Published on November 19, 2013 | by Niamh Coghlan


Tattoos face the challenge of changing attitudes

Tattoo artist, Alex Bawn

Tattoo artist, Alex Bawn [Natanya Waybourne]

The thrill of a permanent change, a modern day collection of art, Cheryl Cole’s backside, tattooing is a hot topic and its sudden popularisation has definitely caused a stir.

However when looked at from a female angle it raises the question of do women embrace tattoo culture the same way as men?

From the origins of tribal tattooing to the changing attitudes and stigma attached to tattooed female and the media’s portrayal of them and the one billion pound industry which has spread to magazines, care products and even instruction DVD’s, what does it means to be tattooed these days?

The word tattoo comes from the Tahitian “tatu” which means, “to mark something.” It is arguably claimed that tattooing has existed since 12,000 BC.

The purpose of tattooing varies from culture to culture but it is something that can be seen in every society worldwide, it is quite literally a universal form of communication; the history of tattoos has not always been well documented but it is as diverse as the people who wear them.

2012 was the first year in which more women than men were tattooed in the U.S, 23 per cent of women, compared with 19 per cent of men.

It is an industry stereotypically associated with men but as the pages of the luxurious publication Things & Ink suggest, it is time to ‘embrace female tattoo culture’.


Rebecca Vincent, a highly regarded tattooist working in London, is at the forefront of women in tattooing: “I have never had or witnessed stigma towards women. A female tattoo artist is not a gimmick. Her sex has no relevance towards her art.”

Female tattooists are more prevalent than ever and “tattooed females are quite empowered women, they’ve made the choice to permanently commit to some artwork on their body, these women are not to be messed with, trust me I am one”, LCC graduate Lucy Pierce is tattooed and proud.

“I think society has changed so much in the last 20 years. It’s more normal to see tattooed people now. I don’t think that matters whether you’re male or female. In saying that, some people might find it more unusual if they see a woman heavily tattooed. That’s their own prejudice though” – Alice Snape

The questions still come up though: “What will you do when you get married?”, “How are they going to look when you’re old?” and “What if you regret it”.

Truth be told for the people who get tattooed, answers to these questions aren’t high on their priority list. “There are some comments that really annoy me like, why have you done that? What if you change your mind? Or people who touch them! Its really inappropriate, it doesn’t feel any different it feels like skin,” says Pierce.

Alice Snape, the editor of Things & Ink happily allows the stares and questioning but draws the line at people trying to touch her.

Rebecca feels much the same in welcoming the public’s inquisitiveness “I think society has changed so much in the last 20 years. It’s more normal to see tattooed people now. Which is great. I think people can still be a little shocked or taken back if they see someone who is incredibly covered. I don’t think that matters whether you’re male or female. In saying that, some people might find it more unusual if they see a woman heavily tattooed. That’s their own prejudice though”


Tattooist at work

Tattooing is one of the UK’s growth industries [Alex Bawn]

So is this so-called stigma around tattooed women a fabrication by the media? Do the women in the industry or part of the culture feel marginalized or has this been manifested through bias reporting?

Alex Bawn of Holy Mountain tattoo gave up a career in dentistry to follow her more creative passion of tattooing: “More and more women of different ages and social groups are getting tattooed now,” she says. “Tattooing is becoming increasingly fashionable therefore it’s become more acceptable for people who wouldn’t usually have a tattoo.  I think this is due to many things, media being one of the big influences.”

Rebecca feels no difference between sexes in the industry either, “In my experience, being a woman has had no bearing on my career, so far. People are in it because they love tattoos and art. It doesn’t matter what sex you are if you share the same passion”.

Alice thinks the media have had a significant effect on tattooing: “Tattoos are massively popularized at the minute and I think this is mainly to do with social media and Instagram and Facebook which obviously didn’t exists before. Everything is validated by how many likes its got; I think it is something that will become more and more accepted everything has fads doesn’t it? So the fact that its so popular now will die down as every fad does but then the people who are serious collectors they’ll remain the same.

“I think people who are heavily tattooed don’t do it for fashion but for the artistry”. So it would seem that stigma around tattooed females doesn’t seem to exist in the industry but is more prevalent amongst the non-tattooed. “Its people’s inexperience I think where all the stigma comes from, its not tattoos that scare people, it’s the unknown and that’s when the media doesn’t help because they put those stories out there like ‘Girl falls asleep while getting star tattoos!’ and I just think that’s what creates the negative connotations.”

Growing industry

“The media doesn’t help because they put those stories out there like ‘Girl falls asleep while getting star tattoos!’” – Alice Snape

The recent rise in tattoos has led to it becoming the fifth fastest growing industry in the UK, with shops popping up all over the country, conventions packing out venues, and tattoo-focused publications being born now is the tattoo revolution.

There is an obvious emphasis from those within the tattoo community on it being an art form and a push for people to greater understand the talent and skill involved which is why magazines such as Things & Ink came about.

“I started it mostly because I was disillusioned with women’s magazines and also tattoo magazines so this is the perfect women’s lifestyle and I really wanted it to be a proper luxurious read. I wanted it to be different, I didn’t want it to be chucked away I think its really important, I think that reflects what tattoos are to people, they are pieces of art you get to make you feel better about yourself , so it needed to have that aspect to it as well,” says Snape.

The growing market of tattoo consumers is spreading fast and wide and breaking down barriers between the tattooed and the not. This lust for educating the public on the skill and expertise it takes to tattoo has helped grow ever more accepting of tattoo world today. It would seem that we very much embrace the female tattoo culture.

And finally the burning question for all the non-tattooed (and maybe the tattooed too?) is why? The whys for tattooing vary person to person and even vary for one person alone, “I love tattoos. I think they are beautiful and can reflect someone’s personality. I get tattooed because I like expressing myself that way. I absolutely do NOT like that pain.”

Rebecca shares why she feels she does it while Alice sheds a different light, “Once you’ve entered into the world your reasons constantly change people get tattooed for such different reasons I mean now I think I just collect stuff from artists I really like in the same way people collect anything I just happen to collect tattoos because I like how they look on me.  There’s not a one-size fits all answer”.

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