in making tattoo parlors more hygienic, professional and mainstream (Levy).

In demonstration of the popularity and growing influence of tattoos, the first International Tattoo Convention took place in 1972, and in 1976, the first National Tattoo Association was founded. Tattooing still continued to grow in popularity throughout the 1980s with the formation of the new punk rock music era and then The National Museum of American Art (of the Smithsonian Institution) even added tattoo design work to their permanent collection in 1986.

Although tattoos have certainly come a long way in becoming mainstream in today’s world, there is still much bias against them. Until 2004, Maine, Oklahoma and South Carolina had banned tattooing in entirety. Many state officials claim that tattooing is morally wrong and that children should be protected from “irreversible” mistakes (Currie McGhee).The counterargument to this is that a strict ban on tattooing creates a dangerous underground market which leads to unhygienic and unsafe tattooing. The ban was eventually lifted after it was taken to the Supreme Court in 2004. Thus, tattooing has been through countless transformations throughout its long history. Its historical background greatly helps to understand its further social impacts, including issues of identity. Tattooing can often act as a portal for many people to confirm their personal identity through the outward expression of meaningful images on the skin, thus serving to differentiate themselves from the rest of the population.

Tattooing and Identity

"Your body is something that you indisputably own. There is often a tendency to adorn things that you own to make them especially yours" (Currie-McGhee). The act of claiming certain things as one's own forms the basis of personal identity that is a foundational concept of the human experience. Identity is defined as the “condition of being oneself or itself, and not another.” It is the idea that each person is unique; each has the personal choice to include certain aspects of life to align oneself with, and the freedom to toss away other aspects. These choices create one's sense of "self." Rainier states that, “the human form is the elemental landscape of self.” Tattooing illustrates this idea perfectly; the body allows people a template for the creation of the “self.”

Tattooing is a way of confirming one’s individuality. Research shows that 40% of tattooed people do so in order to express their individuality (Featherstone). Through the expression of individuality via tattooing, a pathway to self explanation and differentiation from the outside population is created. This provides a permanent state of personal and individual being that cannot be taken away. In that sense, tattoos provides security of the self. The world can be a wild, crazy and confusing place and it is common to feel a lack of security within it and/or control over it. Tattooing is a way of taking control over one’s body in a world that cannot be controlled. It allows for the creation of control in one’s life because while the world is ever changing, the tattoos on the body will be remain consistent throughout. Tattoos are reliable, dependable, and unswerving; this feeling of stability is calming to the human mind. In summation, a tattoo is a symbol of individual freedom which creates an avenue to express any range of beliefs.

Other reasons or driving factors for getting a tattoo may include the occurence of an important event, experience, or milestone in one’s life (Levy). If a certain experience helps to shape one’s identity/ one’s sense of self, the individual will often get a tattoo in remembrance of the event. The tattoo then becomes a constant reminder of “Who I am,” thus forming identity by helping to solidify points in an individual’s life that changed them or helped them to define who they are as a person.

There is a sharp intersection here between identity and community. It is the meeting point of the public and private spheres (Pitts). In social literature, authors often discuss the concept of “public skin.” This is the idea that skin is public and is available for everyone to see. Many professionals choose to get tattoos in "private" places (places that no one else can see) because tattooing in many work environments, such as a company board room, can be harmful to a person’s career (Demello). If a person gets a "private" tattoo that remains out of other people’s eyesight in order to protect one’s career, then is it still a symbol of freedom? What if an adolescent in High School gets in trouble for violating dress code? There are no answers to these kinds of complicated and multi-faceted questions. Concepts of identity also play an important role in the wide practice of tattooing in prison and gang cultures. Prisoners and gang members get tattooed in order to show personal ideologies, events, stories, and for the purpose of distinguishing between in-groups and out-groups.

Prison and Gangs

Tattoos have been used for centuries and across a multitude of cultures within the gang and prison world. A prominent example of tattoo use within gang cultures dates back to 16th century Europe. Gypsy Gangs sported tattoos that read "les durs, les vrais, les tatoues" (Young) which translates to "the tough ones, the true ones, the tattooed ones". The Gypsies also wore a common symbol of three dots somewhere on their body, which signified "mort aux vaches". This was an expression of freedom and protest that translates to "kill the cows" or "F*ck the world". Recently, this symbol has been found in Hispanic communities as well, with the meaning and significance remaining unchanged.

