Social Acceptance of Tattoos

Would you sit for hours and let someone stab you repeatedly? There are those who crave such treatment. Since its beginnings, civilization has possessed habits that were seen as barbaric and low-rent. Being tattooed has, in the history of the U.S., been seen as something that only the dregs and roughnecks of society would do. Yet in this, the technological, age tattoos have become a more accepted and mainstream part of society.

Some of those who are being tattooed today do so to be trendy. The most popular or–as many would put it–the most cliché, tattoos are tribal or Celtic designs, barbed wire, and skulls for males, and, for females, flowers, fairies, hearts, and butterflies. Still others are tattooed because they see their art as an extension of themselves and wish to be a canvas for their artist.

According to Tattoo Facts and Statistics online (, in 1936 Life magazine estimated about 6 percent of the U.S. population had at least one tattoo. The same article states that in April 2000, the National Geographic News reported that approximately 40 million U.S. citizens had been inked.

If you break it down by age groups, a 2003 Harris poll tells us that young adults aged 25-29 possess the highest percentage of tattooed individuals–a stunning 36 percent! Over the past few years, both the age range and the number of those being tattooed have steadily increased.

Tattoos are gotten for many reasons. In biker culture, one might get a tattoo to symbolize their affiliation with their biker crew, just as a gang member would have his gang’s symbols etched into his skin to show his loyalty.

For many, a tattoo is a passing fad, a craze, and is something they will later regret. These are most often the people who go with a group of friends to get tattooed because it’s “cool,” or perhaps some are those who would, in the thralls of a passionate affair, get a lover’s name inked into their flesh. These people are most commonly the ones who will seek out means of tattoo removal later on in life, ashamed of what they consider a momentary lapse of judgment.

And yet for others, a tattoo is a distinct and desired part of life–an expression of their personal beliefs and a work of art. Not long ago, tattoos were unacceptable in high society and were seen as the rude and brutal etchings of roughnecks and those who were of a lower standard. Throughout the 1960s, the rebellious, anti-social mind-set of the day helped to mainstream tattooing as more and more flower children were inked in defiance of what was “proper.” By the 1970s, rock and rollers began to proudly display their tats, and by the 1980s, many celebrities, from rock star to model to sports star to actress, boasted of their ink.

A History Channel program reveals that the earliest sample of tattooed skin which has been discovered dates back to 12th-Dynasty Egypt (1938 B.C.), but that there is evidence to show that, in Pre-Dynastic and Early Dynastic Egypt, tattooing might have been practiced as early as 4500 B.C.

Today’s age has been described as the age of the Renaissance for tattoos. An article by U.S. News and World Report states that ten years ago, tattoo parlors were opening at a rate of one per day in the U.S. Tattoo artists now advertise page after page of “Flash” art on their walls, ready-made tattoos for the customers who want ink, but don’t know what design they want.

In the past decade, newer, stricter regulations have been put into place to protect both the client and the artist. Cleanliness and equipment guidelines have allowed tattooing to become a safer form of rebellion for teens looking to shock their parents or to find a way to express themselves.

But for some, tattoos will always be taboo. In this day and age, there is still discrimination against those people who choose to be inked. Often, one will cover his art for a job interview, fearful that any potential employer will judge the person not by his resume, but by the ink in his skin. It is the same for the females who allow their skin to become a canvas. While those with the understanding see tattoos as unique and beautiful expressions of one’s personality and another’s skill, others see them merely as blemishes or stains on an otherwise unmarred surface. Ultimately, it is an individual’s choice whether or not a tattoo is a beautiful addition to one’s person or a beastly mistake to be erased.

Tattoo Placement

The type of tattoo you want may dictate its placement. For example, the back, chest and upper leg are great canvases for large designs, such as portraits and scenery. The arms, especially the bicep, is a traditionally popular location, and gives you the option of an ever trendy arm band design, a small, easily hidden tat, or a huge, domineering statement that goes great with a tank top.

