Marriage Tattoos

Tattoos have long been a medium people use to pledge their undying love for each other. In the United States, we tend to associate hearts with love, thus a heart design is a popular choice to show affection. Some people have even chosen to get tattoos to commemorate their marriage. Other cultures dictate that a woman be tattooed before she is even eligible to marry. Others use tattooing as a method to attract mates.

Perhaps the origin of marriage related tattooing in North America stems from the devotion tattoo. Devotion tattoos usually involve a heart or some other symbol of love and usually someone’s name. Names don’t necessarily have to be involved though, something else could be used to symbolize the devotee, like a favorite flower or something to do with her interests.

Tattooed wedding rings have been around for centuries, but their modern celebrity status has given them a new lease on being hip and trendy. Back in the mid 1990’s rocker Tommy Lee wed Pamela Anderson of “Baywatch” fame. Unfortunately, the union didn’t last as long as the matching tattooed bands on their ring fingers. Fashion model, Mia Tyler (daughter of Areosmith’s Steven Tyler) and her musician husband, David Buckner also have tattooed bands.

Although tattoos in pace of actually rings sounds extreme and absurd, it may actually have some practical advantages. Some people, like doctors and nurses have professions that require them to wash their hands all the time. A tattooed ring would mean they can do so without having to bother with taking their wedding band on and off repeatedly and risk losing or forgetting it.

Other’s have jobs that have certain risk factors associated with wearing jewelry, like oil field worker, mechanics and others who deal with heavy machinery on a regular basis. Conventional rings can get caught on the machine’s moving parts and cause damage, and maybe even the loss of a finger. The ring finger has a tendency not to heal as well as other parts of the body, so the design may turn out a little blurry.

Not all marriage tattoos have to be permanent to be important. The Hindu religion mandates they couple, especially the bride to be, be decorated with henna tattoos for the ceremony, or their union will not be considered official. The word “mehendi” is often used in place of “henna” and is synonymous with the word “marriage.” Its reddish color is symbolic of good luck and prosperity a new bride is going to bring to the family she is becoming a part of. The designs are usually placed on the hands and feet by the bride’s female relatives during a ritual preformed the day before the wedding. At least one the groom’s hands is usually decorated for the ceremony as well.

In other cultures, a woman is not considered worthy to marry unless she is tattooed because it’s believed if she can’t take the pain of getting extensively tattooed, then she might never be able to stand the even more intense pain of child birth. By the same token, and untattooed man isn’t worth marrying because if her can’t endure the discomfort of getting inked, he is not going to be a good worker so he can’t provide well for his family. He will probably be considered a incompetent warrior.

In many ways, picking out a tattoo design is much like looking for a spouse. Your tattoo with be your ever present companion in good times and bad, in sickness and health, for richer and for poor. Pretty much the same rules apply. Some times a tattoo outlasts the relationship it was meant to celebrate and the two or three more. Much like a marriage gone wrong, divorcing a tattoo will also leave you hurting, broke and scarred.

Popularity of Tattoos

How long the practice of tattooing as been going on and the exact origin of its use remains a matter of much speculation. There’s evidence to suggest that kings and pharaohs have been tattooed since way back, debunking the myth that ink was originally used only for marking criminals and other undesirables.

For years a stigma has been imbedded in body art as ink is in the skin. Perhaps that attitude was perpetuated by the fact that traditionally, tattooed people tended to be somewhat on the fringes of society, and have occupations that were not exactly mainstream and a little mysterious, like pirates, merchant sailors, gypsies and non-Christian clergy, giving body art a rather romantic, outlaw reputation.

Over time, rebels of all kinds, and some falsely accused of rebellion, have adopted tattoos as a symbol of their beliefs. For example, a particular sort of rainbow is associated with homosexuality. The rainbow in question has six specific colors: red, for life; orange, for healing; yellow, for sun; green, for nature; blue, for harmony and purple, for spirit. This rainbow was first introduced as such in 1978 at the San Francisco Gay and Lesbian Pride Day parade. The movement desired a banner that could represent them through the ages, and some feel strongly enough to have it permanently inked into their skin so they can always be identified with their cause. For similar reasons, modern Christians, despite traditional religious objection to the practice of tattooing, opt for crosses or fish symbols to illustrate their faith.

Of course, for every action there is an opposite reaction. Various hate groups also have their own tattoo. Members of the Aryan Brotherhood, a notorious white supremacy group, often brand themselves with ink that supports their raciest views. Designs popular with this group may not come right out and say Aryan Brotherhood. Instead they just contain the letters AB or the name Alice Baker to symbolize their hatred. Similarly, other branches of racist extremism, such as skinheads and neo-Nazis, utilize the swastika and the confederate flag.

In the 1960s and 70s, society was in a mess. The black civil rights movement was coming to a head, and women were finally starting to exercise the independence they had been trying to gain for centuries. There were activists for or against so many things. Nixon was on his way out of the White House and people were discouraged with their government. This era was a turning point in widening the social acceptance of tattooing. Suddenly the status quo wasn’t really worth preserving any more.

