Tattoos and the art of drawing
pictures and words on the body is a tradition dating back to Neolithic
times and the word “tattoo” is derived from a Tahitian word meaning
“mark something”. Although tattoos are often indelibly associated
with convicts, bikers, and soldiers, the art of the tattoo has always
played a very important role in ritual and tribal traditions.
The role of body art often varies between different cultures. In
ancient times, women in Borneo wore tattoos on their arm to signify
special skills and increase their chances of finding an eligible
husband. In Asia, Ainu girls were once tattooed to indicate social
status, and even today, tattoos are still used to signify membership
of a particular social group or society.
In the west, tattooing fell out of favour for many centuries and only
really came back into popularity in the late 1700s, but although it
was initially a fad amongst the upper classes, once the procedure for
having a tattoo became more readily available to all, tattoos soon
became the domain of the less respected members of society.
In the early part of the 20th century, heavily tattooed women were
highly unusual and those women who did decorate their bodies with
complex inked designs were considered to be “freaks”. These women
invariably travelled the length and breadth of their country as a
circus attraction, drawing crowds wherever they went.
Betty Broadbent is arguably the most famous example of a tattooed
woman. She was the first female to have a full body tattoo and she
used her body art to forge a very successful career as a circus side
show performer before eventually becoming a tattoo artist herself.
Although Betty was the first and most famous woman to have extensive
tattoos covering her body, she was not the last. As the decades
passed, tattoos slowly became more socially acceptable and more and
more women began to ink their bodies with various designs.
Cindy Ray found fame in the 1960s for her extensive body art and like
Betty Broadbent before her, she became a tattoo celebrity. Sadly Cindy
never saw any of the money generated from her tattoo fame: the
photographer who helped to catapult her into the public eye pocketed
every cent she made. Also like Betty, she also went on to become a
tattoo artist in her later years.
Janis Joplin was tattooed shortly before her death in 1970 and one of
her tattoos (a small heart) was endlessly copied by her fans in the
months after her untimely death.
But whereas tattooed women were once in a minority and mostly confined
to a niche section of society, tattooing has become more socially
acceptable amongst middle class women from all walks of life. Visible
tattoos can be seen on both celebrities and soccer moms, and for
younger women, having a tattoo is seen as an expression of personal
Tattoo parlours were once restricted to back streets and dodgy parts
of town and the only regular clientele were sailors and bikers. Today
tattoo parlours are part of the mainstream culture and far more
accessible to women. Indeed, many tattooists are female, which has
also led to a change in artwork and atmosphere within the tattoo
Tattoos on women often feature exquisite, uniquely feminine designs
such as floral art or butterflies and women from all backgrounds and
social classes are routinely visiting tattoo parlours and choosing to
have custom art tattoos drawn on all areas of their bodies, from
complex designs inked on lower backs to delicate flowers drawn on
A large part of the rise in tattoo art popularity amongst women is
also down to the number of high profile female celebrities who sport
visible tattoos. Angelina Jolie, widely considered to be one of the
most beautiful women in the world, has more than a dozen tattoos on
various parts of her body, all of which are alleged to have some kind
of special meaning. The singer, Rihanna, is another high profile
female celebrity with a penchant for acquiring tattoos on a regular
But despite the increasing popularity of tattoos on women, it appears
the jury is still out for many as to the attractiveness of multiple
tattoos on women. Some people see tattoos as sexy, whereas others view
tattoos as trashy and vulgar and consider the women who sport “tramp
stamps” to be promiscuous and therefore less desirable.
Is it fair to judge a person by the tattoos they adorn their body with?
One should never judge a book by its cover. Just because a woman may
have visible tattoos on her body, it does not mean she is promiscuous
in any way. But although society is more enlightened than the bad old
days when women with tattoos were seen as a worthy attraction in a
freak show, there are still too many ignorant people who unfairly
judge women using tattoos as an art form to express their
individuality, confidence, and sexual independence.