GANG.jpgTattoos play a very important role in the gang community. Tattoos represent which gang an individual is a part of and their power, status, and role within that particular gang. This includes tattoos that cover the bodies of gang members that signify the people they have killed to prove their loyalty to the gang and people they have lost due to their gang related activities (Demello). For example: cobwebs signify murder and a teardrop stands for an enemy the individual killed in street warfare (GangInk). Most importantly, gang tattoos represent strength, loyalty, brotherhood, courage, resiliency to hardship, a passion for pleasure and pain, and life and death. In essence, tattoos displayed across gang members' bodies tell their story, their rights of passage(Philips).

Tattoos thrive as part of the inmate culture. Tattoos in the penitentiary system are vital for identifying who belongs to what gang, which results in distinguishing who an individual may or may not communicate with. Thus, through an in-group/out-group system, tattoos within prisons create arguments for specific identities. Further propelling the use of tattoos in prisons is that within the penitentiary system, tattoos are against the law. This is because they threaten the absolute power of the warden and guards. Inmates thrive on disrespecting the prison guards and the warden. So, because tattoos are not allowed in the penitentiary system, inmates are actually more likely to get a tattoo in order to prove their deviance to the guards and other inmates. Additionally, when a person is incarcerated, a detailed description of their entire body is given. Thus, when a prisoner gets a new tattoo, it "alters their body" (Young), and consequently their physical description and identity change. Tattoos are so popular within prisons because it is a sense of freedom for the inmates to be able to alter their bodies and identities when all of their other freedoms have been taken away. However, tattoos within the prison culture do not share the same meaning as they do in the outside world. With a lot of time on their hands and being exposed to this unique prison culture, inmates usually get a multitude of tattoos. The tattoos received inside the prison often have no true significance, but when they are released and go out into the world their tattoos gain negative connotations from those around them which serves to further marginalize the ex-inmates and clearly labels them as "deviant freaks" (Hard Time). On the other hand, it is not uncommon for members of the prison community to receive a plethora of religious tattoos. Prisoners often turn to God and other religious ideologies in order to ease the pain of enduring the hardships of prison. Unlike being labeled a deviant or a freak, religious tattoos can actually help newly released prisoners integrate more smoothly into society because religion is a widely accepted ideal in western society.

Religious and Spiritual

religious-tattoo-ideas.jpgFrom ancient times to modern day, the body has been continually used as a canvas on which to worship. Beginning with a plethora of diverse ancient civilizations, peoples such as the Mayans, ancient Egyptians, Chiribayas, and Nubians, used tattooing to mark individuals as belonging to a certain religious group or cult.(Rainer). The symbols on their bodies represented which religion they belonged to and it was seen as a testament of their faith to receive religious tattoos. Artistic gesture is another kind of testament of faith to the gods that individuals often adhered to. In order to show their faith, they were forced to endure the pain of tattooing. In these ancient cultures, the pain of tattooing inevitably implied sacrifice and it established an explicit connection between the individual being tattooed and the realm of spirits that they worshiped (Rush). Through this kind of sacrifice, it was believed that the spirit realm would be brought into physical existence through the visibility of the tattoo (Young).

In the Old Testament of the Bible, it states, "Ye shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print any marks upon you: I am the Lord" (Leviticus 19:28); as a result, ruling against tattooing became favored by the Christian Romans and the Muslims because they closely revered the Old Testament. However, this ruling did not last in the religious world because tattoos began to regain popularity. This can be seen throughout the middle ages, where many people went on pilgrimages to the Holy Land. The only way these individuals were able to prove they had made it to the Holy Land was to get a tattoo from the Coptic Priests(Tattoo Museum).

Other verses of the Bible have also been studied to demonstrate that tattoos are not "wrong" in God's eyes. One of these verses states "And the LORD said unto him, Go through the midst of the city, through the midst of Jerusalem, and set a mark upon the foreheads of the men that sigh and that cry for all the abominations that be done in the midst thereof" (Ezekiel 9:4). The words of the Bible were and are so influential that in today’s culture, many people continue to mark their bodies with religious symbols or verses. These symbols and verses allow individuals to express their religious beliefs, including who they worship. Through this kind of religious identification, tattoos allow for the formation of community and culture while allowing individuals to express themselves and their personal views (Tattoo Temple). On the other hand, religious images can also be tattooed on the body purely for aesthetic reasons. Many people simply enjoy the visual images of certain religious concepts and may thus receive tattoos because they think they are "pretty."

Tattooing for Aesthetic Reasons

CHERRY_BLOSSOM.jpgWhile tattooing can often hold deep and profound meanings, sometimes people tattoo their bodies simply for beautification. Tattooing for aesthetic reasons is incredibly common throughout history and in contemporary society(Kozlel). For example, the Mentawi people of the island of Siberut practice extensive tattooing on purely aesthetic grounds. In their culture, they believe that “spirits rejoice in the beauty of the world and cannot be expected to reside in any form or human body that is not itself beautiful” (Rainier). Hence, they tattoo their bodies because they believe it to be beautiful; and if their bodies are beautiful, then the spirits will rejoice. Here, spirituality intertwines with the concept of beauty.

