Symbolic Meaning of Tattoos

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Tattoos can be seen anywhere from everyday people to the most well-known celebrities, and everyone has an opinion on them. Tattoos have a reputation of being rebellious and unprofessional, which is what most Hollywood movies paint the picture of. There is always a character covered in tattoos who ends up being a bad influence, going along with biker gangs, bars, and so on. Though we know movies are not real, and Hollywood is just doing it to paint a picture, many believe this stereotype to be true. Though against all odds, tattoos are more than rebellious acts of art.

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Tattoos have been proven to date back to somewhere between 3370 BC and 3100 BC (Davies 2018). the Iceman- a well-preserved mummy from the 4th millennium BC was discovered in Otzal Alps, with carbon tattoos in the shapes of dots and lines (“History of Tattooing – View of Tattooing History” 2018). The origin of the word Tattoo comes from the Polynesian word Ta Tau. Eighteenth-century Captain James Cook is said to be the first person to have introduced the word tattoo to Europe after his 1771 voyage to Tahiti (Pickup 2016).

James Cook was so fascinated by Islanders’ practice of Ta Tau and wrote, The marks, in general, are spirals drawn with great nicety and even elegance. One side corresponds with the other. The marks on the body resemble foliage in old chased ornaments, convolutions of filigree work, but in these, they have such a luxury of forms that of a hundred which at first appeared exactly the same, no two were formed alike on close examination. (Pickup 2016). Additionally, tattoos were picked up heavily among Cook’s fellow soldiers who would use the tattoos to mark their journeys at sea, but westerners showed off their tattoos long before meeting the Islanders. Crusaders would tattoo the Jerusalem cross, to assure a christian burial if they were to die in battle (Anderson 2014).

In ancient Egypt and India, tattoos were used as methods of healing, as well as methods of religious worship (“History of Tattooing – View of Tattooing History” 2018). In ancient Egypt, the mummy of Amunet was discovered in 1891 CE, the body showed patterns of tattooed lines on her arms, thighs, and lower abdomen. Those tattoos were interpreted to be fertility symbols, which proved the statement that tattoos were only worn by prostitutes, dancing girls, and lower-class to be weaker, considering Amunet was a priestess of the goddess Hathor (Mark 2017). In 15 A.D., when Hawaiian people picked up the tradition of tattooing, they would use it as a way of distinction, to decorate themselves, to protect themselves, and ensure well-being. Hawaiian men were mostly tattooed on their faces, torsos, arms, and legs, whereas women were mostly tattoos from their wrists to their fingers, and even some on their tongues (Laura 2015).

In 1849, around one hundred years after James Cooks’ voyage to Tahiti, the first tattoo parlor in the United States was opened by Martin Hildebrandt in New York city (Blanchard 2003). Blanchard also goes on to say how Hildebrandt began tattooing sailors and military soldiers on both sides of the Civil War. Tattoos were very common with soldiers and the WWII era was known as the Golden Age for tattooing, though sailors with naked women tattooed on them were not allowed into the Navy. That being said, tattoo artists would cover the usually cover the naked women in nursing dresses. Most soldiers considered tattoos as good luck, and would ink up before going to battle and would emblazoning themselves with reminders of their lives back home (Crum 2017).

For those who may oppose that tattoos are more than just rebellious acts of art, think about today’s society. We see tattoos everywhere, all shapes and colors, but they can also do more that paint a pretty picture on your skin. In today’s society, tattooing has become cosmetic as well. From eyebrows, to permanent eyeliner, and even hairlines! In the article titled, Spot Her Medical Tattoo, it talks about a lady who was diagnosed with vitiligo and paid for medical tattooing on her fingers and toes to goes the patched where her skin had lost pigment (Menon 2017). Alopecia is another disease many people struggle with, especially women. Though wigs can be used to cover the hair fall out, they can’t cover the lack of natural eyebrow hairs, but with tattooing technology today, the problem is diminishing. Today women can go get their eyebrow tattooed and restore their lost confidence.

In conclusion, tattoos are more than just rebellious act of art. They were created to symbolize the different stages in our life, to express what we have gone through, what we believe, and to show a message to the world. Everyone will continue to have their different viewpoints on tattoos, but what is important is to understand each person has a different reason as to why they decided to permanently have a picture or saying put on their body. People should not be so quick to judge before learning about the history as well as meaning behind a tattoo. With all that being said, no matter someone’s view on tattoos, there is one thing that is undeniable, and that is the fact the history of tattoos is quite extraordinary.

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Symbolic Meaning Of Tattoos. (2019, May 06). Retrieved November 26, 2022 , from

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