The hands are feet are painful spots for permanent tattooing; as a result, most people opt for smaller designs in these places. However, the hands especially are highly popular in traditional henna tattooing, so if you have next to no pain tolerance but still want your digits extensively decorated, henna is a pain free option that’s strong cultural tradition will keep you respectable in the tattoo world. Just don’t tell people you got henna because you’re afraid of a little pain.

The genitals and butt, it not the most common and is extremely painful, but people do it. You know what they say: different strokes for different folks. There really is a tattoo out there for everybody.

If you’ve already got ink, you know that the first think everyone wants to know is “Did that hurt?” If you’ve been considering whether or not to get a tattoo, the mystery surrounding the pain factor is most likely what’s holding you back. Some have described the sensation as more of a burning or feeling. Some say it feels more like a bee sting or a burn. Many wouldn’t call it pain at all, but more of an irritation. How much discomfort you experience depends on where you choose to put your new tattoo.

Bone and nerve endings should be main considerations in tattoo placement. Areas with a lot of nerve endings close to the surface of the skin, like the spine, nipples, hands, feet and genitals are going to be more uncomfortable that others. Places with shallow bones like the sternum, ribs, shin, knees, elbows, the head and behind the ears will also be more sensitive.

The size of the design you chose also plays a part in the amount of pain involved. Of course larger tattoos take longer to complete, prolonging the irritation of the skin and making it more raw and sensitive. That’s why most tattooists will suggest you break big projects up into several sittings.

There’s a common misconception that having a few drinks before going under the gun will keep you relaxed and help make you more comfortable. This is not the case. In fact, tattooist won’t work on you and don’t even really want you in their shops because, unless you are so drunk that you passed out cold, you will have a harder time following directions and sitting still.

While there is always some blood during the process, drunks tend to bleed more, making the process slow and messy. The excess blood makes it harder for the skin to absorb the ink and your tattoo may no take at all, which means you’ve wasted the artists time, bled all over his shop and got poked repeatedly with nothing to show for it.

The same is true for any drugs, legal or otherwise, you may be thinking of taking. That goes double for amphetamines, or anything that makes you jittery, even caffeine. The best thing you can ingest to help with the pain is a good meal. A good night’s sleep wouldn’t hurt either. Fatigue is known to have a negative effect on pain tolerance.

Another very important thing to consider when choosing where to put your tattoo is how it will affect your employment options. Even in the twenty-first century, there is still a lot of stigma attached to tattoos. If you are a white collar professional or work in a very public, customer-service type atmosphere, you may want to think about putting your tattoo someplace where you can show it off if you want to, but can easily cover it up for work without looking silly.

Tattoos and Animal Identification

Body art has nothing if not purpose. Just ask the person wearing it. People get tattoos to commemorate special events in their lives, like new babies or new college degrees. They get them to show their love for another person, location, or even pet. Some get inked to express their grief over the passing of someone they love. Tattoos tell stories about the people wearing them. They scream out hopes, dreams and sometimes even nightmares, but they have a much more mundane, yet practical purpose as well: animal identification.

There’s always been a need for farmers and ranchers to be able to identify their livestock. Starting in the 1800s, they used a hot iron to burn an identifying mark into the animal’s hide. That practice has since been called into question by animal rights activists who are concerned about it being painful and therefore inhumane. While branding is by no means completely extinct, new practices have been successfully in place for several years; one of them is tattooing. Tattooing is fairly quick and surely less painful than branding. Yet it’s still just as permanent

The importance of being able to positively identify an animal goes way beyond ownership. It can go a long way toward the eradication of diseases if the sick animals can be picked out and kept away from the rest of the heard. If it’s easy to tell which animals are sick then they can be studied with confidence, knowing they’ve got the right creature and can more correctly diagnose and treat the illness. Dealing quick and efficiently with the problem means saving money and livestock.
Organ and tissue samples can also be identifies for study and lead to better treatment and prevention of sickness.

Being able to easily tell one animal from the other make it easy to keep accurate records of their vaccinations, checkups and other health information so that the health of the heard can be certified, which is of utmost importance when it comes to selling of f the animals at auction. If there is an outbreak, like the Mad Cow epidemic of a few years back, for example, know not only which creatures are sick, but being able to track where they’ve been and chart their movement could allow veterinarians to find out the source of the disease and maybe stop it.