In western society, many people get tattoos in order to adhere to social standards of cultural beauty. Since a thin body is a highly idealized cultural standard in the western world, many people tattoo certain locations of the body in order to make it look skinnier or shapelier (Desire). They may tattoo a certain area in order in emphasize a body area that is liked, or to cover one up that is disliked. Since birthmarks and scars are seen as imperfections, many get tattoos to cover up their "flaws." This can be a huge help to many people because it can make them feel more secure, comfortable and confident in their bodies (Featherstone). For additional beauty enhancements, people also get permanent makeup tattooed onto their faces. This is called micropigmentation. This is done in order to enhance their beauty without ever having to put on makeup again (Currie Mc-Ghee).

Some women who report hating their bodies proclaim that tattoos help them feel more beautiful and confident, both physically and psychologically. “Beauty does not show us the road to truth, beauty allows us to endure the truth.” Most women lacking in self confidence who have experienced some relief through tattoos will attest to the above statement (Hudson). Over half of tattooed women report that their tattoos make them feel sexier. In addition, women often use tattooing to reclaim one’s body after a traumatic incident, such as rape. Women who have been raped often feel that something was taken away from them. Women in this situation who get tattoos agree across the board that tattooing helps them to take back their bodies (Currie-McGhee). It is also common for women who went through chemotherapy to get tattoos of eyebrows if their facial hair never grew back after the medications. It is a way of psychologically, physically and symbolically reclaiming their body parts from memories of abuse and trauma. Clearly, tattooing for aesthetic reasons is exceptionally important to countless people. However, no matter how much a person may want a tattoo or feel like they need a tattoo, it is necessary to consider the risks involved in having permanent ink injected into the skin. Various risk factors are involved in tattooing and they need to be fully understood before the tattooing process begins.

Health Issues

There are many health risks involved in tattooing that potential tattooers should be made aware. The biggest health risk is the possibility of becoming infected with a blood-borne disease from a non-sterilized needle. These diseases include HIV, Hepatitis B and C, syphilis, tuberculosis, strep, and/or staph infections(Levy). They have serious health consequences and can sometimes result in death. Although all it takes is the sterilization of a needle to prevent the contraction of these diseases, alarmingly, it has been found that people who get tattoos from commercial tattoo parlors are nine times more likely to contract an infection than a person with no tattoos. A survey conducted in the 1990’s showed that of 113 people who had at least one tattoo, 22 percent of these people had hepatitis C (Currie Mc-Ghee). Another health risk that some researchers also speculate about is the potential that lower back tattoos on women may be a risk factor during pregnancy. Lower back tattoos make it almost impossible for a doctor to perform an epidural during labor. Additionally, it has recently been discovered that tattoo pigments interfere with the quality of MRI scans which can greatly decrease the efficacy of the scan (Young).

Tattooing is also positively correlated with risky behaviors in teens. In 2001, a study was conducted that found that teens ranging in age from 11-24 who had tattoos (about 4.5 percent) were more likely to engage in risky behaviors than teens who were not tattooed (Koch). According to this study, “violence index score are 3 times higher in males with tattoos than males without tattoos” and “suicide index scores are 2 times higher in females with tattoos than those without.” However, it is important to remember that a correlation between two factors (here, tattooing and risky behaviors) does not infer causality. There are many reasons for risky behaviors and it is not accurate to state that tattooing in any way causes these behaviors.

The health issue involved with tattooing is often a driving force for the removal of certain tattoos. If a tattoo becomes infected, removal is sometimes necessary. In addition, if a person contracts a deadly disease from a tattoo, such as HIV or tuberculosis, it is common to remove the tattoo so it is no longer a reminder of the event.

Significance of Tattoo Removal

While the number of people in western society getting tattoos is steadily increasing, so is the rate of tattoo removal. One of the most powerful motivations for tattoo removal is to prevent negative impacts on one's career. In a survey from 2001, 24 percent of managers felt that their career had been hindered due to their tattoos, 42 percent of managers report having a lower opinion of a person with tattoos, and 58 percent of managers assert that they are less likely to offer a job to an applicant with visible tattoos. Companies such as Starbucks and Disney do not allow employees to have visible tattoos showing. If an employee has a tattoo, he/she is required to cover it up with clothes (Currie Mc-Ghee).

