Tattooing is a fast-growing art form and type of body modification that puts decoration(s) on the skin by puncturing the flesh with needles and filling it with ink. Typically, they are permanent, but they can also be temporary by applying ink only on the surface of the skin. A tattoo artist is the person who has been trained to draw out and then apply the markings to the body during an appointment. According to a website called History of Tattoos, which gives many interesting statistics about tattoos, “In the U.S., 15% of men and 13% of women have tattoos”1. Tattoos have been around for thousands of years, but the rise in popularity has been increasing quickly in the U.S. and all over the world.

The art of tattooing has been discovered to date back to the 5thand 4thmillennium BC with areas of discovery ranging from the Alps, Egypt, Siberia, France, Scandinavia and India2. The earliest evidences of tattoos were found on the bodies of mummies. Reasoning behind getting these tattoos varies amongst each area, culture, or group. Examples include methods of healing, cosmetics, ranking, magic, religion, punishment, reward, amulets, and the most popular currently, self-expression. For example, cultures such as the Romans, Greeks, and Chinese tattooed their slaves and criminals as a form of punishment, identification, and dehumanization. Other places like India and Egypt used tattooing for bodily treatments such as pain and forms of therapy/healing2. The Smithsonian Magazine website is a great source to read about the specific discoveries around the world of cultures using tattoos. They have discovered numerous ancient tools for tattooing including, sharp needles, sticks, shells, bones, some sort of handle, oils, carbon, and ash3that give clues to how certain cultures applied and used tattoos.

Despite tattooing’s wide use throughout history, there have been negative connotations relating to them. For example, people with tattoos in society have been viewed as barbaric, lower class, rebellious, dangerous, and overly-sexual. There are places around the world that are very intolerant of tattoos, such as Japan, Iran, and Denmark, where bans and restrictions are put on people’s self-expression. As tattoos used to be viewed as socially unacceptable, especially for women, they are today being viewed as beautiful artworks that can bring enhanced meaning to people’s bodies and express their unique life stories.

Today, the equipment used for tattooing has been designed to be as safe, clean, effective, and quiet as possible. Aside from having the correct equipment, the tattoo artist must be certified. The requirements for being a tattoo artist differ by state, but typically, one must complete at least three years of apprenticeship and then gain their tattooing license. Once someone has made an appointment with a tattoo artist, they first sketch out the desired design and make sure all the further equipment is sterilized and cleaned. The skin is then cleaned and shaven to allow the flash to be transferred to the skin. After some putting some petroleum jelly on the skin, the artist goes to work. The inks used are specifically made for tattooing and have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration4. The artist then uses the tattoo gun, which holds and gives pressure to the needles via a pedal, to suck up the ink and then inject it into the skin. The needles can be bundled together to create certain patterns when penetrating the skin depending on the design. The outline is typically black and then the artist goes back in for shading and/or color. The whole process can take anywhere from one hour to multiple hours over several sessionsso one must expect to be sitting still for quite a while.

There are several dangers or risks to getting tattoos that one should consider before committing to getting one. According to the Food and Drug Administration website, one should be concerned about infections from unhygienic practices and unsterile equipment, including ink5. This is a good website to learn about the risks of tattooing and to read over before getting it done. After getting the tattoo, it could cause a reaction to the body which could result in rashes, bumps, and fever-like symptoms. Those who do not go to a professional and do home-made tattoos risk even more complications. If any of the equipment, especially the needles, are contaminated with blood that is infected, they risk contracting diseases such as hepatitis. Once a tattoo is infected, tattoo removal, usually by laser, might be needed, which is a very painful process, so it is important to be knowledgeable about the tattoo process, safety precautions, aftercare, and it’s risks before continuing.


Suggested Reading:

Learning how to become a tattoo artist:

Before getting your first tattoo:

Why get a tattoo:


Works Cited


“Tattoo Statistics.” History of Tattoos – Origin and Meaning of Tattoos                                

“History of Tattoos – Meaning and Origin.” History of Tattoos – Origin and Meaning of               Tattoos,

“Tattoos.”, Smithsonian Institution, 1 Jan. 2007,
“Tattoo.”. “Tattoo.” The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th Ed,, 2019,      jewelry-and-personal-adornment/tattoo.
Office of the Commissioner. “Consumer Updates – Think Before You Ink: Are Tattoos     Safe?” U S Food and Drug Administration Home Page, Center for Drug            Evaluation and Research,         
“The World’s Least Tattoo-Friendly Countries.” Andrea Catton Laser Clinic, 25 Apr.       2016,
“Old School – Tattooing with a Bamboo Shoot. You Think Your Tattoo Was Painful…|   Sweet Tatts | Pinterest | Tattoos, Bamboo Tattoo and Yantra Tattoo.” Pinterest,            Pinterest,
SmarterEveryDay. “TATTOOING Close Up (in Slow Motion) – Smarter Every Day         122.” YouTube, YouTube, 24 Sept. 2014,   

Reanna Hinton is a senior at Old Dominion University who is majoring in Studio art and minoring in Women’s Studies. She loves reading and writing, specifically about the body and nature. Being outside, exploring, and being connected with the Earth and her family are important values for her. She has never been one to adhere to the normal gender roles and enjoys dressing and identifying as androgynist. She is a strong feminist and environmentalist and reveals that in her artwork.