Tattoos – The rise and rise of the body image crisis

Tattoos – The rise and rise of the body image crisis

Tattoos – The rise and rise of the body image crisis

Take a walk around the city block or regional shopping centre today and it is not hard to notice the rising trend in tattoos. It is a trend that has crept up on us without being as much as questioned by the general media – at least until recently.

Once upon a time, tattoos were the domain of bikies, rebels and jailbirds. To get a tattoo marked you as someone who was synonymous with anti-social attitudes, rebellion and crime.

No longer is this the case

Tattoos have become mainstream. They are now aired in full display by celebrities, actors, upper class businessmen, and high-level sportsmen – there are no longer any social boundaries.

Tattoo parlours, once harboured amongst the seedy back streets, are now popping up next to cafes and dress shops, in upmarket precincts, next to ice-cream shops – as though to make a bold and clear statement as to how normal and accepted they have become.

  • The increasing popularity of tattoos in mainstream society is now accentuated by the rising trend of 'the sleeve'. Not content with the traditional 'badge' on the wrist or forearm, more men are resorting to getting the whole arm tattooed.
  • Sensitive areas of skin are seemingly also becoming more popular. No longer content to mark the harder areas of the body, men seem to be going for the insides of biceps, underarms, and sides of the upper torso – areas much more sensitive to pain.

So what is driving this trend?

What has the tattoo come to represent to men, and how has it become part of mainstream society?

Is it possible that the rise in popularity of tattoos is indicative of a growing undercurrent of discontent with the way people, and men in particular, view themselves and their own bodies?

Invariably tattoos are tied in with body image

But what body image are we trying to portray here, and is it a representation of who we truly are inside?

In previous generations, tattoos were synonymous with showing how tough or rebellious a man was. They were a statement of a man who was living on the fringes of society, a mark of toughness, individuality – part of an image designed to keep people at arm’s length.

Whilst this is still true, the statement that a tattoo makes about someone is expanding, and in some ways becoming more sinister. A quick walk through the main thoroughfares of the Gold Coast (Australia), and it is obvious that tattoos are perversely becoming synonymous with health, fitness and muscles. They adorn our sporting heroes. Even 'clean' sporting role models such as Olympic swimmers are now getting permanent markings etched upon their skin. Watch any Hollywood action movie now and the muscle bound action hero nearly always displays at least a few strategically placed tattoos to accentuate his physique.

Yes, tattooing is changing its image. It is now so mainstream it seems to be considered little more than another fashion accessory.

Yet is there a risk here that as a society we are in danger of belittling something that needs much more consideration than that given to buying a nice watch?

For starters, there are many medical and other reasons to consider before getting a tattoo:

  • getting a tattoo is an extremely painful process
  • tattoo ink is a toxin, and in some cases has been shown to be potentially carcinogenic
  • a tattoo is permanent, and can only be removed with multiple sessions involving expensive laser surgery, which is often more painful than the original tattoo
  • a tattoo often becomes a permanent emotional reminder of who you thought you were at the time – a marker that cannot be removed even when you may have moved on as you get older.

And the deeper questions that often go begging are:

  • Why do we need a tattoo to adorn our body in the first place?
  • Why are we not enough as we are?
  • Why is our body not beautiful enough the way it is?
  • If it is really a case of individual expression, whose individuality and art are we expressing – ours, or the artist's?
  • Are we really making a statement about who we are, or are we actually in truth little more than a walking billboard for someone else’s art?

Maybe these questions seem a little strong, and a little confronting, but then so is the decision to get a tattoo, and such a life changing decision deserves the utmost consideration. Surely as the precious human beings we truly are, we are worthy of at least taking the time and care to consider the long term ramifications of marking our body in such a way?

We live in a society that seems largely apathetic to the rise in the popularity of tattoos. It is a trend that seems to have arisen with little public discussion as to what is pushing this trend.

Perhaps it is time that as people and as a society we stopped to ask such questions – and in doing so at least open up the conversation.

  • By Adam Warburton, Builder

    I am a builder and a husband. I do not profess to live a life of extremes, but subscribe to the virtue of simplicity, dealing with all the same daily challenges most of us face. I love my wife... my job, my family…oh, and the world.

  • Photography: Clayton Lloyd