Back in 2002, the term “tattoo” was the number one searched term on the internet, and that’s no surprise — humans have been fascinated by the concept of body ink since the beginning of civilization. The history of tattooing dates back as far as 3300 B.C. (5,200 years ago) and was used to symbolize status in a variety of ancient cultures. In Ancient Samoa, where the word “tatau” originated, it was often practiced during religious ceremonies and was considered a rite of passage into adulthood or a position of leadership. Ancient Egyptian priestesses often used body ink to honor a specific god or to relieve pain during childbirth. It was even common for pregnant women to tattoo protective symbols as a spiritual safeguard over their unborn child.
Tattoos, despite varying in application and purpose, have existed in the cultures of every inhabited continent since the early development of modern human existence. “The oldest human remains we’ve recovered have tattoos on them,” says Dr. David Lane, a professor at Illinois State University, who has done extensive research on the history of body ink.
The fashion of tattooing spread rapidly across a large array of cultures but was soon halted and banned by the emergence of Christianity. The Christian Church saw tattoos as a “disfigurement of that made in God’s image.” This taboo persisted for centuries to follow, but like most other outdated ideological principles, people are beginning to question the modern relevance of this old-fashioned perspective.
In fact, a recent survey showed that approximately 46% of the US population has at least one tattoo, placing America in 3rd place on a global scale of tattooed population, following Italy and Sweden. This is a dramatic increase in the last five years, a number that will continue to climb particularly due to the acceptance in millennials and Gen-Z. But today, objection over undergoing your first tattoo is rooted less in religious ideologies, and more in fear of negative professional implications.
Although this is inevitably a case-by-case basis, several studies indicate that personal grooming and business attire have a more significant impact on hiring than tattoos do. Maybe employers are beginning to base their decision more heavily on a candidate’s qualifications, rather than hiring exclusively on a superficial basis. The theory that tattoos indicate unprofessionalism relies entirely on the assumption that appearance reflects the proficiency of an employee’s performance.
The debate about tattoos and job discrimination will soon be obsolete, given that nearly half of the US population in 2021 has at least one tattoo. Today, people take an interest in body ink to honor deceased loved ones, celebrate a personal memory, or decorate their bodies with aesthetic symbolism. Religious or professional stigma aside, tattoos are an undeniably intricate art-form that provides unique self-expression. In a world lacking in longevity, perhaps we find comfort in artistically marking our bodies with a breed of permanence that we can define for ourselves.