The tattoo, a means of expression with therapeutic virtues

Several scientific studies show that tattoos are more than just fashion accessories. People with tattoos usually have deeper motivations than just having a nice design on their body. Scientific studies have even revealed that having a tattoo boosts self-esteem permanently.

The very first known tattoo dates back to the Neolithic period (around 2600 BC): the mummified body of Ötzi, a hunter found trapped in an alpine glacier, sported around sixty geometric patterns on his legs, torso and chest. lower back. Today in France there are nearly 4,000 tattoo parlors; an IFOP survey reported in January 2017 that 14% of French people were tattooed. According to the National Union of Tattoo Artists, tattooing is now considered “the 10th art” and is gaining more and more followers.

A simple aesthetic appeal? A fad ? For Viren Swami, a psychologist at Anglia Ruskin University and a specialist in body image, a tattoo is inherently much more than that: ” Given its permanent nature, the pain involved and the planning often required to get it done. tattoo, it is very difficult to conceptualize the tattoo as a fashion accessory ,” he explains.

The tattoo as a way to appropriate your body

The art of tattooing dates back millennia. Some psychologists believe that tattooing then had an evolutionary purpose: according to their theory, in prehistoric times, it was necessary to have strong immune defenses to survive the danger of infection inherent in tattooing; thus, the individuals who resisted this marking of the skin proved that they were genetically strong and therefore partners of choice for reproduction.

But Viren Swami is not convinced by this assumption. For this specialist, the only thing that counts is the way in which individuals have expressed themselves — and still express themselves — via this art, according to the historical and cultural context. He explains that tattoos in Britain grew in popularity after Captain Cook’s exploration of the Pacific; indeed, at that time, sailors returned to the country with tribal tattoos engraved on their skin by the natives. Then, the art of tattooing became very popular in English high society towards the end of the 19th century, when the very first electric tattoo machine was invented.

For this category of people, it was a matter of clearly marking their belonging to the upper classes. King George V himself sported a tattoo of a red and blue dragon. Then, during the 20th century, the tattoo gradually left the mundane sphere to join the anti-social rebellion movements (gangs, punks, etc.) – the human body then served directly as a support to express its refusal of the established rules, to signal membership of a small group, etc.

Today, the tattoo concerns all categories of people, regardless of their social class, beliefs and political opinions. Many celebrities, from the world of music or cinema, proudly showed off their tattoos in the late 1990s, which may have started the movement. But for Swami, tattoos are mainly for people ”  a way to exercise their ownership and to mark their control over their flesh  “, in a society that is very normative on everything related to the body. For Dr. Joseph Pierre, a clinical professor of health sciences at the University of California, Los Angeles, the growing popularity of tattoos may also be linked to the decline of “puritanism” in the West. People are exposing more skin and the tattoo is ” another way to present to the world what was previously hidden  ,” he explains.

The tattoo as an element of post-traumatic growth

Swami has done several studies on the subject, particularly examining the personalities of individuals who have made the choice to get tattooed. It appears from these studies that tattooed individuals are slightly more angry and more impulsive than non-tattooed people; that said, the psychologist emphasizes that the difference is really small and that no character trait distinguishes one from the other in a significant way.

Interesting point: one of his studies, conducted in 2011, however, revealed that tattooing had a real impact on self-image; results showed that immediately after getting a tattoo, those surveyed had significantly lower appearance-related anxiety and dissatisfaction. Moreover, this improved self-esteem persisted even three weeks after the act. “ Once you have your tattoo, you feel much closer to your body ,” Swami explains.

A tattoo is not chosen lightly and requires several days, weeks, or months of reflection to imagine the design that will best reflect your feelings. ” For many people, the tattoo will be the marker of a particular life experience, and the strength they draw from it.“, confirms Mowgli, a famous London tattoo artist, who wants to talk about an hour with each of his clients before submitting a drawing. The grief following a separation, or the mourning of a person are part of these experiences that motivate some people to get tattooed. However, as confirmed by a recent study, the drawings chosen to commemorate these sad circumstances are rarely macabre; on the contrary, they often translate the link with the deceased and symbolize what this person brought to the tattooed.

The tattoo can therefore be an integral part of a grieving process, or contribute to combating any other trauma. Swami mentions in particular the fact that tattooing can also help victims of domestic violence to rebuild themselves. Another study reports that cancer survivor tattoos are one of many strategies used to recover from the trauma caused by the diagnosis and treatment of the disease. Finally, in the current health context, requests for tattoos linked to the pandemic are increasing, everyone wishing to express in their own way how they got through this unprecedented crisis.

In summary, tattoos certainly have more than aesthetic value. Each drawing translates a striking and very personal story, of which we wish to keep an indelible trace, for the purposes of commemoration, reconstruction or self-acceptance. And it is probably the only means of expression that is so intimate and immutable.

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