In recent years, some vets have began imprinting small, blue tattoos on female pets after the animal has been spayed. The mark is usually placed on the abdomen, in a spot where the animal’s hair is the thinnest, so it can be seen through the fur. The idea behind the practice is to protect the animal from having to endure an invasive procedure should it become separated from it’s owners and someone else take it in to get fixed.

Tattoos are also an effective way to permanently identify mice and rats used in lab research. The tattoos are generally applied to the tails of the animals of course, since it is a hairless area and easy for the tattooer to access. The permanence of the marking means the animal will only have to be labeled once, which means less work on the researcher, and less stress on the rat. Tattooing animals involved in research is actually a pretty big business, with several manufacturers producing the products and training people how to use them.

Tattooing animals is for their own protection as well as that of people. It saves money and often the lives of the creatures. Tattoos can help track sickness and disease and aid in their eradication. The practice that many have deemed barbaric has actually proven to be more human to the animals, improving their health and quality of life in the long run.

Safety and Sanitation in the Tattoo Parlor

You wouldn’t eat in a dirty restaurant, or have surgery in a filthy operating room, so why in the world would you settle for a less that sanitary tattoo studio? You wouldn’t. When a tattoo parlor sets up shop in a city in which the practice is legal, (believe it or not, there are still places in the United States where it’s not) it is liscensed by the city in the same way any other business would be and is subject to the same rules.

However, there are, as of yet, no governmental bodies or laws geared specifically toward regulating the sanity of the body art industry. Over the years, there have
been times when the government, at various levels, has threatened to stick its nose into the tattoo business. So far professional tattooists have prevented that by self regulation. Here are some things you should look for to make sure you have a happy, healthy tattoo experience.

o Needles – They should be sterile to start off with and disposed of every single time. Above all else, needles should never be used more than once. It’s a good idea for tattooists to break and properly dispose of the used needle where the customer can see them. This gives the tattooist a little accountability and incentive to finish the job right while instilling confidence in the facility in the customer. At the very least it’s good for business.

o Gloves – If the tattooist acts like he’s about to touch your skin without gloves on, scream. It’s a popularly know fact that we carry a lot of germs on our hands. Before your tattooist begins working on you, he should was his hands with antibacterial soap and put on a fresh pair of gloves. After the gloves go on, he should not touch anything but your skin and his already sterile equipment. If he steps away from the sterile environment for any reason: to talk to another customer, answer the phone, operate the cash register, anything, the process should be repeated with a new pair of gloves.

o Autoclave – We you are in the process of auditioning shops for your new tattoo, be sure to look around for an autoclave. This is a machine roughly the size of a microwave that is used to serialize tattoo equipment. Dentists and doctors also use them. Smart tattooists keep their autoclaves in sight of the customers for all the same reasons they let them see the broken needles.

o Ink – The tattooist should always throw out left over ink after every project. All kinds of airborne contaminants can fly into open ink pots and stick there. Reusing

In a good shop, you should be able to observe most of these practices just while you are waiting in line. If not, don’t hesitate to ask some questions. A tattooist with nothing to hide won’t mind talking with you. If he acts nervous, or like you’re bothering him, just turn around and walk out. There are enough good, clean shops out there that there’s no need for you to compromise your health or the quality of your experience.

The Alliance of Professional Tattooists, Inc. was founded in the summer of 1992 to educated and protect the interests of both the tattooer and the tattooee. Membership hopefuls must be able to prove at least three years of documented tattooing experience, use an autoclave and attend a nine hour seminar on microbiology and how diseases are contracted. The APT sets guidelines for sanitation practices and, with the help of OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) enforce hefty fines of up to $7,500 a day to encourage members to operate safe, clean shops.

Why Women Want to have a Lower Back Tattoo

Don’t think that you are going to be a unique individual if you have a lower back tattoo. These days, it has become a natural and common option especially among the women. In fact, such has given birth to the derogatory comment “tramp stamp”. The term is used to refer to the women who wear very low cut jeans plus a hanging top to show off a tattoo design.

