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August 25, 2013



It is a rather sad phenomenon. People have limited abilities to distinguish themselves with their ideas and actions, so they feel obliged to assert their individuality with a bodily adornment that, in most cases, is either banal or ugly.

This is the problem with the cult of individuality. Few people are obviously interesting as individuals, so their efforts can seem rather contrived.

Then again, I do have a tattoo. But as a moderate tattoo owner, I feel that we should speak out against the extremists like Ms Cole, who are perverting our, er - thing.


Or, you could see the fashion for tattoos as the fag-end of postmodernism, hence "Nan" written in Sanskirt or the OS grid reference of your kid's birthplace.

Tattoos have always been intrinsically conservative, being attempts to secure stability and identity through force, whether self-selected or imposed by others (they were long popular among the British aristocracy - it was the respectable middle that eschewed them).

In the PoMo/neoliberal era, tattoos, like piercings and plastic surgery, are manifestations of the body as an augmentable commodity. In this they share a kinship with wearable computing, such as Google Glass, and "lifelogging".

They are less about core beliefs or the objects of affection than aspiration, hence the frequency of over-writing former lovers or laser removal. I don't know about "constraining our options", but if you have a Tattoo, then you are clearly biddable.

Jim M.

Is "Brand Beckham" predicated solely upon the ability to successfully kick an inflated pig's bladder, or do the tattoos and various haircuts have an important role to play?

Igor Belanov

As far as Beckham is concerned, football only had a small part to play in his inflated reputation, Chris Waddle being right to point out that there have been hundreds of better Premier League footballers in the past 20 years. His marriage, dress sense, haircuts and tattoos have been a massive part of his 'success'. I think FATE is right above, tattoos, like haircuts, are all part of image making for celebrities and the people who ape them, and owe more to the postmodern age. The fact that tattoos are permanent while Bowie's clothing, hair and musical styles could be easily changed is just evidence that many celebrities and their followers haven't the ability to think into the future.

Frank H Little

When I heard the Cheryl Cole story, I was involuntarily reminded of the limerick about the young man from Australia.


I think that's four explanations of why people get tattooes, and none of them agree....

My reading would be that it's an assertion of agency with regard to one's own body and the possibility of determining one's own life or being responsible for one's self-culture. It's no coincidence that tattooes have become more popular among poor people as social mobility has declined and the supply of skilled-labour jobs, in which the workman determines his own activities, has dried up. In inscribing one's body with a tattoo, someone is reasserting control over the mindlessly impersonal routines that, they feel, take up increasing portions of their lives. Whatever her wealth, Cheryl Cole is culturally very working-class. Her getting the tattoo is a form of self-culture--the exercise of an ability associated with a sense of purposeful selfhood--in the way that reading lyric poems would be for me or working out the r2 on a model for Chris Dillow.

Churm Rincewind

I'm sorry but this is just bonkers. Body modification - "bodmod" - has been a cultural tradition for thousands of years. It comes, it goes. Sure, some religions and some cultures emphasise or indeed require body modification - circumcision, for example, or scarification.

Otherwise it's just a fashion item. Body modification by way of ear piercing is commonplace amongst women in the UK. This does not, in my view, provide any evidence that British women are "illiberal", or that their "consumption decisions" and/or their "career options" are in any way constrained.

Igor Belanov

gardinergreen's explanation seems the furthest off the mark to me. I don't see how people are exercising 'self-determination' by following a blatant fashion trend. If anything, it shows a fear of not conforming rather than any positive assertion of identity. Footballers of all nationalities are one of the groups that seem keenest on tattoos, and they are hardly poverty-stricken or robbed fulfilling employment, whatever their original background.


Tattoos also imply a rejection of consumer culture.

Most mainstream ways of constructing a visual identity (with clothing, makeup, hairstyle, etc) are transient and commercialised, requiring regular payment to be renewed, and usually involve deferring to the designs of others. In contrast the tattoo is permanent, totally non-commercial (after an initial outlay), and far more compatible with self-design. Claims of 'self-determination' may ring a little hollow, but tattoos are still certainly counter-cultural.

Your fears of tattoos representing a stifling commitment to a class identity seem spot on, especially when they make the most unlikely route to social mobility (becoming a pop star) the most visible.


Tattoos aren't just a working-class thing, they're a fashion trend that transcends all sorts of social divides.

Based on what I've seen I reckon working-class people are more likely to get a tattoo (and definitely a certain type, such as their child's name on their arm), but plenty of middle-class people get tattoos, with middle-class blokes doing it to show that they aren't "boring" and have a "bad boy" side.


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