The word tattoo originates from the Polynesian word for “strike.” This evolved into the Tahitian word “tatau” which means “to mark something.” Associated with Polynesia, common occurrences of tattooing can actually be traced all the way back to 2000 B.C.E. Today, tattoos have become a popular form of self-expression.
According to The Ancient History Encyclopedia, “Tattoos are an ancient form of art appearing in various cultures throughout history. One of the earliest (and possibly the oldest) patterns of tattoos in the world was discovered on the frozen remains of the man known as Otzi the Iceman who was buried in a glacier on the Austrian-Italian border c. 3250 B.C.E. and discovered in 1991 C.E.” Otzi ended up having 61 tattoos varying in design and size.
In general, tattoos and other body modifications are not something new in western culture or something just created for war veterans and motorcycle gangs. According to Bradley University, “Examples of body modifications from around the world include nose piercing associated with Hinduism, neck elongation in Thailand and Africa, henna tattooing in Southeast Asia and the Middle East, tooth filing in Bali, lip piercing and earlobe stretching in Africa, and female and male circumcision in many areas of the world.”
Tattoos were prominent in Egyptian society as a multitude of mummies have been found with tattoos all over their bodies. Pharaohs, their families, government workers and even commoners have been known to have body ink in ancient Egypt.
As society developed, tattoos went through a period of time in which they were considered taboo and inappropriate by modern cultures between the 15th and 19th centuries. However, tattoos have made a huge resurgence as of late. According to a Pew Research study on millennials, beyond the millennial generation, one in every five people in the United States have a tattoo. They are even more common among millennials specifically, with an astounding 40 percent having ink.
“Despite the fact that tattooing was illegal in many places in the U.S., some as recently as 2006, the number of people with at least one tattoo increased from about 6 percent in 1936 to about 21 percent in 2012, simultaneously increasing the need for tattoo artists,” said Adrienne Green of The Atlantic.
Tattoos really became popular in the 1960s and 1970s as more people began to express themselves in new and varying ways. Consequently, the economics of supply and demand allowed the personal tattoo industry to boom. As more people wanted tattoos, more tattoo parlors had to become available. As more tattoo parlors appeared, more people saw tattoos on a regular basis, thus inspiring others to get a tattoo of their own.
In addition, tattoos have become a part of pop culture. It is difficult to find a famous athlete, movie star or musician without a tattoo. These celebrities provide the tattoo business with one of the greatest forms of advertisement. It is almost as if these celebrities are walking billboards for the tattoo industry, inspiring those who look up to them to get a tattoo as well.
In today’s society, tattoos are incredibly popular and show no signs of fading out of fashion. They have become a pop culture phenomenon and continue to provide people with the ability to send a direct or indirect message through the designs of their choosing.
According to The Guardian, in 2015, a survey found that a fifth of all British adults were inked, with 30 percent of 25 to 39-year-olds having at least one tattoo. In 2016, a U.S. poll found that 29 percent of people had a tattoo, up from roughly two in 10 people four years before. Nearly half of millennials – people born between 1982 and 2004 – said they had one.
It seems as if the idea of getting a tattoo has snowballed into popularity today. The more people have tattoos, the more other people feel left out and want to experience the life long commitment of getting a piece of art on their skin.
For me personally, I was very against getting tattoos. As I narrow-mindedly associated tattoos with trashy people, I believed that there was no point in tattooing. At the time, tattoos meant nothing more to me than paying a lot of money for someone to scar your body. I certainly had some obvious doubts before getting my first tattoo. Doubts such as: what if it doesn’t come out right? Or what if you regret it later on and wish it was gone? I thought all of these things until my brother got his first tattoo when I was 16. I then slowly began to learn what tattoos really are and what they mean to those who get them.
I now have four tattoos and I can say that I completely understand their appeal. When I got my first tattoo, I remember sitting in the shop minutes before thinking that there would be no going back after that needle hit my arm. Once the process had begun, there was no redo. After my tattoo was finished, I felt not one ounce of regret and I was so happy that I did it.
Each one I got after that was simply an extension of my creativity and who I am as a person. I like to think that my tattoos are simply the inside of me on the outside. I am so grateful that I received the opportunity to learn about what tattoos really mean and I plan on getting a lot more ink in the future.