19.12.2014
The permanency of tattoos is the most confounding, and controversial, issue across genders. She asserts that tattoos in Western culture have always been subversive for women, especially in the 19th century when they violated the assumption that "women should be pure, that their bodies should be concealed and controlled, and that ladies should not express their own desires, which is implicit in the very act of permanently marking the skin with imagery that reflects individual tastes." In the early 20th century, tattoos were stigmatized (even illegal in some jurisdictions) because of their association with raunchy male imagery. Mifflin refers in her book to Olive Oatman, "a tragically bicultural American" who was orphaned after her family was killed by Southwest Indians in the 1850s, then adopted and raised by Mohave Indians who gave her a chin tattoo as a mark of tribal acceptance.
We all switch pictures on the wall from time to time or change our jewelry, but those who wear conspicuously outrageous tattoos are doing it for life.


A recently published third edition of a book about body art, Bodies of Subversion: A Secret History of Women and the Tattoo by Margot Mifflin (powerHouse Books), traces that shift, documenting how tattoos' popularity has risen among women as the social implications of getting them have shifted. Even so, while mass media is enthusiastic about tattoos, the art world still shows little interest in them, despite their links to popular fashion, folk art, graphic design, and fine art. Middle-class women who were tattooed knew they would be considered "loose" or seedy if they showed their marks. After she was ransomed back to the whites at age 19, she was stranded between the two cultures and the tattoo marked her as a Mohave and functioned as a kind of ethnic barrier.


By the '60s and '70s, tattooing became more directly linked to the counterculture, and remained so until the 2000s. Now tattoos are not as subversive or associated with "bad" women—instead, they have become fashion accessories of the most indelible kind.



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