Tattoos: Beautiful art form, or unprofessional?
by Ema Globyte in Media Lab
Thu October 4, 3:09 p.m. BST
A recent article in the BBC News Magazine quoted writer Ngahuia Te Awekotuku saying that her facial tattoo defined her as a person, whilst also being an expression of ‘beauty and belonging’ that she is proud to bear. On the other hand, Brendan O’Neill wrote in the Telegraph that tattooed people are now banned from working for the government in the Japanese city of Osaka, after it was reported that 'a city employee with lots of tattoos had scared children at a welfare centre’.
Are tattoos a beautiful form of body art? Or are they ‘evidence of craven conformity to cultural norms’ and unprofessionalism?
We invited Labs participants to share their thoughts on this timeless talking point. The following questions were asked:
Do you generally approve or disapprove of tattoos? And why?
If you have a positive view, what is it that you like about tattoos?
If you generally don’t approve of tattoos, what is it that you don’t like about tattoos? Do you mind if other people have them?
If you don’t already have one, would you ever consider getting a tattoo?
We found that…
Generally, most Labs participants seemed to have a positive view of tattoos. However, most would not consider getting one but agree that if other people want to, they should be allowed to have them.
We look at the themes that emerged from participants’ comments below.
Participants who approved of tattoos and would gladly get one
Labs found that participants who generally approved of tattoos thought that they were a form of self-expression and beautiful form of body art. However, some emphasised that they need to be done by a professional tattoo artist and to be tasteful.
Some participants who approved of tattoos said they prefer ‘smaller and daintier’ to big and ‘brash’ tattoos.
To a lot of participants tattoos seemed to be a great way to reflect one’s personality, opinions and interests.
Some participants regarded tattoos as ‘jewellery’. People referred to tattoo professionals as ‘artists’, saying that people should be privileged to bear their work on their body.
“Tattoos are not for everyone; however, they are a way of expression. I am personally not keen on big, brash tattoos. I prefer dainty, feminine tattoos” Anon
“I like that you can have permanent artwork on your body, to carry around with you forever, and that a lot of them have personal meanings. They help a person show their identity and creativity” Hull
“Tattoos can be a permanent expression of your innermost self” Anon
“It's art on a living canvas. It's a way of expressing yourself and what's important to you” Rachel, Kettering
Participants who generally had a positive view of tattoos, but would never consider getting one
Some Labs participants said they had a positive view of tattoos, but would not consider getting one as they think it looks good on other people – but not them.
One reason for that was not having anything meaningful enough to keep on their bodies for the rest of their lives.
Generally, a recurring reason for not getting a tattoo would be not willing commit to something this permanent – as many participants reported their tastes changing quite quickly.
Some participants would not get a tattoo as they are ‘not daring enough’.
“At the moment I can't think of anything that has enough meaning for me to tattoo it on my body for the rest of my life. But I appreciate some people do have tattoos meaningful to them, and some of the artwork is fantastic” Anon
“I think tattoos can look beautiful when well-drawn. I would never get one because I like to be different. Everyone has tattoos these days” Anon
“I feel that in this era people should be able to express themselves through their image however they like. I wouldn't get one as I don't think I could commit to something that permanent” Anon
“A person’s body is theirs to decorate as they see fit; no one has the right to interfere, even if they don’t like it” Kath N, Manchester
Participants who generally had a negative view of tattoos
Some Labs participants said they had quite a negative view of tattoos. However, most thought that if others want to, they should be allowed to have them.
One of the main reasons Labs participants did not like tattoos was because they were permanent: participants thought they ‘go out of fashion’ just like all other things.
In addition to the permanence issue, some people who participated in the debate said they thought tattoos looked ‘awful’ on ageing skin.
A small number of participants felt quite strongly against tattoos, and said they associated tattoos with ‘low status’, ‘lack of self-respect’, ‘drugs’ and ‘aggression’.
Returning to the professionalism debate, some participants thought tattoos conveyed a negative message to employers.
“Freedom of choice - I choose not to have any. Others make different choices, but I wonder how people feel about them after several years?” Anon
“I think they convey aggression, even if not intended. I also think their permanence is a real problem, as people might well regret the actions of their youth” Anon
“Because they are permanent. Things go out of fashion and they look inappropriate as you get older in most cases” Steve H, Watchet
“Tattoos on show in meetings are deeply unprofessional. They make someone look out of place and portray physicality over intelligence” Anon
People who generally had a very negative view of tattoos and said that other people should not be having them
A small number of participants who had a negative view of tattoos, said they think people should not be having them.
A recurring view was that if people with tattoos have kids, it sets a bad example to them.
Some participants said tattoos look ‘scary’ and ‘intimidating’ on other people.
Some people who participated outlined that getting tattoos can pose a ‘health threat’, and that’s one of the reasons people should not be having them.
“I think people look awful with tattoos, it makes them look cheap. If you have kids, it's a dreadful example to set them” Su, North-East
“They are ugly, scary, intimidating and poor taste. They can also pose a health threat be it from backstreet illegal parlours using recycled ink or clinical errors in mainstream venues causing infections or diseases” Anon
“It doesn't make any sense to imprint ink in your body in the name of art. Most live to regret it” Philly, London
What are your views on tattoos? Share your thoughts below.