In general, tattoos have been in existence since time immemorial. They were firstly employed by the ancient tribal people to indicate ranking, a body of belief, a symbol for punishment, and many others.

From the classical designs up to the most contemporary, tattoos have never failed to be forgotten from that of the limelight.

Typically thought of to be imprinted on the skin through needling, some temporary stick on designs have also been made popular. Nevertheless, the part of the body on which the design is placed have also started to vary. Aside from the very obvious markings that can be imprinted on the arms, women try their best to be very discreet as they have the tattoos on their lower back portion. With this, they may decide on when to show them off through the type of clothing that they wear.

Why is it Popular?

What makes the tattoo on the lower back quite popular especially among the women populace? The answer is fairly obvious. That is because the lower back is simply one of the most sensuous parts of their body. True enough the legs and hips top the list yet they can have more ways than one to enhance the sensuality of their body. Having a tattoo on their lower back portion counts as one.

One more thing, having a tattoo on this part of the body proves to be easily hidden. Schools and other workplaces emphasize their rules on the banning of tattoos. Thus, by wearing the appropriate clothes, these skin markings are perfectly concealed.

What are the designs to choose from?

When it comes to the design, you have a lot of things to choose from. The popular choices include the following:

The flower designs. They are one of the top choices since they can be really very feminine to look at.

The dolphin designs. Apart from being cute, they express an attitude of being naughty yet pleasurable to tame.

The butterfly designs. They never fail to project an attitude of loving freedom.

The tribal designs. They are primarily rooted from the ancient styles. Some of the still commonly used include the sun, star, and other Celtic styles. Many of them have been inspired by the trends in Polynesia.

The dragon designs. They spell the attributes of being adventurous, a risk-taker, and being fantastic at the same time.

Other Precautions to Keep in Mind

Thus, if you are about to get a lower back tattoo, be sure to use a loose fitting pair of jeans to avoid rubbing against the fresh imprint. Also, get the services of a reputable artist to ensure that everything is going to turn out fine. Inquire on the safety of the materials to use. When it comes to the design, you may surf the Internet and then you may access the tattoo libraries. It is always fun to try something new after all!

Polynesian Tattooing

When you say the word Polynesian to people, they immediately start talking about beautiful islands, ritualistic dancing and food, but not too much time will pass without vivid descriptions of large, intimidating looking men sporting extensive, if not full body tattoos. The art of Polynesian tattooing is a product of a culture that has no written language. Information and stories were passed down through oral tradition from generation to generation. The tattoos were used as a kind of record book to keep track of a person’s personal history. There were specific markings to denote one’s social status, occupation, lineage, and sexual development.

In the late 1700s, Christian missionaries came to the Pacific Islands and made quite a mark. Quite a bit of the native population converted to Christianity, and felt they had to give up their culture to do so. The things that made the people who they were gradually started to fade, and the practice of tattooing was probably one of the first things to go since it is expressly forbidden in the Old Testament.

Eventually the Polynesians resurrected their way of life, and reverted to some of their old customs and practices. The ink once again began to flow and the
traditional methods and designs of tattooing became popular again. However, using the traditional tools of the trade was banned in French Polynesia in the late ‘80s because the Ministry of health didn’t feel the wooded and bon instruments could be sufficiently sterilized.

The tools are made from needles carved sharply out of bone or tortoise shell and fastened to a wooden piece so that the finished tool looks somewhat like a hair comb. Like the tattoo ink used in the modern day Untied States, what the Polynesians used wasn’t really ink at all, but soot from burning candlenut, and like modern ink, it was combined with a carrier solution to keep it mixed well and make it easier to apply. They usually used water or oil. The needle end of the comb is then dipped into the ink and tapped into in the skin with a hammer-like instrument.

A person usually started participating in the tattooing rituals to around the age of 12 to mark their transition from childhood into adult hood. The design and placement of a person’s tattoos was largely determined by their bloodline. You social status was directly proportionate to how many tattoos you had. A man with no tattoos was an outcast, and those with extensive tattoos were revered and held high stations in the community.

