The symbolic meaning of tattoos and society today

Originating perhaps as significant identification or ranking systems and evolving through time to take on a variety of meanings and approaches, today’s artistic approach to the tattoo can be as obscure and complex as some of the designs are themselves or as simple as a drunken night on the town coupled with a sudden impulse and an unscrupulous artist. However, only the latter of these two options is typically acknowledged in modern society’s perspective of the art. Samuel M. Steward (1990) indicates there are a variety of reasons why people may choose to get a tattoo including decoration, narcissism, exhibitionism, possession, sadomasochism, rivalry, sexuality and fetishism among a multitude of other possible motivations.

Despite any cultural pressures, there remain a variety of reasons why individuals may continue to choose not to be tattooed. These reasons can be based upon physical attributes, such as a general distaste for the practice or more serious health concerns or simply a realization of the eventual breakdown of skin tissue that will render the tattoo-less recognizable in later years. Many people dislike the concept of permanence associated with the tattoo. They fear they may grow tired of the image they chose as young people and justify their abstinence upon this concept alone. A more immediate physical concern is the sensation of “hundreds of thousands of prices over a period of minutes” (Steward, 1990) and the pain of such an experience.