Growing older is another reason a person may choose to get a tattoo removed. When the body gets older, the skin stretches which causes the tattoo to stretch as well. The tattoo can become faded and warped, so people often opt to get it removed. Additionally, lifestyle changes are a major reason for tattoo removal. Leaving behind a life or community may propel people into removing their tattoos, and thus, leaving behind their former life. Leaving behind a religion, an identity, a political affiliation, social status markers, the loss of a friend or lover, all constitute reasons for tattoo removal (Hudson). Tattoo removal is common in ex-gang members who may get gang tattoos removed in order to sever affiliation with the group. In addition, their tattoos may be tied to violent memories that they wish to forget and have erased from their skin. Programs, such as the San Mateo Tattoo Removal Program, help ex-gang members and convicts to remove tattoos and to start their lives anew. These programs help participants to redefine their lives and enhance the safety of the community. The participants usually must complete around 25 hours of community service in order to be a part of this free program.

People often simply cover old tattoos with new ones in order to avoid the painful and lengthy process of removal. It is very common to do this with tattoos of the names of ex-lovers. However, if a person does decide to completely remove a tattoo, there are many methods to doing so. There are many at-home kits that one can purchase which include caustic substances or carbon dioxide snow, that are then applied to the tattooed area. The most common of these are acid skin pills. You apply the acid at home, but the effectiveness is still uncertain. Another method is excision. This involves numbing the tattooed area, and then the tattoo is removed with a scalpel and then sutured back together. This almost always leaves behind a scar. Dermabrasion is another method in which the tattoo is frozen with a surface refrigerant and then the tattooed area is sanded down and scrapped away. Laser removal is the most common form of removal. It is also the preferred mode of removal. It involves pulses of a laser light that pass through the skin which break up the pigment of the tattoo. On the upside, the rate of scaring is very low. On the downside, treatments are very expensive, ranging in cost from approximately 250-850 dollars per session. Thus, it is vitally important to be absolutely sure about a tattoo before having it injected into the skin with permanent ink (Levy).

Major Figures

Victoria Pitts
Leanne K. Currie-McGhee
Lyle Tuttle
Mike Featherstone
Mary Kosut
Jerry Koch
Clinton Sanders
Margo DeMello
Karen L. Hudson


1. Adams, Josh. "Marked Difference: Tattooing and its Association with Deviance." Deviant Behavior. 30.3 (2009): Print.
As tattoos move more into the mainstream culture of society, and can be found within very diverse populations, the question arises are tattoos still linked with deviant behavior? In Marked Differences: Tattoos and its Association with Deviance by Josh Adams he explores the depth of tattoos and society. Adams discovers that although tattooing has become more popular across diverse cultures, it is still strongly associated with deviance, especially when the tattoos appear in very visible places.

2. Bochenek, Brian. "Not Just Removing Tattoos ." Journal of Gang Research. 4.1 (1996): 39-42. Print
This article from the journal of gang research, reviews the project GAIN founded by Dr. Amelia Conte-Russian. The BAIN project is a program for ex. gang members that offers tattoo removal services. Bockenek analyzes the project focusing on the criteria for applicants and the programs as well as the potential benefits for the community and the offender.

3. Camphausen, Rufus C. Return of the Tribal: A Celebration of Body Adornment: Piercing, Tattooing, Scarification, Body Painting. Park Street Press. 1997. Print.
In Rufus Camphausen’s book Return of the Tribal, the practices of body adornment and modification are analyzed through a historical context which allows readers to see the different practices of tattooing over time and across cultures.

4. Chaudry, Annette. "Reality for Whom? Deconstructing Ink and the Contested Tattooed Body." Masters of Abstracts International. 47.3 (2009): Print
In the article Reality for Whom? Deconstructing Ink and the Contested Tattooed body, Annette Chaudry analyzes how tattoos have changed from a stigma to a status; a community to a tattoo industry. These changes display how the tattooed body has changed from a contested space associated with a deviant culture to an aesthetic culture and a commodity of the middle class

5. Currie-McGhee, Leanne. Tattoos and Body Piercing. Lucent, 2005. Print
Currie-McGhee’s book Tattoos and Body Piercings, outlines the long history of tattoos in great detail. The history is the backbone to understanding how tattoos emerged from marginal to mainstream culture. Currie-McGhee also explores the significance of tattoos (who gets them and why), the process of getting a tattoo, tattoo removal and the risks associated with tattoos. This is a wonderful sourcebook that provides key information about tattoos.

6. Demello, Margo. "Not Just for Bikers Anymore Popular Representations of American Tattooing." Journal of Popular Culture . 29.3 (2004): 37-52. Print.
In the article Not just for Bikers Anymore Popular Representations of American Tattooing, Margo Demello looks at the transformation of tattoos to the educated and middle class. Margo explores how tattoos are now symbols of status and no longer one of social outcasts. Margo also examines the reasons behind mainstream tattooing, like expressing aesthetics, and personal growth. This is a wonderful article to understand how tattoos went from marginal to mainstream.