Polynesian women are also tattooed, though not as heavily as men. Like boys, girls typically began their tattooing around the age of 12. Until a girl was tattooed, she was not allowed to prepare food or participate fully in society. Women were only allowed to get tattooed in certain places on their bodies, mostly the hands, feel and lips. We now know these to be the most painful areas.

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the tattooed community in the United States was in the throws of the “tribal” trend. These tattoos are characterized by their solid blackness and distinctive shapes. However, many people don’t realize they have none of the significance of the Polynesian art they’re inspired by. That dosen’t make them fake Polynesian tattoo, it makes them a perfectly legitimate, but separate category of tattoo possibility. Just because it doesn’t mean the same thing as its more rootsy counterparts, doesn’t make it void. The real symbolism is the sentimental value the wearer attaches to it, and that’s the same with any body art.

Kinds of Tattoo Ink

The tattoo culture often refers to the process as “getting work done” or “getting inked.” The truth is, the solutions used to color the skin is not ink at all, but pigments suspended in a carrier solution, in most cases, water. The function of the carrier solution is to clean the pigments, and keep them well mixed and smooth so that the application is easier and more comfortable. Sometimes the carrier is a mixture of a couple of things. Other commonly used, and probably the safest carriers are Listerine, witch hazel, ethyl alcohol, propylene glycol and glycerin.

It pays to ask what kind of carrier the tattooist is using. You wouldn’t believe the things some unscrupulous scratchers would but into your skin. Here are some you should be aware of:

• Denatured alcohols – These can burn the skin, and are toxic, even if you don’t show any initial reaction.

• Rubbing alcohol – toxic, toxic, toxic!

• Ethylene glycol – antifreeze falls into this category

• Various detergents

There is a common belief that the pigments used are vegetable dye. While that’s probable true some of the time. Metal salts are more commonly used, and sometimes even plastics. The earliest known pigments were pure, ground up pigments. As stated above, the ones used today come from several different substances, namely plastics and metals. Plastic-based colors produce the most vivid colors, but more people report reactions to in than the other “inks.”

Black light tattoos are a recent fad. The tattoo appears to be very faint or totally invisible in regular light, but shows up under a black light. The craze has really caught on, with black lit clubs and bars. However, the ink that makes it all possible is new and unproven, and may be something to be wary of. Some it could be toxic or even radioactive.

Alcohol is good for sterilization, but there are a lot of other risks involved. It makes the skin more permeable so more chemicals are allowed into the bloodstream than would be normally. It also causes more bleeding and the ink may not stay in the skin as well as it should, leading to a spotty tattoo. It’s also a “promoter,” binding with pollutants and carcinogens to make them even more harm than they would alone. That means, if the pigments aren’t absolutely pure the alcohol could bind with and impurity that may pass through your system on its own and wreak havoc on your body.

Tattoo artists have a choice to either mix their own inks or to buy them premixed. Purchasing them from a well established and reputable supplier is usually pretty safe. They aren’t going to intentionally risk their business and their future profits by selling something that could bring legal action against them. However, the Food and Drug Administration doesn’t regulate such things, so they aren’t obligated to supply a list of ingredients. You’re more likely to find out exactly what’s in the ink if it’s mixed on the spot by your artist, but it is up to him if he fills you in or not. That’s right; they don’t have to tell you anything. Such things are protected as trade secrets.

If you have had allergic reactions to certain metals before, say to the nickel in a pair of earrings or faux gold jewelry; mention it to the artist before you actually go in for the ink. He should know if you might have a reaction to the ink. He might even be able to mix the ink in a different way that is less likely to aggravate your allergies.

Samoan Tattooing

More than 2,000 years ago, according to PBS online, the first Polynesian tattoo was inked into skin. Early tattoos were done with crude instruments and caused tremendous pain. In some societies, the art of tattooing is much the same today as when it began. In particular, Samoan tatau, which is the art of tattooing by hand, has remained unchanged.

Two of sisters named Taema and Tilafaiga are credited with first bringing the art tatau from Fiji to Samoa. In Fiji, the sisters were taught that only the women were to receive tattoos. This information “got reversed on their journey home,” and from this confusion emerged what became the Samoan tradition–men were tattooed while women bore children.

