‘Good luck getting a job!’
Just one of the many statements of frustration to come out of the mouth of parents across the world after learning of their child’s new tattoo. Nonetheless, despite the stigmatization, the number of people with tattoos in America and the rest of the world has and continues to increase year after year. Some tattoos are incredibly beautiful, some pay homage to lost loved ones, and others are nothing short of artistic masterpieces, so where did the stigma come from?
Well, tattoos, in the modern sense, have long been associated with those who rebel against societal norms, but they also have a history that connects them with those who have a history of violence. In the United States, gang tattoos are common in prison, most of which signify that you were able to commit some crime or act of violence to get the tattoo. The notorious teardrop under the eye signifies how many people the individual has killed, but besides being quite intimidating, it is hardly a work of art.
The same cannot be said of the tattoos donned by the Yakuza, the famous transnational Japanese crime organization. The Yakuza ranking members wear incredible tattoo works that often cover the majority of their bodies which are quite detailed and very colorful. The original founding members were tattooed by authorities in an effort to make them stand out and make it more difficult for them to reenter society upon release, but the Yakuza embraced this, tattooing themselves with symbols of wealth and prosperity in Japanese culture. Some of the most beautiful tattoos in the world are worn by some of the most ruthless criminals.
On the Malaysian island of Borneo, tattoos have a dark history associated with tribal conflicts and killing. In war between tribes, if you took the head of a member of the opposing tribe, you were then giving the headhunter tattoo. The headhunter tattoo is an intricate design that a skilled member of the tribe would tap into the hand of the person using a nail at the end of a stick and black ink; the process was quite painful and took hours to complete. Tribal tattoos are still very common in parts of Borneo, even still being done the old fashion way, but most artists refuse to replicate the headhunter tattoo.
Times are changing, but the stigma that comes with the art form that is tattoos comes from their centuries of being associated with violence and crime.