7. Demello , Margo. "The Convict Body: Tattooing Among Male American Prisoners." Anthropology Today. 9.6 (1993): 10-13. Print.
In The Convict Body, by Demello Margo, she looks at how tattoos and the process of inscription create the cultural body which in turn creates and maintains specific social boundaries. Demello uses this theory to analyze prison tattoos; what they signify on the inside and the outside; how they relate to one’s identity and the prison establishment, and the cultural difference between different tattooed groups within prison and between the prisoners and those on the outside.

8. Desire, Anastasia. "Living Marked: Tattooed Women and Perceptions of Beauty and Feminity ." Advances in Gender Research. 14. (2010): 11-23. Print.
In Living Marked: Tattooed Women and Perceptions of Beauty and Femininity, Anastasia Desire used a feminist perspective to study women’s tattooing. Specifically, she analyzes the connection between gendered attitudes about women’s bodies and tattoos and women’s motivations for becoming tattooed or removing them.

9. Efrat, Shoham. "Signs of Honor Among Russian Inmates in Israels Prisons." International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology. 54.6 (2010): 984-1003. Print.
Through postmodernist theories Shoham Efrat unravels the complex criminal subculture among Russian inmates through their tattoos. In this article, the tattoos of the Russian inmates in the Israeli prisons display important roles of machismo, defiance, domination, and open rebellion against the prison.

10. Favazza, Armando, R., MD. Bodies Under Siege: Self- Mutilation and Body Modification in Culture and Psychiatry. Maryland: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1987. Print.
Bodies Under Seige by Armando Favazza was the first psychiatric book on self mutilation and body modification. Favazza uses a psychiatric perspective to analyze mutilative beliefs attitudes and practices as well as to shed light on the connection between self mutilation and pathological behavior.

11. Featherstone, Mike. "Body Image and Affect in Consumer Culture." Body and Society. 16.1 193-221. Print.
Mike Featherstone looks at the relationship between body image and its affect within consumer societies in his article Body Image and Affect in Consumer Culture. This relationship is then used to analyze how and why people use body modification methods, like tattooing, to enhance their self-image and create a more positive and acceptable body image. This new body image is supposed to transforms the person and enhances their beauty.

12. Featherstone, Mike. Body modification. Sage Publications Ltd, 2000. Print.
Body Modification by Mike Featherstone was one of the first sources to look at the divers range of body transformation practices, like tattooing, thus it is a key source in tattoo research. Featherstone explores tattooing and other body modification practices. He specifically looks at how people use tattoos to transform their body into a new identity in the sense of fitness and athletics.

13. Fisher, Jill. "Tattooing the Body, Marking Culture." Body and Society. 8.4 (2002): 91-107. Print.
This article comments on the commonalities between the wide ranges of literature in which the art of tattooing finds itself immersed. Most authors view tattooing as part of a marginalized deviant culture, while many others have a tendency to romanticize the world of tattooing. Through a historical perspective leading up to modern day society, Fisher shows the complexity in how tattooing has changed and evolved over time, ultimately resulting in a commodification of the body.

14. "Gang Tattoo Database." GangInc. N.p., 04 Apr 2009. Web. 28 Jan 2011. <>. is a great website to learn more about the meanings and significance of gang tattoos across gangs throughout the United States. This website provides a brilliant image gallery of thousands of gang and prison tattoos. This is also a great website to learn what different tattoo symbols within the gang culture mean.

15. Gilbert, Steve. Tattoo History: A Source Book. powerHouse Books, 2000. Print.
Steve Gilbert draws from a wide range of perspectives from anthropologists and explorers to physicians and artists to explore the historical depth and aesthetic variation of tattoos in Tattoo History. This is a wonderful sourcebook to obtain the entire history of tattoos, from the ancient world to present day.

16. Goldman, Sarah. “History and Symbolism of the Traditional Thai Tattoo.” 8 August, 2010. Website. 30 January, 2011.
In History and Symbolism of the Traditional Thai Tattoo Sarah Goodman looks at the intricate culture of tattoos within Buddhism that originated in Thailand with the monks of Buddhist temples. Goodman explores the procedures, symbolism, and designs of tattoos within the sacred Buddhist culture.

