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Tattoos and Society

An excellent example of paper 2 by Keaton Snyder.

Getting a tattoo has long been a discussion for many individuals. It is a practice that has been around for centuries, yet is still an evolving part of society. Not too long ago in the US it was a practice that only lower class people participated in and was looked down upon by society. But more recently society has started to change the way that tattoos are seen. This is in part because it has become much cleaner and people know more about it, as well as tattoo artists being required to have a license to practice. In fact there are even schools that teach the art of tattooing. How does having a tattoo affect the way that American society sees an individual and why does American society see it this way?

When looking at tattoos it is important to note that they affect and express many different things about the way that individuals see themselves and how individuals have become socialized. Tattoos can signify many things, for some a tattoo is required or expected of someone to be in a certain group; others might use one to express a certain part of their life that is very important to them. Still others might see it as a way to express them, or as a form of beauty not unlike earrings or makeup. And yet there are still many more ways that tattoos can be used to create an image, communicate or identify them.

Tattooing probably became popular because it was looked down on by society. It was a way for a counter culture to express itself, a way for people to show that they were an individual and thus became very popular. This is in part because of the great desire and understanding that everyone is an individual in American society. Tattoos are a unique thing in that they can not be bought like a fancy car or a huge rock. They are in fact art. Much like there is only one "Mona Lisa", a tattoo is one of a kind and near permanent at that. Many people see tattoos simply as art that they wear, which is very easy to show off and attract attention. Which is also very important in American society, because with the huge population in the world today, it is very difficult to attract attention and distinguish yourself from others. People that have money try and attract attention by buying expensive cars, wearing expensive clothes, being very free with their money, etc. Because not everyone can be a rock star and even if you can afford a Ferrari, there are still countless people out there who have one just like you, a tattoo is fairly unique and therefore very desirable. These are great examples of status and identity, because they express the American dream of being the best, having the most or being the greatest.

Another reason tattoos are used by individuals is to become part of a group. This can include the very obvious like a gang, to being gay, to being a collector. Each has its own purpose and reason for existence. For example a gang might all get similar tattoos to form tighter relationships with its members and create a norm for that culture or counter-culture. This is not unlike being part of the cheerleading squad in high school. Only those who were cheerleaders, meaning they were very "beautiful", could wear that uniform. It creates a sense of belonging and unity among a group that is lacking in one or more socialization agents, in essence they become like a family. Tattoos are also used to label oneself in a much broader group, such as convicts. Many convicts who go jail use tattoos to label themselves as a convict, what jail they were in, maybe what crime they committed or how long or how many times they have been to jail. This group is trying to associate themselves with a certain image, or twisted mystique that few people belong to and even fewer wish for that experience to be known. Convicts might do this for many reasons, maybe they just want to feel like they belong to something or maybe they enjoy the fear that that symbol instills in some people. This fear is very important because it symbolizes the fear of going to jail and thereby puts more pressure on people to obey society's laws.

Tattoos can also be a very important part of non-verbal communication. This is because society says certain things about tattoos, which in turn says certain things about a person that has a tattoo. Some people think that having a tattoo represents low self esteem in a person. This is because of the knowledge that tattoos bring attention, which would be immodest, which is a value that is looked down on by society. Tattoos can also reflect how you see yourself or how you think other people see you. This also means that tattoos can be a means of impression management. Let's say for example that you wanted to look fierce because you were sick of people seeing you as weak and cutting you down. You could get a tattoo on your face, which would give the impression of being tough and people would immediately see this even if they were just passing by. Or maybe you are a little crazy and you know that you are, so you reflect that in your appearance with a tattoo. It could also be that someone that you look up to has tattoos and in a desire to be like them you might get a tattoo. In this version they would be a role model. For example: many freestyle motocross riders have lots of body tattoos along with huge gaping scars from wrecking. If you wanted to be like them you might also get similar tattoos that showed off any scars you had. In this way you create a connection between you and another person or role/status that you wish to be a part of. It may also be that you think that your friends or those in close proximity to you expect you to get a tattoo or that they see you in a certain way. An example of this would be if you were kind of small and chubby, you might start working out to change the way you think someone else sees you, so going from small and weak to quick and tough. Which can be a huge change in not only the way other people see you and treat you but also how you feel about yourself and how this affects your personality or the way you act.

Ever heard the saying "Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder"? This may be a shock to some people, but not everyone that is beautiful to one person is beautiful to another person. Some people may see tattoos as ugly; this is probably because they think that society sees tattoos in a bad way. Where as the people that think tattoos are beautiful probably see tattoos in a good light. For example: an older person probably grew up with tattoos being very closely related to blood borne diseases such as AIDS. So it could be assumed that anyone with a tattoo has a high chance of having aids and therefore would probably be looked down on. Where as a younger person that has done a little research will probably know that much has changed and that as long as you go to a respectable artist, you do not have to worry about getting AIDS, and is therefore a safe practice. There are even some instances where tattoos are considered beautiful by almost everyone. Many women wear lipstick, some have decided to just have their favorite color tattooed on their lips, most people wouldn't even know the difference unless you saw them right after they woke up or finished taking a shower.

A very interesting experiment would be to see how people reacted to you based on having different tattoos. It would be especially interesting to see how people that you knew very well, such as your parents, would react to you getting a tattoo, or how having a tattoo might open or close certain relationships. Known as ethnomethodology, it would reveal what people's norms were. It would be very interesting to see how something as little as a tattoo might sway someone's perception of us. It would be really interesting if you could go to a job interview twice, once with tattoos and a second time without tattoos, with very similar resumes. You would essentially be the same person but would get different reactions.