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“Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born.� ANAIS NIN


Katya K. Joe G. Kelly C. Keaton H. Tom O. Jessica S.


RENAISSANCE:introduction Anne M. Velliquette, Jeff B. Murray, and Elizabeth H. Creyer In all cultures, irreversible forms of body decoration are used as a vehicle for human expression. Piercings, scarification, and tattoos may signify a wide array of meanings. For example, decorations may represent emblems of accomplishment (Gritton 1988), group membership (Drewal 1988), social status (Gathercole 1988), or willingness to endure pain in order to please a lover (Bohannan 1988). Permanent forms of body decoration must ultimately be viewed as part of a larger domain of more temporary adornment (Rubin 1988). At the most basic level, consumers use hairstyles, jewelry, clothing, and cosmetics to display gender, status, values, interests, opinions, lifestyles, roles, and other identity features. People continually make decisions and judgements about others on the basis of what they are wearing, how they style their hair, their body shape, and their use of objects. Clearly, these nonverbal signs and symbols are part of a discursive mix used to communicate individual and group identity.


Understanding the way that consumers manage signs or strive for symbolic capital has recently become an important focus in symbolic consumer behavior (Baudrillard 1981, 1994; Bourdieu 1984). The purpose of this article is to present an ethnographic account of product symbolism as expressed by a segment of the population, the New Tattoo Subculture. The modifier New signifies the recent expansion of popular interest in body art as a form of marking identity (Blouin 1996; Krakow 1994; Lautman 1994; Peterson 1996; Rubin 1988; Sanders 1989a; Stewart 1996; Tezak 1996). Although assessing the number of people who participate in the New Tattoo Subculture is difficult, it has been estimated that 12 to 20 million Americans have acquired a tattoo (Blouin 1996). This is not surprising given that tattoo parlors were among the top six growth businesses in 1996 (American Business Information, Inc. 1996). During the last decade, observers have also witnessed sharp increases in tattoo ink sales, the expansion of tattoo associations and conventions, the growth of State regulations, and the rise of tattoo removal clinics (Ball 1996; Blouin 1996; Peterson 1996). Other forms of media culture, including advertising, are beginning to reflect this interest in tattoos. For example, even conventional companies such as Jell-O puddings and gelatins are including temporary tattoos for children featuring star basketball players such as Dennis Rodman (Pollack 1996). This introduction leads to a number of research questions. What motivates particular consumers to participate in this subculture? In what ways is the tattoo used as a form of expression? What is involved in the experience of acquiring a tattoo?


“Of course the tattoos effect how people see me. First of all, whenever I go to meet someone's family for the first time, or do an interview for a job or have my first day at work, I will cover all of them up. Then I slowly start revealing them, one by one. .”


“Because my tattoos are original and some of them are cute, people actually end up liking them, even older more conservative ones. Younger people usually comment something positive about them, and it's a good conversation starter.

“Inked people love to show off their tats, compare them, talk about where they got them. It's definitely an enormous community with different sections: people who get very personal tattoos with meaning, people who get traditional American/Japanese old-school stuff, people who get silly things, people who get names, people who get flower designs or other pattens. There are so many styles but in the end it's still the same feeling when you get tattooed, the same pain of the needle in the skin for 2-3-4 hours. That experience you will never be able to share with anyone other than tattooed folk. There is an element of pain, an element of intimacy with your artist, an element of insecurity and vulnerability, and pride and joy all at once. I think that is what brings tattooed people together the most.�

“I knew I wanted a tattoo when I started to discover myself and what I felt was important to me in life - around 18-19 years old”

JOE “It's a representation of those in my life who have positively influenced me. Both passed and present... somehow by having this ink injected under my skin I have a physical connection from my skin to my mind and what's important to me.”


“At first I did, but now that I've had it for a while I feel like it's just part of me. It's like asking me if I feel like my ears or my nose shape peoples perception of me.”


is divided into two types of people:

- Michael R. Mantell, Ph.D.



are afraid of people



“Tattoo’s express the creative side of the personality outwards. It’s something I don’t think about, it’s a subconcious feeling. You don’t talk to people about tattoos, it’s just an unsung thing... You’re already on a similar plane of thinking and you can automatically sympathize. You’ve been through the same experience.”


“This is when I connect with someone because tattoos are a way of describing yourself through a symbol, or a phrase or something abstract...when you talk to that person you learn so much more and that’s where I build a connection.” “I think people are first shocked by the fact that I have a tattoo since from the outside I don’t exactly look like the stereotypical person who would have a tattoo. Then when I tell the story behind it, it definitely gives them a completely different perspective of me to them. I think at first glance one would not realize how deeply rooted I am in my faith and my church, but once I tell someone about the story of my first tattoo they can start to see that side of me.“


“People always have that first one that’s a tether to the past.” “One of my tattoos explicitly says define your self. I want to be more than my individual body and I want to work out from there.”

“Rocky movies have always helped me through tough times… Sometimes life sort of swallows you up but you can punch your way out. Escape from the proverbial beast, so to speak.”

“Fuck that noise- I don’t relate to people who have tattoos, it’s like relating to other people who have glasses. It’s so much more meaningful because it’s my flesh. I’ll always be supportive of people who want tattoos- it’s a great responsibility when marking your body.”

“I can’t see the longevity of people who have certain tattoos, barbwire, etc. I can’t see the longevity of tattoos that certain people get. I’m the guy who has to live with those choices. I do sometimes see people where I get ink envy. That person’s entire life led up to where they wanted to look at that every morning and night. Damn, I can’t wait until I get to that point.”

“I have always loved eastern art- it's very delicate, very detailed, very beautiful....I don't know how to explain it but I've just always been drawn to it!�



“In a way, yes. I have respect for those withh tattoos...There's a degree of boldness someone has to have to get one because tattoos are still not widely acceptable in today's world. There's a huge tattoo movement going on right now and I'm honored to be a part of it.”

”I chose the pablo neruda quote once again because it was so beautiful to me. You encounter people every once in a rare while who just have that powerful "glow" within them that draws you in. “ “I got the red-wing blackbird because it's always been my favorite bird. I always saw them flying around my house and geneva growing up and I liked to watch them fly around. It's sort of a keepsake of growing up and where I came from .”

Melissa Roels Š2013

Inked: The Permanence of Pain, Meaning, & Beauty  

A book created about the reasons people decide to "ink" themselves, the meaning their marks hold, and the community between tattooed individ...

Inked: The Permanence of Pain, Meaning, & Beauty  

A book created about the reasons people decide to "ink" themselves, the meaning their marks hold, and the community between tattooed individ...