Tattoo’s have been around since developed civilizations began. Tattoos are now considered a form of self expression by many.  Previously, they served as a way to openly mark the social status of an individual. One of the biggest developments in the art of tattooing is the significance of facial tattoos. In ancient times, many would receive tattoos on their face to represent spiritual beliefs, mourning, or rites of passage in their communities. Looking ahead to a few hundred years later, tattoos on the face signified slavery or criminality, deeming these individuals as outcasts or less than societal norms. More recently, facial tattoos have become popular in the music industry. Some of the most popular artists in today’s culture sport facial tattoos to signify their brand of music and performance. Throughout history, one thing about facial tattoos has not changed, they have always represented how an individual is deemed by society.

The ancient tribe of the Maori people, native to New Zealand, can be viewed as some of the first people to develop means of face tattoos. By making incisions to their skins, these people would apply ink to their wounds. This would signify superior rank in their community because one would be considered brave and strong to go through such a painful process. In southwestern tribes, facial tattoos were given to young girls by their elders as a rite of passage into womanhood. Recently in China, a 3800 year old mummified woman was found displaying moon-like tattoos on her face. At that point in time, those symbols would suggest that the woman believed in a goddess based religion and proudly displayed her spiritual beliefs publicly. Spiritual and status served as the main purpose in the origin of facial tattoos.

Facial tattoos have not always been proudly worn on people’s bodys and certainly have not been viewed as acceptable in society. Many prisoners, slaves, gang members, and outcasts receive marks on their face to signify a certain aspect of their life that was viewed as abnormal from the rest of society. In the 1850s a teenage girl by the name of Olive Oatman was pioneering in Illinois with her family when they were attacked by a “native tribe” who took Oatman in as a slave and branded her chin with a tattoo. It has been unclear whether the tattoo signifies a rite of passage or identification as the tribes property. Tear drop tattoos for prisoners have several meanings, the most common being that they took someone’s life during their time in prison. Many gangs and cult members have promoted tattoos on their faces as a way to support a part of their affiliation. One example being Charles Manson, notorious cult leader and murderer in the 70’s, had the people involved in the “Manson Family” carve X’s into their foreheads to signify being excluded from society. Manson later carved a Swastika into the X that had been on his forehead to show hatred and moreso, insanity. During this period of time there was a stigma set on people who had facial tattoos because of the criminality and abnormality associated with it. 

In the 21st century, facial tattoos have made a popular comeback by many individuals in the music industry. Post Malone, Lil Wayne, Gucci Mane, 6ix9ine, Justin Beiber and many more flaunt tattoos that represent their brand. Facial tattoos aren’t just limited to men and musical artists. Kat Von D, makeup curator and famous tattoo artist exhibits several blue stars along her cheekbones. Facial tattoos today have less of a spiritual or societal meaning behind them. Anyone who is willing to get one can get one, although many tattoo artists are hesitant to tattoo a client’s face.  Facial tattoos are still seen as a way of publicly stating personal meaning. While Post Malone’s “Always Tired” tattoos located on the bags of his eyes may be very far from the symbolism of prison tattoos or ancient tribal tattoos, the intention to revoke meaning and a sense of personal expression is still there. 

Suggested Reading:

https://classroom.synonym.com/facial-tattoos-ancient-times-11566.html


Caitlin Fitzpatrick is a junior at Old Dominion University. She is majoring in Lifespan Communications and hopes to go into Human Resources. You can usually find her working as the receptionist in the Office of Student Conduct and Academic Integrity or feeding the street cats near campus. She is a big fan of coffee, tattoos, and true crime documentaries.