It seems like movie stars are prone to jumping on band wagons and getting tattoos. The general public’s fascination with celebrity gives them the power to give a voice to their cause, and influence our culture. More and more stars are making appearances with their tattoos hanging out and showing them off in photo shoots, giving their adoring fans one more reason to run out and get inked.

For better or worse, it’s the idea of symbolism that draws people to tattooing. People commonly seek designs that celebrate or commemorate significant events in their lives, such as the birth of a new baby or the death of a loved one. Some people chose a symbol of a monumental accomplishment, like graduating from college, surviving cancer or serving in the armed forces.

Though we obviously have a long, long way to go before every person is free to be themselves in this world, self expression has become more and more acceptable. Getting a tattoo is a way to display art that is deeply meaningful to the owner. It’s ok to ask someone what their tattoo stands for. They wouldn’t have it so prominently displayed if they didn’t want you to notice it.

Tattooed Women

“Well behaved women rarely make history.”
– Laurel Thatchel Ulrich

It used to be that the only place you would find a lady with even a single tattoo was in a carnival freak show. Even after such displays were, for the most part, things of the past, the realm of permanent body art remained somewhat of a boys’ club. Today, tattoos are far more popular and socially accepted by the general public than they used to be, and though men still tend to be more heavily tattooed than women, the gap is quickly filling in.

So pervasive is the trend that tattooed women have developed their own sub-subculture, hosting Web sites, clubs and even entire conventions tailored especially to ladies with body art. There are also books and magazines devoted to the subject. If you belong in those ranks, wish you did, or think you might someday; here are some media you may want to check out.

1. A Tattooed Women’s Collective – This site has links to resources of interest to ladies with ink, and allows them to have their own personal Webpage to show off their art and blog about anything they want to. –

2. The Illustrated Woman – This book by photographer William Demichele showcases pictures of all kinds of ladies and their permanent body art. They range in age from 20s to 60s and have various degrees of ink, from small, discrete tats to full bodysuits.

3. Bodies of Subversion 2 Ed: A Secret History of Women and Tattoo – by Margot Mifflin, is written by a woman, about women and even published by a woman-owned a operated press, Juno Books. It features information about tattooed women of influence and female tattoo artists.

4. Stewed, Screwed and Tattooed – by Madame Chinchilla and photographed by Jan Hinson chronicles the author’s 12 years of life as a tattooed woman and comments on the social stigma surrounding the subject.

Of course, tattoos know no gender or social class, but a little celebrity endorsement never fails to boost a trend. Several famous women have gotten inked, probably more than we know. One of the most documented in the last century was Betty Broadbent. She was born in 1909 and got her first tattoo in 1927 at the age of 18. Her tattooist was Charlie Wagner of New York. He was one of the few at the time using the new electric machine. Her body was almost solidly covered with more than 300 tattoos. Broadbent became a tattoo artist herself to supplement the income she had from touring. She retired to Florida in 1967 and passed away in 1983.

Are any woman’s tattoos more famous than Janis Joplin’s? Her ink was an outward manifestation of the free spirit she was. A pioneer in the realm of female rock stars, she inspired many people before she died in 1970 at the age of only 28. The coroner’s report itemizes her body art: a bracelet on her left wrist, a flower on her right heel and a heart just above her left breast. Janice’s tattooist, Lyle Tuttle, told the New York Times in 1971 that he tattooed more than 100 copies of that heart on mourning fans since her death.

Thanks to women like these, ladies everywhere are making a place for themselves in the tattooed community. Women are no longer just the canvas. Now they’re the artist too. Female owned and operated tattoo studios are popping up everywhere, and may be a contributing factor in the rise of tattooed women. Modesty may have prevented some from getting the design and placement they really wanted in the past, but they may feel more at ease in an all girl shop.

Celebrity Tattoos

Celebrity tattoos have been a frequent topic in mainstream pop culture and the media since the early 1990s. Actors, musicians and sports figures have gone under the needle, and their designs have inspired millions to do the same.

Oscar winning actor and budding humanitarian Angelina Jolie is also closely associated with her myriad of tattoos. Jolie is a dedicated tattoo enthusiast, collecting at least a dozen tattoos to symbolize various beliefs and life events. Jolie has made the dragon one of the most popular tattoos for women and sparked interest in traditional tattoo styles of Southeast Asia.

Rapper, Record Producer and actor 50 Cent is as noted for his body art as for his music. Fifty’s tattoos cover his back; the giant “Southside 50” rising from smoke and flames has become his signature. The back tattoo was designed by celebrity inkster Mr. Cartoon, who also designs Nike sneakers.

Eminem, another Mr. Cartoon client, has dog tags tattooed around his neck, a large mushroom on his left shoulder, his daughter’s name on his left wrist, “Slit Here” on his right wrist, a D on his right arm, the number 12 on his left arm, tattoos for Eminem and Slim Shady on his chest and several others.

The actor and reality television star Nicole Richie has at least nine tattoos, including wings on her back, a rosary around her ankle and a spider on her lower back. A pair of ballerina slippers commemorates both her childhood passion and her father Lionel Richie’s song “Ballerina Girl.”

