Why Are Tattoos So Popular in Today’s Society?

Reader’s Question

Do you have an opinion on why tattoos are so popular in today’s society? Most people that have tattoos will say that they got them for a specific reason such as remembering someone or a time in their lives. Others say that they feel more sexy or adventurous because they have gotten the tattoos. I am wondering if there is more to it then these reasons. Have you ever counseled anyone on whether they should or should not get a tattoo? Do you feel that there is a deeper meaning or connection that most people do not realize when they make the decision to get tattoos? I am doing some research on this subject and would really appreciate your opinion. I am contemplating getting a tattoo.

Psychologist’s Reply

Tattoos have been around for about 5000 years. Keep in mind that tattoos are only popular in parts of today’s society, not all of society. This has always been true. As you mentioned, many people have tattoos that represent their life, their history, their interests or their memories. I think tattoos are popular because being rebellious, adventurous, and noncomformist has always been popular. It’s a type of public announcement that the individual feels they are different, perhaps more adventurous. This has been a theme throughout history. In the 1960s it was long hair. As we review history, these fads come and go which is not a problem for having long hair — that can be fixed in a haircut. Fads that create permanent changes tend to create problems for the individual as times change. People who still groom and dress like Elvis Presley look pretty silly today…except in Las Vegas. Senior citizen “hippies” are considered oddities with little interest shown in their philosophical beliefs. Employers are now restricting the visibility, number, and location of tattoos and piercings. Individuals who have facial tattooing and piercing may be proud of their stylish appearance but they will be unemployable or only acceptable in low-paying positions.

I’ve discussed the pros and cons of tattooing and related issues with people. I always caution people that fads and styles are temporary but life goes on. Every fad has causalties — those who take it too far, those who become fixated in that time frame (still dressing like Elvis), and those who have significant life changes that are permanent. A combination of caution and good judgment are always helpful as we consider what is often the high cost of being stylish.

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