Tattoos: How the Stereotypes Are Changing

More and more people these days are thinking about getting, or already have one or multiple tattoos. It’s not uncommon to see a 19 or 20-year-old with a visible sleeve. I myself have 11 tattoos and have friends with multiple tattoos as well. While my dad doesn’t exactly love them, I get a lot of positive reactions from other friends and family members so what does this mean about how people are changing their views on tattoos? 

In the past, tattoos were rarer and harder to get, and because we love making assumptions about each other, it was easy to assume that the people who went out of their way to get a tattoo did it for a bad reason. This assumption is a classic example of classism in our society. Tattoos are traditionally associated with violent people or people in gangs or prison who our society assumes are from poorer backgrounds. Viewing tattoos in this way was just another way to create a sense of distinction between the respected upper class and the demonized lower class. But tattoos actually have a long and rich history dating back to when tattoos were a symbol used to mark the status of upper-class tribe members. The history of tattoos and what the significance of someone having tattoos means has been used as a way for historians and anthropologists to study and understand lost civilizations and their cultures.

Beyond the fact that tattoos historically represent someone of a higher social class, if you have looked into getting a tattoo you know that they don’t come cheap! For the majority of tattoo shops, the base price for a small tattoo is around $60. For people who invest in sleeves or bigger pieces in general, the price can be in the triple digits or even the thousands, so the assumption that only a lower class individual would be getting a tattoo is a bit ridiculous. This is not to say someone who is in a lower socio-economic class cannot afford to get beautiful pieces done. They, by all means, can if they decide to spend their money that way, but it’s important to remember when you decide to judge someone based on their tattoos, that that person invested a substantial amount of money on something that they think should be on them forever.

But beyond the facts and figures, most people who get tattoos, which is now estimated to be 21-29 percent of American’s with one tattoo and 15-20 percent having two or more tattoos, are really just expressing themselves through the art that they put on their skin. Many people’s tattoos have meaning or are things that people find to be beautiful or important to them. You can learn a lot about someone by what tattoos they choose to get. And sure, there are plenty of people who regret the tattoos they got when they were 18, but there are many others who still find value and beauty in their tattoos.

So this brings us back to the question, how are people’s stereotypes around people with tattoos changing? Well, a recent study found that people’s assumptions based on the negative stereotypes around people with tattoos are in fact changing. The study took pictures of people with visible arm tattoos and the same pictures with the tattoos erased in photoshop to test if participants held certain assumptions about people with tattoos. The majority of the stereotypes the researches hypothesized would be held by the participants were debunked. While the participants did rate the individuals with tattoos more negatively than those without, they also found people with tattoos, especially women, to be stronger and more independent than their counterparts without tattoos. They also found that participants didn’t find that someone with tattoos represented the stereotypes of being less intelligent, have more negative character traits, or as heavier drinkers.

So yes, the stereotypes around tattoos are changing for the better but we do still have a ways to go before there is no stigma around them. But I believe that as more and more young people get tattoos and enter the work force, the more people will realize that tattoos don’t represent what the older generations want us to believe. They can be a reflection of art and beauty and those are things I can think we all can find value in. But getting a tattoo is a big and usually permanent decision so make sure that if you decide to get one it’s one you feel proud of and make sure you care for it properly so it can heal well (click here for good healing tips) and be something beautiful you don’t mind making your dad a little mad at you for getting.

Photo credits: 1, 2, 3