How to Look at Tattoos

© Copyright 2020 Alyssa Baldassarre, Ryerson University.

How to Look at Tattoos

With your body as a blank canvas, the possibilities are endless. A sea of colours waiting to puncture your epidermis with any design imaginable. These body adornments can tell a lot about a person as they hold within them the choices made. There are many ways to look at the pieces of art that cover the bodies of men, women, and everyone in between. The science, the history, the varying styles, the reason (if any) behind them. Therefore, where do we begin?

The History Behind Tattoos:

Perhaps with the history of tattoos in Western culture. The origins of these not-so-permanent, permanent body modifications began with sailors. American traditional tattoos were used to differentiate American sailors from British sailors in order to solidify their identity when under siege from the British. Tattoo culture was kept out of mainstream society as it was considered distasteful. However, these beautiful works of art continued to be found on those rejected by society. Bikers, criminals, and members of the circus. Young rebels pushing the envelope on societal normalities. Yet, people still found issues within this art form.

What Do Tattoos Mean?

If history perpetuates this negative view of body art, should we look at the meaning behind tattoos? There are many reasons why someone may want to undergo hours of self-inflicted pain. It is commonplace for people to get tattoos to preserve a moment in time. The death of a relative, a loved one, or a child. A permanent etching into your skin. Similar to a photograph or a painting. A moment locked in time. That’s what tattoos are all about. Your body is canvas and tattoos are the ink that allows you to visually express to others who you are. They allow you to display what is important to you as a person. A commemorative piece or simply a piece of art The addiction to tattoos has touched the arms, legs, chests, and backs of many. The rush of adrenaline, the smell of the shop, the feeling of cool green soap calming the raging skin after being punctured.

Whether the tattoo has deep meaning and been planned out for months or you’re drunk with your friends and wander into a shop, tattoos contain memories that you can look back on and laugh and are a beautiful way to express yourself. That is not something that should be looked down upon or have people turn up their noses. As a heavily tattooed woman am I a circus freak? Perhaps a ne’er do well, or a convict. The rebellious culture embedded in the art of tattooing is very much alive. However, people are beginning to allow history to change as corporations change dress codes to be accommodating to those with these body modifications. Therefore, we should look at tattoos for what they are; memories encapsulated in one’s skin.

Baldassarre, Alyssa “My Right Calf”, 2018. Photograph. 30 January 2020