17. Gottlieb, Andrew. In the Paint: Tattoos of the NBA and the Stories Behind Them. Hyperion Books, 2003. Print
In the Paint Tattoos of the NBA and the Stories Behind Them, Andrew Gottlieb takes an in depth look at the culture of tattoos within the NBA. If one were to turn on the TV during a professional basketball or football game, it would be almost impossible to notice the majority of the players have multiple tattoos covering their bodies. It is hard not to wonder what the motivation and symbolism is behind the tattoos embedded onto their skin. Gottlieb answers the question by interviewing players throughout the NBA that are heavily tattooed. Gottlieb provides insight about the diversely tattooed NBA athletes and their personal significance.

18. Holtham, S. Mutilating the Body: Identifying in Blood and Ink. Bowling Green State University Press, 1997. Print
Holtham’s book Mutilating the Body looks at how identity is crafted through tattoos and other body modification practices. Holtham also identifies how tattoos are used as a form of self expression that serves cultural and individual needs.

19. Hudson L., Karen. Living Canvas: Your Total Guide to Tattoos, Piercings, and Body Modification. Seal Pr, 2009. Print
As a tattoo specialist, Karen Hudson has spent many years in the field studying tattoo health and interviewing people who regret the tattoos they have gotten. Hudson has compiled the data she has been collection into a wonderful guidebook that walks individuals through the tattooing process to ensure those who are deciding to become tattooed have a safe a fun experience with no regrets.

20. Hudson L., Karen. Chick Ink: 40 Stories of Tattoos--And the Women Who Wear Them. Polka Dot Pr, 2007. Print.
“There is no one true meaning for a tattoo, there is no definitive right or wrong design. But there is always a story behind each tattoo” (ix). Chick Ink edited by Karen Hudson is a compilation of 40 stories of tattoos and the women who wear them. Each story is meant to help the judgmental outside world understand the culture of tattooed women. Chick Ink seeks to help “outsiders” see their tattoos as art and symbolism rather than an unladylike rebellion. Chick Ink provides an inside look at the reasons and stories behind women with tattoos.

21. Indhu, Rajagopal. "Identity Manipulated Body and Docility." International Sociology Association. Gothenburg, 2010. Print.
Rajagopal Indhu’s article Identity Manipulated Body and Docility lightly touches on the negative aspects of tattoos on the women’s body. Rajagopal looks at how women’s tattooed bodies manipulate their identity and in some cases degrades the women’s body and her identity. This author emphasizes other topics more strongly in this article, which only allows us a glimpse of his theories on the tattooed women’s body.

22. Jacobson, Greg, Dir. Modify- Uncensored Edition . Dir. Greg Jacobson." Perf. Max, Masumi. 2005, Film. <>.
Greg Jacobson directed Modify, an awesome video that test the definition of normal. Although in modern culture it seems as if everyone is modifying their body in some way or another, Jacobson introduces the 30 most modified people in the world, their stories and the artists who transformed their bodies forever.

23. Koch, Jerry. "Body Art, Deviance and American College Students." Social Science Journal. 47.1 (2010): 151-161. Print.
Through sub cultural identity theory, Koch examines the relationship between tattoos and deviance. After surveying 1753 American college students Koch discovered that respondents with four or more tattoos were substantively more likely to engage in illegal activity and begin arrested for a crime. Koch also found those with more body art are more likely to cheat on college work, binge drink, and have multiple sex partners.

24. Koch, Jerry. "Correlates of Tattoos and Their Reference Groups." Psychological Reports. (2006): Print
In the article Correlates of Tattoos and Their Reference Groups, by Jerry Koch, the relationship between the likelihood of getting one or more tattoos and the individuals peer network are compared. Koch found that during the college years, when peer groups become more important, those who began associating with others that are tattooed are more likely to get one or more tattoos themselves. Koch’s findings display the popularity of tattoos in the mainstream culture, and their deviant influence.

25. Koch, Jerry. "Motivation for Contemporary Tattoo Removal: A shift in Identity." Archieves of Dermatology. (2008): Print.
In Jerry Koch’s article Motivation for Contemporary Tattoo Removal, he compares a tattoo removal study from 1996 to one that was done in 2006. Koch found that in contrast to the 1996 study more women than men received tattoo removal in 2006. The women who made p the majority of those getting their tattoos removed were white single college educated women between the ages of 24 and 39. The women claimed as they got older “their mark of uniqueness” changed into a stigma and they wanted it removed.

26. Kosut, Mary. "An Ironic Fad: The Commodification and Consumption of Tattoos." Journal of Popular Culture. 39.6 (2006): 1035-1048. Print.
Mary Kosut explores the commodification of tattoos within our nation in her article An ironic Fad. Kosut highlights the commodification and consumption of tattoos in our nation by examining different products like tattoo Barbie and temporary tattoos for kids. Kosut also humorously examines how tattoos are considered a fad. She exemplifies tattoos permanently modify the body thus they should be called an ironic fad.