Similarly, Britney Spears has several tattoos: a fairy on her lower back, a small daisy circling her second toe on right foot, a butterfly leaving a vine on left foot, a flower with Chinese symbol for mystery in middle on lower stomach, three Hebrew characters on back of her neck, and reportedly several others. Critics allege Britney’s rather varied assortment of body art is indicative of her impulsive vices, but others celebrate her love of tattooing.

Drew Barrymore has sported inked crosses and butterflies for more than a decade. Barrymore has posed for countless photographs displaying her tattoos, so she has perhaps the most extensively photographed body art of anyone in the public eye.

In abandoning her late 1990s teen pop image, Christina Aguilera adopted a variety of tattoos. She had the name of her controversial alter ego, Xtina, inked on her neck. She also obtained a flower on her wrist, a design on her forearm and reportedly several unseen designs. Later, she celebrated her marriage to record producer Jordan Bratman with the words “Te Amo Siempre” on her arm.

International sports star David Beckham is as famed for his jet-setting lifestyle, celebrity wife Victoria “Posh” Beckham, and famous friends as he is for his skills. Beckham has his sons’ names on his back, his wife’s name and his jersey number on his arm, and other tattoos. Beckham detailed his tattoos’ symbolic value in his autobiography, and his wife is also a body art fan.

Another celebrity couple who are tattoo fans are pop star Pink and her husband motocross racer Carey Hart. The singer’s tattoos may well number in the dozens. She has a shooting star and angel on her shoulder, “what goes around comes around” on her wrist, “tru luv” on her arm, “Mr. Pink” on her thigh, a cartoon cat on her stomach, the barcode from the album Missundaztood just below her hairline on back of her neck, and many more. Hart owns the Huntington-Hart Tattoo Shop
in the Palms Casino in Las Vegas. The shop is featured in the reality television show “Inked.”

Branded for Life: Tattooing and Social Status

Twelve thousand years has not altered the cross-cultural implications of tattoos. From the jungles of Borneo to dorm rooms at Harvard, their implications remain the same. Tattoos have always signified status.

In Indochina, a woman’s forearm tattoos made them desirable for marriage. Various designs demarked the wearer’s station in life. Rich women wore delicate arm tattoos that looked like expensive gloves women buy today at Bloomingdale’s. Warriors’ tattoos on showed how many lives they had taken in battle. Tattoos commanded respect and assured their wearers status for life.

Today, tattoos signify some personal trait or membership in either clan or society. The Hells Angels jealously guard their tattoo. Secret societies do the same. The aura of mystery and secrecy pervades the tattoo wearer whether they repel or attract us. Whatever our reasons for asking, the question remains: “What ARE they wearing? And WHY?”

Some believe a tattoo wearer possesses the spirit of his “dragon, eagle or flower.” William Blake might have said the ferocity of the Tyger belongs to others. Today, tigers, snakes, and bird of prey stalk unchecked in out midst. We might want to be careful whom we antagonize.

Mediterranean civilizations used tattoos for espionage, slavery and the demarcation of crime, a filthy practice that continues to this day. Japanese girls were tattooed as rite of passage to womanhood and the Japanese tattoo assumed a religious significance.

Western cultures have tattooed family crests for centuries. Pope Hadrian banned tattooing in 787 AD but thrived in the British Isles until the Battle of Hastings, 1066 AD. William the Conqueror forced its disappearance from Western culture till the 16th century.

Yet tattoos thrived in Japan, notably for marking criminals. First offenses carried a line across the forehead. The second, an arch and the third, another line – the Japanese character for “dog” – The start of the: “Three strikes and you’re out law.” The Japanese tattoo became an aesthetic art form with the “body suit”, a social reaction to strict laws. While royalty alone were allowed to wear ornate clothing, nothing stopped the middle class from wearing elaborate full body tattoos that left the naked considered “well dressed”.

American tattoos were born in Chatham Square, New York City; a seaport and entertainment center attracting the affluent and the working class. Tattoo artists grew in respectability and so too did the tattoo, flourishing as artist husbands tattooed their wives with their work and became their billboards. Cosmetic tattooing meshed with cheek blush, lipstick and eyeliner. Cardinals’ fans might want to investigate Jim Edmonds.

After World War I, tattoos began to symbolize bravery and wartime solidarity. With the Prohibition and Depression, tattoos became travelers’ markers telling the story of where the wearer had been.

Post World War II America became disenchanted with the tattoo by its association with delinquency. Tattooing had little respect in American culture. The 1961 hepatitis outbreak all but destroyed any positive status the tattoo had earned.

Lyle Tuttle changed the American attitude toward tattoos in the late ‘60s with media savvy and tattooing celebrity women. Scores of magazines rushed to him for information about this ancient art form.

Toady, tattoos are more popular than they ever were. All classes of people seek them and the tattooist is considered a “fine artist”. Political consultants, actors and baseball players wear them – proudly or sheepishly – but wear them nonetheless. While the status tattoo wearers enjoy is certainly less clear than it was a thousand years ago, the status the tattoo itself enjoys is a popular, if confused one.