Attention, art, or emotion – what are those who have ink on their skin looking for? In truth, it could be either, or neither of those. Tattoos are simply personal markings that can reflect a variety of things, but they certainly always tell you something about the wearer themselves.
With such a colorful history that graces them, tattoos have been everything from markings of a slave to a tribal woman’s rite of passage. One of the most universal things about tattoos is that they are permanent and as such, meaningful. But what do they mean today? What’s the secret behind the ink on our skin? Let’s find out.
Culture and tradition
The word tattoo comes from the Tahitian “tatu” and it means “to mark.” Tattoos have existed for more than 12 000 years, and have always portrayed humanity’s need to ornament their bodies. From Ancient Arabia, Persia, Polynesia, and Greece to the modern times, the popularity of inked skin fluctuated through history. While in Japan, tattoos were a part of the holiest of religious rituals, in the Roman culture they were used to mark criminals, slaves, and particularly gladiators.
They came to England around the 1690s with William Dampier, who brought a Polynesian slave with himself and named him “the Painted Prince” because his entire body was inked with various shapes that crisscrossed his skin. Due to unhygienic conditions and the way needles were used to press in ink, tattoos lost their popularity at the turn of the 20th century, but have slowly been regaining it over the last few decades. Today it’s a lot more socially acceptable to have one on our body.
Both abstract and physical
While tattoos definitely have a very visible representation on our skin, their meaning is not always obvious. Images and words play with each other and paint a picture that shows us a person. Tattoos are absolutely inseparable from their owners and their personal look, and while a small butterfly on the underside of your friend’s wrist might represent freedom, the same kind of tattoo will take on a completely different meaning on someone else’s skin. Ink is just a part of the picture, and to understand it, you must understand the person behind it and what they’re trying to say to the world.
Words and pictures etched on skin
Tattoos can mark a past event, they can represent a loved one, or something that holds great meaning to us. Maybe they’re the mark of an adventurer, maybe of a dreamer, but they’re always a sign of a rebel. In Japan, for example, tattoos were outlawed in 1872 because they wanted the citizens to appear more Westernized to foreigners. This caused an outrage and was generally completely ignored.
Not only did the Japanese continue getting inked, the foreigners who came actually loved their ink as well! Sailors, for example, loved these designs and most of them got a tattoo to remind them of their good times abroad. This particular tattoo style is still one of the most famous ones, and it’s popular all over the world, especially in Australia. Australian tattooists are famous for their craft, and custom Japanese tattoos in Sydney are seen as symbols of wisdom, power, and strength.
Another thing that has always been a popular option is poems, quotes, and sayings – meaningful words that mark our favorite passage from a book or something inspirational that helps us find strength during the most difficult of times. This literary ink is a clever way to show off your love of words and books.
Freedom of spirit
Tattoos, while socially accepted, are still a little unconventional. Like we mentioned earlier, they show some rebelliousness and a disregard of social constructs and ideas of what’s supposed to be “proper.” From people like David Beckham and Adam Levine who have entire sleeves to those who keep it subtle like Ariana Grande, celebrities are in on this trend and they’re helping to push the boundaries by painting their bodies with art. One thing is certain – only the free-spirited and the bold are drawn to body ink.
Do you have a tattoo of your own? Or have you always wanted to get one? Now’s a great time to get it, especially if you have a cool idea on your mind that you’d love to etch on your skin. Whether you’re planning something tiny and subtle or something big and obvious, enjoy your ink and rock it proudly.