Body art, self graffiti, walking billboards, inked up… each of these expressions depict the physical nature of a tattoo. What’s often NOT discussed is the emotional, or the mental nature of a tattoo. You’re either helplessly naive, or in total denial if you think your tattoos aren’t going to have a significant positive or negative influence on people who don’t know you well.

I still remember the first time I had come across the label ‘tramp stamp’. A woman was reaching out for something at the bar counter, as a row of men and women judged her lower back tattoo, and her character without even knowing her. Everyone had a reaction. And once she left, they all talked about it. It was like a group therapy.

The responses ranged from “She’s definitely a party girl, probably drinks a lot, has a lot of sex and a rough childhood,” to “She’s probably creative, edgy, a leader and an independent thinker.” Some liked her, some didn’t her in the brightest light, and most of the guys were interested in her, solely because of the tattoo. Whatever the response, they were all intrigued, and each one of them conjured up their own personal version of her life story, all from the sight of a well-placed tattoo.

Now, this incident is from a time when tattoos were still very controversial in our society, at least. N ow, they’re getting accepted in the mainstream, more than ever. Sadly, so much that you can probably even call them a ‘trend’ these days.

Is it social branding?

Image Credit: Chip Simone
Image Credit: Chip Simone

Tattoos are a conversation starter. Either your tattoo tells a story, or speaks on behalf of you, but they definitely derive some nature of response from the one looking at it. And the response from the sight of tattoos lead to a modern version of social branding.

“He must be tough.”

“She’s probably easy.”

“He’ll never get a job.”

She just wants to drink, and dance at the speaker of a club.”

Of course, there are variables. In my opinion, the older you are, the less forgiving you are of tattoos. Where you put the tattoo, how many you have, what the tattoos talk about, and their sizes – all these factors shape the emotional behaviour of the recipient. And that observer could be anyone, from your boss to your Tinder date.

Why do people get tattoos?

In such a context, it is important to leave this question behind. People get tattoos for varied reasons – for seeking attention, self expression, artistic freedom, rebellion, visual display of a personal narrative, reminders of traditions, sexual motivation, identification with an ideology or even drunken impulsiveness.

What does your tattoo mean?

“My body is my journal, and my tattoos are my story.”

– Johnny Depp

Tattoos can visually reveal more about you, or distract people from getting to know the real you. Some people hide behind their tattoo. Others look at a tattoo as a means to stay connected to their roots, beliefs, traditions… Some go for tattoos to speak out loud about their exhibitionist side. And some go for tattoos to simply say, “This is what I stand for.”

Scientific studies over the years have suggested that people with tattoos exhibit higher levels of self esteem, and lower anxiety right after getting a tattoo. Some could argue that getting tattooed releases body endorphins, which could be the reason for ink addiction.

So, what does this mean?

Our society, in this digital age, craves for individuality and self expression. Our bodies have become signboards of quotes, sayings and reminders. Whether you like it or not, tattoos are growing in popularity. With massive improvements in tattoo removal technologies, the fear of being ‘marked for life’ has gone for a toss. Then, where is the individuality?

When you get a tattoo at the age of 20, it means something to you. At 35, it will mean something else, and at 60 something else. To everyone, their own. But, I guess we all judge. Whatever be your opinion on tattoos, one thing is for sure, there’s definitely more than that meets the eye.

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