Covered in Ink

Covered in Ink: Tattoos, Women and the Politics of the Body

Beverly Yuen Thompson
Copyright Date: 2015
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 224
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  • Book Info
    Covered in Ink
    Book Description:

    A small dolphin on the ankle, a black line on the lower back, a flower on the hip, or a child's name on the shoulder blade-among the women who make up the twenty percent of all adults in the USA who have tattoos, these are by far the most popular choices. Tattoos like these are cute, small, and can be easily hidden, and they fit right in with society's preconceived notions about what is 'gender appropriate' for women. But what about women who are heavily tattooed? Or women who visibly wear imagery, like skulls, that can be perceived as masculine or ugly when inked on their skin?

    Drawing on autoethnography, and extensive interviews with heavily tattooed women,Covered in Inkprovides insight into the increasingly visible subculture of women with tattoos. Author Beverly Thompson visits tattoos parlors, talking to female tattoo artists and the women they ink, and she attends tattoo conventions and Miss Tattoo pageants where heavily tattooed women congregate to share their mutual love for the art form. Along the way, she brings to life women's love of ink, their very personal choices of tattoo art, and the meaning tattooing has come to carry in their lives, as well as their struggles with gender norms, employment discrimination, and family rejection. Thompson finds that, despite the stigma and social opposition heavily tattooed women face, many feel empowered by their tattoos and strongly believe they are creating a space for self-expression that also presents a positive body image. A riveting and unique study,Covered in Inkprovides important insight into the often unseen world of women and tattooing.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-8599-7
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-vii)
  4. Introduction: Becoming Covered
    (pp. 1-20)

    Right hip. My first tattoo was nothing special; it was regrettable, even. I was seventeen years old and attending Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle. Somehow, I had become consumed by a destructive relationship. He owned a coffee shop across the street from a tattoo studio owned by Vyvyn Lazonga—one of the most prominent female tattoo artists in the nation. I did not know Vyvyn was famous at the time. I didn’t even know the difference between a good tattoo and a bad tattoo. But somehow, we mutually agreed to the unfortunate plan of getting a tattoo to...

  5. 1 Sailors, Criminals, and Prostitutes: The History of a Lingering Tattoo Stigma
    (pp. 21-34)

    When European mariners began exploring the seas and encountering people from distant lands in the 1700s and 1800s, they were exposed to various tattooing practices. They recorded their interactions with the indigenous people in notebooks, along with drawings of their unfamiliar surroundings, the people, and depictions of the tattoos. The Europeans learned that these tattoos were cultural practices that marked significant stages of life development. Some of these voyagers became interested in these practices and began becoming tattooed themselves.¹ For sailors, these were mementos of places where they had been. When these voyagers returned home to Europe and exposed their...

  6. 2 “I Want to Be Covered”: Heavily Tattooed Women Challenge the Dominant Beauty Culture
    (pp. 35-64)

    When I discovered feminism at age 14, it rocked my world. I was struggling with identity and body image issues. I imprinted these struggles in the form of tattoos onto my body by collecting several feminist-themed tattoos when I turned 18. Struggling with my own understanding of embodiment, feminism, and representation, I wondered if other heavily tattooed women had similar experiences. Did they feel that they were armoring themselves against the mainstream beauty culture, or were their tattoos another path toward an alternative beauty standard to which they aspired? Why did this beauty need to be labeled “alternative”? Did they...

  7. 3 “I ♥ Mom”: Family Responses toward Tattooed Women
    (pp. 65-88)

    Born in Primrose, Nebraska, in 1926, my father had rarely even seen tattoos, being so far from either coast, where sailors might appear. He was fifty years old when he had me—his third child—born to his third wife, an immigrant from Hong Kong and his former student from the rural state university at which he spent his career. Neither of my parents had the background to understand how their daughter, coming of age in the 1990s, came to be immersed in the subcultures of radical politics and punk rock. I knew better than to immediately tell them about...

  8. 4 “Covering” Work: Dress Code Policies, Tattoos, and the Law
    (pp. 89-121)

    My first teaching job was in Miami, Florida. Wandering through the air-conditioned mall, shopping for my first batch of appropriate work clothes, there were barely any long-sleeved shirts to be seen, especially anything remotely resembling my style. While the weather outside was often humid, I needed long sleeves to cover my arm tattoos. Some of my colleagues told me I should go ahead and show my tattoos; after all, wouldn’t it appeal to the college-age demographic? Perhaps it would appeal to some, but not all. And I was more concerned about appearing professional in front of my new colleagues, especially...

  9. 5 “Is the Tattoo Guy Here?”: Women Tattoo Artists’ Experience Working in a Male-Dominated Profession
    (pp. 122-150)

    Many of the women-owned tattoo studios that I walk into remind me of high-end hair saloons: gentle music plays, canvas paintings are on the walls (instead of tattoo flash—i.e., sheets of tattoo designs) in a tidy, clean environment with a friendly employee behind the front desk, ready to talk with customers about potential tattoo or piercing work. Portfolios of artists’ work line the front counter, demonstrating the skill level and artistic expertise of each artist. Stations are either in loft-style open spaces or, so much the better, separated into private rooms for work on large tattoo pieces or on...

  10. 6 Tattoos Are Not for Touching: Public Space, Stigma, and Social Sanctions
    (pp. 151-176)

    Ever since I acquired visible tattoos on my arms, they have attracted public attention. This situation is often of significant import to my daily life, as it dictates what I wear and whether or not my tattoos are covered. A sweater is always at hand, in case of an emergency need to cover up. I actually shun “tattoo attention,” as I am more introverted in general, whereas other tattooed people may be more open to the experience. While I love the aesthetics of sleeve tattoos, I do not love the attention that public ink provokes. This is difficult to understand...

  11. Conclusion: Toward a Tattoo Etiquette
    (pp. 177-182)

    Heavily tattooed women have something to contribute to our understanding of our social world. Historically, tattooing in the United States has been associated with men and masculine subcultures, especially socalled deviant ones. Women have been nearly invisible in the history of the practice and simply offhandedly assumed to be similarly deviant as tattooed men. However, women have a different history of tattooing, one that is important to understand when we consider the overall history. Starting off as heavily tattooed sideshow performers, these few women eclipsed the men on stage with their tantalizing revealment of flesh and their exciting tales of...

  12. NOTES
    (pp. 183-198)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 199-206)
    (pp. 207-207)