Tattooed Bodies: Embodying and Expressing Identity Open Access

Akdim, Soukaina (Spring 2018)

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Body modifications have been prevalent for centuries and are practices for a great variety of reasons. Lately, tattoos in particular have become increasingly popular. Thus, a better understanding of the underlying motivations behind getting tattooed is required. This thesis presents an anthropological analysis as to the connection between identity and tattoos, and how tattoos can both embody and express one’s identity. As such, this thesis explores the implications of tattooing for the creation of identity and its management. It is comprised of a series of recorded ethnographic interviews of tattooees and examined through the lens of pre-existing themes in the literature review.  This data collection and its analysis serves as ethnographic support for these themes along with other various themes that emerged such as the concept of symmetry, matching tattoos, pain and addiction, satisfying a desire, along with the aftermath of being tattooed. Seven broad themes were established for reference in future research. These seven themes include the tattoo as a choice that allows the reclaiming of the body, using the tattoo to internalize life events and personal narrative, tattoos as a form of self-expression, the symbolic meaning behind it along with its permanence, the prevailing historical stigma attached to tattoos, pain and addiction and of course the aftermath experiences and feelings of getting tattooed. In effect, this paper is an in-depth exploration of the impact of tattooing on the self not only as bodies of flesh but as individuals.

Table of Contents




Table of Contents


Literature Review                                                                                                                   1         

Socio-Historical Background on Tattoos                                                                               17       

Methods and Presentation of Study                                                                                        22       

Results and Discussion                                                                                                           24

1.     Choice and Reclaiming the body                                                                         24

2.     The External to Internal                                                                                        29       

3.     A Form of Expression                                                                                          51       

4.     Symbolic Meaning and Permanence                                                                     63       

5.     Stigma and History                                                                                               81       

6.     Pain and Addiction                                                                                               92       

7.     Aftermath of being Tattooed                                                                                 96

Conclusion                                                                                                                              102     

References                                                                                                                              105      

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