The Samoan master artist, or tufuga, are usually a male and apprentice for many years before his first tattoo. He spends years honing his skill, which is often passed down from father to son. The tufuga will spend hours, even days, practicing with his au in barkcloth or sand. The au is a comb-like tool, made of wood and a part of
a turtle shell which has sharpened boar’s teeth attached to it. The artist uses a mallet to hammer the comb’s teeth in, marking his design.

Rank and title are of utmost importance in Samoan society, and a person’s tattoos reflect their standing in the social hierarchy. Because the tatau process is extremely painful, a finished tattoo represents not only a person’s societal rank, but is a reminder of that person’s strength and ability to endure. Both the pain and the risk of infection are great, but if a person refuses tatau, he is seen as a coward. A person who can’t sit through an entire tattoo has to live with a mark of shame for the rest of his life.

In a Samoan’s life, the first tatau session occurs at the onset of puberty. The traditional tattoo for men, the pe’a, is an intricate design which extends from the knees to the middle of the man’s torso. Originally, this design represented a man’s dedication and pledge of loyalty to his extended family, or aiga. The process of tattooing lasts all day, for weeks, even months, at a time. The usual pe’a is supposed to be able to be completed in ten days, five actual days of tattooing and five days of rest in between. Because the process takes such a long time, the tufuga is often housed and fed by the family of the person being tattooed for the duration of the tattooing.

The healing process, unlike the tattooing, is sure to last for months. To heal completely takes a year or more. Women’s tattoos are done on the thighs, legs, or hands, and are usually of a smaller design. While men’s tattoos are typically comprised of larger, solid sections of ink, the women’s patterns are of a much more delicate, intricate design. The most honored tattoo that a female can receive is the lima. Lima is a special tattoo inked into the hands which is required to serve
kava, a narcotic drink served at ceremonies. The malu, a lacy web design, is done on the inside of women’s thighs and is flashed during the dancing of the siva.

Geometric patterns, utilizing lines, triangles, circles, and other polygons, are commonly used in Samoan tattoo design, as are simple pictographs depicting mankind, animals and birds, or other, man-made, objects. The geometric designs had multiple meanings, depending on these three factors: where the tattoo is placed on the body, what other designs are tied into it, and who the person is who is being tattooed. Typically, the master determines what designs would be suitable for each subject individually, and then explains the story of the design to that person.

This tradition, strongly rooted in Samoan society, has lasted thousands of years and may likely last a thousand more. For a Samoan, a tattoo is not just a pretty design but a badge of honor.

Generational Trends in Tattooing

Time passes, and with it the fads and trends that accompany each decade revolve in and out of the background. However, they say that everything old becomes new again, and that often becomes obvious as our kids start showing up in our old, thrift store cast offs thinking they are the next big thing. The same is true of body art. Just like blue jeans, tattoo styles have changed through the years, but they are still a classic staple. Let’s explore the generational trends in tattooing.

There’s nothing good about war, though it’s a necessary evil. World War II was fairly popular, as wars go and there was no shortage of men lining up to enlist. The Lady Luck tattoo was widespread among the military men. She was beautiful, and appeared in all stages of dress, surrounded by lucky talismans like four leaf clovers, eight balls and rabbit’s feet. She was believed to bring luck to the wearer, and who needs luck if not a soldier on his way to war? The Lady Luck was not particular to any one branch of the military.

Generally speaking, service tattoos mark an entire generation, whether it’s bluebirds on the chest of a sailor, an anchor on his forearm, or Simper Fi on the shoulder of a marine, they’re a proud symbol of his service. Today’s armed forces still participate in the rich tradition of military tattooing, but due to the chronological gaps between wars that the current generation has been blessed with, the military no longer makes up as significant a part of the population as it has in times past.

Previous generations held tattoos at a distance and perpetuated the stigma associated with them. Body art (it probably wasn’t widely considered art back then) was somewhat taboo for mainstream society. Tattoos were only for certain groups of people, like bikers, tramps and convicts. So, it’s probable that more risqué designs, like nude or topless women were done more often, because the people getting them were already outcast, and didn’t have to conform to social politeness because no one really expected it of them anyhow.

