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Tattoo You

Tattoo You
Once considered rebellious and were associated with sailors, criminals, and thugs, over the years tattoos have become mainstream in countries around the globe.

The word “tattoo” is derived from the Polynesian word “tatau,” which means “puncture” or “mark made on skin.” Tattoos are certainly less culturally taboo today, as evidenced by a proliferation of tattoo-related television shows such as Miami Ink and magazines such as Skin Deep.

According to a 2016 poll by data company Harris Poll, about three in ten Americans (29%) have at least one tattoo—up from roughly two in ten (21%) just four years prior. A 2016 report by research company Statistic Brain revealed that annual U.S. spending on tattoos soared to $1,650,500,000. There are large tattoo conventions all over Europe as well—in the UK, Switzerland, Italy, Germany, and beyond.

A means for self-expression for a wide demographic, tattoos are spotted on all walks of people—from WWII vets to celebrities and Millennials to moms. They’ve even become more acceptable at work—even in executive corporate roles and in the medical field.

Throughout history, tattoo meanings varied across cultures. For Japan’s Ainu women, lip tattooing was perceived as a mark of maturity and was believed to repel evil spirits. In a demonstration of faith, early Christians often had crosses tattooed on their bodies.

Tattoos also played a role in Polynesian cultures. Beyond telling stories, they taught lessons and represented family lineages. It’s believed that these markings guarded health and spiritual well-being. Tattoos were also a mark of endurance.

During the 1920s, the circus helped popularize the art of tattooing, since it employed many people with full-body tattoos. Credited for making tattooing more mainstream, iconic tattoo artist “Sailor Jerry” inked lots of military people while working in Honolulu’s Chinatown area during the 1940s.
Throughout the years, sailors’ tattoos have also had a variety of meanings. Turtles signified a sailor’s journey across the Equator, while an anchor design highlighted a trip across the Atlantic. 

In 1991, the oldest tattooed human mummy ever discovered made headlines worldwide. Tourists discovered the frozen remains of the “Iceman,” who was found between Austria and Italy. Nicknamed “Ötzi,” he had 61 tattoos, which were created from ash or soot. It’s believed that the tattoos lined up with acupuncture points and were used for medicinal purposes.

Although tattoos are common in many destinations worldwide, it’s wise to do research before traveling. In Japan, some public bathhouses, gyms, and resorts still ban entry for those flaunting tattoos. In Thailand, religious-themed tattoos are considered offensive, and permanent tattoos are also forbidden among Sunni Muslims.

Some popular characters such as Queequeg—a Polynesian harpooner in Herman Melville’s Moby Dick—sported tattoos. There’s also the mysterious wanderer in Ray Bradbury’s The Illustrated Man,  whose body was covered in strange tattoos, which came to life to illustrate the story.

By Regina Molaro
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