Since the 70’s and more specifically since the 90’s, it appears that things have shifted concerning the identity of people wearing tattoos. It used to be restricted to people on the fringes of society, but it seems that anyone could wear a tattoo now, nurses, teachers, teenagers… The era of « bad boys » is over. That’s why, for the last forty years, the practice of tattoos has been democratized, a process triggered for example by the hippie movement, the struggle for civic rights, women’s emancipation and the gay rights movements.
According to IFOP, in 2010, almost one person out of ten was tattooed in France. The rate is even higher among young adults since tattooed people made up 20% of this group. Usually, people getting tattoos explain their choice by saying that they wanted to claim something, to be in control of their own bodies or to transform themselves into art pieces. But, the most common reason is the need for differentiating themselves from others. Whether it is for aesthetic reasons or more personal and thoughtful ones, tattoos usually tell stories, and each symbol, drawing or sentence is the representation of someone’s journey, a statement regarding their life.
Tattoos have seen their popularity grow exceedingly for the last few years, mostly among youth, even though when it comes to body art, there is no age limit. This practice is being normalized and this self-expressive art form is now suitable to every member of society. It has also become a trend massively influenced by media, advertisements, and celebrities.
With television and more specifically TNT channels, numerous American reality tv shows targeting body art appeared on French television, namely LA Ink which made the talented tattoo artist and now makeup designer Kat Von D famous, Miami Ink and Ink master. The pitch is always the same: making tattoos much more visible and tolerable by promoting their artistic values. The ratings of these type of shows are extremely high, which puts tattoos on the front row and surely affects society’s perception, helping to legitimize and normalize the practice, making tattoos more permissible.
But wether it is through television or other platforms such as Youtube, this type of exposure blurs the former preconceived ideas about the seriousness and danger that such an act could represent. Their very negative image has been gradually disappearing with these challenges to preconceived notions.
Another major influence to consider would be advertisement, especially when linked to the fashion industry. For example, with Jean Paul Gautier and his famous perfume « Le Mâle », which shows a half-naked tattooed man supposed to look like a french sailor, a powerful reference to the well-know « marinière » by Jean-Paul Gautier, implying here that masculinity comes with tattoos and vice-versa. Or, another great example could be his last collaboration with the brand Coca-Cola.
In this way, tattoos are becoming a new form of advertisement for brands. In these specific cases, they are used to help modernize the myth and the story-telling created around the luxury fashion brand. These are just a few examples, the list of brands using tattoos as a way of promoting their business is endless, such as Diesel which created a few years ago « Loverdose tattoo » and « Only the brave tattoo ».
Nonetheless, this idea of tattoos being a trend is quite paradoxical. A trend is not supposed to last, it is something ephemeral and easily replaceable. There is an idea of it being something transitory and fleeting, which goes completely against the true purpose of tattoos : something created to last your entire life, a timeless and permanent symbol with no expiration date.
That paradox leaves us to wonder about their future and their value. Since it has now become something massively consumed, does it still allow a certain differentiation between people or is it actually a way to fit in now? With people getting more and more tattoos, the distinction created is not as hugely perceivable as it was a few decades ago.
By Lorène Cottura (M1)
Cet article est la synthèse d’un essai réalisé dans le cadre du cours « Clusters symboliques » dispensé par Catherine Bernard.