While nude tattoos definitely still happen, more and more people are opting for more modest and less visible body art. This trend is probably supported by the fact that tattooing isn’t confined to such specific segments of the population. Today, there’s a host of doctors, lawyers, accountants and other professionals who want to get their ink done, but don’t want to risk hindering their employment options, or need to comply with a dress code or a particular image.

In the 1990s and early 2000s, tribal tattoos reached the height of their popularity. Contrary to popular belief, theirs really nothing ethnically significant about such designs, other than they are loosely inspired by the elaborate tattooing practiced by the people of the Polynesian islands. Tribal tattoos are characterized by heavy, bold black lines in patterns that often feature prominent jagged points.

There was a time when women didn’t ever get tattooed, especially nice, respectable ones. My, how times have changed. Not only do ladies get inked, but all kinds of ladies get inked. The lower-back tattoo has been an overly popular choice for ladies in the last few years. Girls chose designs ranging from the ultra feminine butterfly, or a dainty little flower, all the way to heavy Celtic knots and
more. Every tattoo makes a statement; the lower-back tat says “I’m still following the crowd, just the alternative one.”

There are a lot of things that cause a rift between the younger generation and the older one. Often the one doesn’t understand where the other is coming from. The clothes are different, the music has changed, but tattoos are a cultural phenomenon that bridges the gap.

Gang Tattoos

Much study has been done over the gang phenomenon, why people are drawn into gangs and why they can be so destructive. The typical gang member is young,
disadvantaged and lives in an urban environment. While there are exceptions, they tend to be male, black, Asian or Hispanic and come from a broken home with often absent parents or none to speak of. Another distinguishing characteristic of a gang member is his tattoo.

Being a member of a gang is like being a member of a large family, that you are initiated, rather than born, into. Getting a tattoo of something that symbolizes your gang shows loyalty and dedication. Perhaps in this case, ink runs as think as blood, maybe thicker.

Despite their growing social acceptance, tattoos have long been away to label those who rebel, or don’t fit into mainstream society, like prisoners, carnival workers, bikers, pirates and gypsies. The Japanese often used tattoos as part of a criminal’s punishment, branding him so everyone he encounters will know not only that he broke the law, but the nature of the crimes he committed.

Besides getting inked in the usually places, like the arms, chest, back and legs, gang members often get tattoos in more conspicuous and less popular areas such as the hands, face, neck and skull. Tats like these not only show their allegiance to the gang, but also demonstrate that they’ve turned their back on society at large. The larger and more prominent the design, the more clout its owner has within the gang world, and the less credibility they have with mainstream society.

Unfortunately, street gangs are synonymous with criminal activity, especially illegal drugs, weapons and the sex trade. Because of their illicit lifestyle, jail time is something they should probably plan for. If a gang member hasn’t been tattooed yet, he’d better hurry and get one before he’s shipped off to the pen.

Tattoos are invaluable to the prisoner. While they run the risk of being identified by a rival gang member, they will also get the notice of members of their own gang within the prison population. This means there will be people around that have their back. Being associated with the gang goes a long way to ensuring their safety behind bars.

The tattoo will also let other prisoners know what his status in the gang was on the outside. Respect is paramount to prison survival. If you don’t have a tattoo, you have no credibility. Either you aren’t dedicated enough to your gang, or you aren’t in a gang and are just trying to pose as a gangbanger to for protection. Either way, you better watch your back, because no one is going to trust you. If you go in the big house with no ink, you’d better come out with some.

Most gang related tats with simply say the gangs name and territory, but there are some more generic symbols common to gang members that aren’t necessarily restricted to a particular gang. One is the pachuco cross, a simple crucifix with three small dots above it usually placed on the hand between the thumb and index finger. This design is used by Hispanic gangs and stands for “mi vida loco,” or “my crazy life.” Southeast Asian gangs have adopted a similar symbol: three dots on the hand standing for the phrase “To O Can Gica,” or “I care for nothing.” The very same symbol identifies a Cuban gangster as a competent thief.

The stigma associated with tattoos may have lessoned, but they still remain a powerful aspect of a person’s character. In no situation is this more true than in a street gang.