27. Kosut, Mary. "Mad Artists and Tattooed Perverts: Deviant Discourse and the Social Construction of Cultural Categories." Deviant Behavior. 27.1 (2006): 73-95. Print.
In Mary Kosut’s article Mad Artists and Tattooed Perverts she asserts that the stereotype of the mad artist is comparable to that of the tattooed deviant. Kosut believes that tattoos associated with deviance is partly because of the way scholars in the field of criminology sociology and psychology define it.

28. Lemma, Alessandra. Under the skin: a psychoanalytic study of body modification. Taylor & Francis, 2010. Print.
Alessandra Lemma uses a psychoanalytic perspective in her book Under the Skin to consider why people modify their bodies. It examines how therapist can help and understand why some feel physical manipulation of the body is necessary. Lemma also looks at possible reasons behind peoples motives to modify their body, such as: body image disturbance, appearance anxiety, and body dysmorphic disorder.

29. Levy, Janey. Tattoos in Modern Society. Rosen Pub Group, 2008. Print.
Janey Levy’s book Tattoos in Modern Society is a wonderful sourcebook for tattoo research. Levy’s book covers many topics like tattoo history and tradition, who gets tattooed and why, different designs and styles of tattoos and famous tattoo artist. Levy’s book is very well rounded with a lot of information making it a key text in the tattoo realm.

30. Lineberry, Cate. “Tattoos: The Ancient and Mysterious History.” 1 January, 2007. Web. Retrieved 30 January, 2011.\
This article explains how tattooing has been an important component of culture since ancient times. While it was previously believed that the ancient Egyptians were the first to tattoo, the recent discovery of the “Iceman” has pushed the date of tattooing back to approximately 5,200 years ago.

31. Mascia-Lees, Frances E., and Sharpe, Patricia, eds. Tattoo, Torture, Mutilation and Adornment: The Denaturalization of the Body in Culture and Text. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1992. Print.
The title of this article is a bit misleading. The authors of this book barely touch on tattoos or body mutilation and adornment, however I still found it useful because it explores how the sociological perspective of the human body has transformed. It also includes other gendered issues on the body.

32. Mercury, Maureen, and Steve Haworth. Pagan fleshworks: the alchemy of body modification. Park Street Pr, 2000. Print.
Pagan Fleshworks takes an in depth look at contemporary cultural trends. The book reveals that the prevalence of extreme tattooing is to enable the healing of the body. Pagan Fleshworks examines an extreme subculture, the Pagans, who are using their tattoos to define their own rituals and symbols. It is assumed that the tattoo process is a psychic transformation and an interesting journey toward self expression

33. N., Nancy. Bodies in the Making: Transgressions and Transformations. New Pacific Press, 2007. Print.
The book Bodies in the Making look’s at the transformation of tattoos from the mairgins of society to mainstream. Bodies in the Making esamine how the relationship of the body to the mind has changed over time resulting in the entrance of tattoos into the mainstream culture. This book also looks at the paradox of how body modification is supposed to be a form of unique self expression yet it is often socially determined and culturally driven.

34. Pitts, Victoria. In the Flesh: The Cultural Politics of Body Modification. New York: PALGRAVE MACMILLAN, 2003. Print.
In her book In the Flesh Victoria Pitts esamine the relationship between body modification and contemporary problems over sex, gender, identity, consumption, and the body. Pitts specifically looks at estreme body modifiers subculture and how they are defying the norms.

35. Prend, Angela. "Corporate Logo Tattoos and the Commodification of the Body." Journal of Contemperary Ethnography. 38.4 (2009): 493-517. Print.
Angela Prend used critical theory and sociology of the body and consumption to analyze corporate logo tattoos. She discovered that most individuals with corporate logo tattoos got them for brand loyalty or because they identified with the brand philosophy/lifestyle. Corporate logo tattoos on the body demonstrate the “commodification of culture via the culture industry”.

36. Philips, Susan. "Gallo's Body: Decoration and Dammnation in Life of Chicano Gang Member." Ethnography. 2.3 (2001): 357-88. Print.
Susan Philips ethnograph of a Chicano gagn member, looks at the life of a Chicano tattoo artist. This ethnograph gives us a glimpse into the experience of prisoners and the stories their tattoos tell. This article looks at many aspects of tattoos; like how they are used for empowerment and individualità, yet they also represent oppression and exclusion from the larger scial world. This article is great to under stand the cultural depths of tattoos.

37. Rainier, Chris. Ancient marks: the sacred origins of tattoos and body markings. Mandala Pub Group, 2006. Print.
Chris Rainer’s book Ancient Marks take san in depth look at the ancient tattoo realm. Rainer provides exquisite detail on the history of some ancient cultures that used tattoos. Rainer also captivates the readers with pictures he has taken al lover the world of tribes and cults with extraordinary tattoos.

