Tattoos and Discrimination

1 January 2017

In modern times, people with tattoos are judged and stereotyped as being drug addicts, gang members, or criminals. There can always be some truths to this but just like any stereotype; you can never generalize an entire group as being the same way as each other. Tattoos may no longer tell you the tribe a person is from or be a means of fertility but they are a way to identify one’s self; whether it is through religious beliefs, personal beliefs, or carrying on a family heritage.

Since tattoos are still being thought of as taboo; mainly by the older generation, people are going to be judged and placed into these types of groups. As time goes on, the manner in which tattoos are portrayed will change and people with them will eventually be treated as equals again. “Humans have marked their bodies with tattoos for thousands of years. These permanent designs—sometimes plain, sometimes elaborate, always personal—have served as amulets, status symbols, declarations of love, signs of religious beliefs, adornments and even forms of punishment” (Lineberry).

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During Egyptian times, around 4,000 B.C. , young females would get a tattoo on their upper thigh of an ancient Egyptian deity named Bes, which is a protector of mothers, children and childbirth. (Hodjash 65) This, of course, was done for fertility reasons and the practice was carried on from woman to woman for quite some time because of difficulties in childbirth. As time went on and different discoveries were made, they found that both men and women got tattoos. In one particular case the discovery of a man in Siberia, which was dated back 2,400 years ago, shows his arms, legs and stomach tattooed with different type of creatures from that period.

During this time there were many tribes that tattooed many different animals and creatures on their bodies. These were not ordinary people though and they weren’t lowly workers, they were people of high status and regard. Unfortunately, people can never keep a good thing going. During the period of time when Greek monarchs ruled Egypt, which was around 200 B. C. , Greeks had to change it up and start using tattoos as a way to mark people as slaves or to let the surrounding citizens know that a particular person was a criminal.

This was carried on for many years by the Greeks until the eventual ruling of the Roman Empire. As Roman soldiers made trips to Egypt they started to pick up some of the practices and traditions of the Egyptians. They would get family members names or battles that they won tattooed on them and show it off when they came home. The trend picked up amongst the people and started to, “spread across the Roman Empire until the emergence of Christianity, when tattoos were felt to “disfigure that made in God’s image” and so they were banned by the Emperor Constantine” (Lineberry).

To this day many people still carry over this same belief because of the strong Christian influence that is still around; even though it was not a “sin” until Christianity was discovered. One culture that did not believe tattoos were a sin is the Mayans. Both men and women in the Mayan culture used tattoos as a way to either show their status or to give thanks to their deities. They believed so heavily in this that they had a God of tattooing and his name was Acat. He was not just a God of tattooing but also a patron of tattooists (Mark). As tattooing came to the United States the popularity again began with sailors and soldiers.

During the Civil War a gentleman by the name of Martin Hildebrandt opened up a shop in New York City where he tattooed men from both sides of the war. According to Margo DeMello, “he was instrumental in establishing the U. S. tradition of tattooed servicemen. ” Although tattoos were becoming popular amongst the sailors and soldiers, it was still quite expensive and time consuming to get these works of art done. Because of this, wealthy people were the only ones who could really afford tattoos, that is until the invention of the first electric tattoo machine which was patented by Samuel O’Reilly in 1891 (50).

After O’Reilly’s invention tattoos became very cost effective and much less painful which made it very popular with lower class people. Since lower class people could now afford to get tattoos that caused the upper class to refrain from getting anymore. Now that tattooing has subsequently been passed along to mainly the lower class, over time it caused for a greater misunderstanding of the people who received them. It has become a taboo because the majority of people getting tattoos during that period of time were not always looked up to in a positive manner.

Society has always put a tab on lower class people as being trashy or criminals but this is not always the case. People may grow up poor but that does not mean their morals or beliefs are any different from someone who does not believe in tattoos. Many role models like celebrities, athletes, and political figures have tattoos and they did not get to where they are because of a poor work ethic or bad morals; they got to where they are because they worked hard for it. Most tattooists love their jobs because of the type of people they get to meet and work with everyday.

In an interview Amanda West says, “I feel very fortunate that I have a great bunch of clients. All my clients seem to be fun and nice, spirited people. I enjoy spending time with every one of them, they make me enjoy my job more by being fun, flexible, kind and really good people to be around”(32). To break the taboo of tattoos people will have to be open-minded and realize that any person, regardless of status or markings on their skin, can be a productive and well respected member of society.

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