38. Roberts, Alden. "College Tattoos: More than Skin Deep." Dermatology Nursing. (2002): Print.
Alden Roberts study of tattoos among college students looks at students purposes, reasons, risks, barriers, and customer criteria for tattoos. This study allows readers to under stand the reasons behind getting tattoos.

39. Rush, John. Spiritual Tattoo: A Cultural History of Tattooing, Piercing, Scarification, Branding and Implants. Berkeley : North Atlantic Book, 2005. Print.
In John Rush’s book spiritual tattoos, he outlines the ancient history of tattoos especially focusing on the religious and spiritual aspects. He explores physical alterations, like tattoos, functions as rites of passage and mechanisims of social control and the use of pain for spiritual purposes. This is a wonderful book to identify the relationships between tattoos and spirituality.

40. Sanders, Clinton. Customizing the Body: The Art and Culture of Tattooing. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2008. Print.
In Clinton Sanders book Customizing the Body, he descrive tattooing as a social act that is a manipulation of ones self image. He emphasizes tattoo and identity; how the person experiences his/herself through their tattoos and how society and others judge them. Sanders doesnt only look at the individual being tattooed but the artist doing the tattooing too.

41. Silverman, Larry, Dir. Flesh and Blood. Perf. Haworth, Steve. 2008, Film. <>.
Director Larry Silverman takes his audience on an extreme journey into the world of Guinness Book of World Records Body Modification. This video shows extremeist in the margins of society that have completely embodied body modification. This film is sure to keep its audience on the edge of their seats.

42. Slawomir, Koziel. "Tattoo and Piercings as Signals of Biological Quality." Evolutionary Human Behavior. 31.3 (2010): 187-92. Print.
Koziel Slawomi looks at the attractiveness increase hypothesis that states people use body decorations to increase their own physical attractiveness or to cover a flaw. This was a great article to further understand tattooing and aesthetics.

43. Steward, Samuel. (1990). Bad boys and tough tattoos: a social history of the tattoo with gangs, sailors, and street-corner punks, 1950-1965 . New York : Routledge.
The book Bad Boy and Tough Tattoos by Samuel Steward is about a man in the 1950’s who quits his job as an English professor and becomes a tattoos artist. This was during the time tattoos were the “mark of a lowlife” and only popular among marginal groups in society. This mans new profession takes readers on a journey by takin an in depth look at the cultures he encountered within the tattoo realm. This book allows readers to slip into the deviant mindset of those we were tattooed in the 1950’s. Marginal groups from sailors and hustlers to the Hell’s Angles gang are used in this book to describe who was getting tattooed in the 50’s and why.

44. Miami Ink. TLC, 10 Jan 2011. Web. 29 Jan 2011. <>.
This website centers around the hit TLC show Miami Ink. This is a great site to get inside video on a cery popular Miami tattoo shop. These videos display how the tattoo process is completed along with interviews with the clients, which allows us to see why different people get certain tattoos.

45. Talmadge, Eva, and Justin Taylor. The Word Made Flesh: Literary Tattoos from Book Worms Worldwide. New York: Harper Perenial , 2010. Print.
The World Made Flesh is an awesome book that gives a complete list of literary tattoos one can decorate their bodies with.

46. “Tattoo Museum.” The World’s Largest Online Tattoo Museum. 2010. Website: (includes a great bibliography for finding further sources)
Tattoo Museum is the worlds largest tattoo database. It includes history, symbols, designs, celebrity tattoos, tribal tattoos, and fun facts. It is a great site to find other sources containing tattoo information.

47. “Tattoo Temple: Unique Living Art. Questions Behind the Art.” Collection of articles and academic papers. Published 2010. Website:

48. Young, M. Agony & alchemy: sacred art and tattoos. Hohm Pr, 2005. Print.
Agony and Alchemy, Sacred Art and Tattoos by M. Young is “a book about that alchemy of transformation through the specific medium of sacred art tattooed on skin” (8.) This book provides a detailed overview of the history of tattoos; from tattoos in the ancient world to today’s current tattoo revolution. This book explores how tattoo’s evolved from marginal to mainstream, taboo to socially acceptable. Young examines diverse tattooed communities like the prison community and Native American communities, and communities and individuals using tattoos as means of protest and icons of freedom. Young goes further and examines the pain and pleasure involved with tattooing, the primal experience of the tattooed, as well as new reasons for getting tattoos such as aesthetic reasons. Young’s book is a key source for understanding the history and culture of tattoos.