Tattoos and Piercings: History, Popularity and Risks

Tattooing is done by inserting ink into a layer of skin and body piercing is done by puncturing a part of human skin so that jewelry may be worn in it.

History of Tattoos and Piercings

Tattoos and body piercings are forms of body modification that have been common practice for centuries. Historians trace back the practice of body piercing to more than 5000 years ago. The oldest discovery of tattooed skin was found in a mummified body from South America dating back to 5000 BC.

Tattoos became a major part of the global and western fashion during 1970s. Before this time tattooing was a very expensive process and was a mark of the wealthy ones. But during the 70s it became common in all the economic classes as well as in both the genders.

However, for the modern generation, tattoo has a change in its definition, and it has become a means to self-expression, unlike the times when it was mostly used for identification purposes or to express association to a particular tribe or a religious group.

An example of such practice is that the inmates in Nazi concentration camps were tattooed forcibly for identification. Usage of tattoos for identification dates back to Roman Empire when soldiers were given tattoos on their hands to make desertion difficult.

Popularity and Practice Nowadays

The redefining of the use of tattoos, however, has increased the popularity of tattooing. 25% of Australians under the age of 30 had tattoos according to a survey conducted in 2010. Similarly, the practice of body piercing is common in all parts of the world in various forms.

Ear piercing is a norm in many societies and has been in practice for a really long time. In Europe, earrings weren’t in fashion until the end of 16th century. Ear piercing was also common among European men of that time because of a superstition that piercing one ear improved long term vision.

Nose piercing is also very common in Middle Eastern and Arab countries and is customary for Indian Hindu women to wear. During the early parts of the 20th Century, body piercing was uncommon in the West. It gained popularity during the 1970s when the first piercing business began in California.

Lip, nipple and genital piercing are some other common forms of body piercing which is not only a fashion statement but also a form of sexual pleasure.

Tattoos are of different types and hold varying degree of significance for people. Tattoos mostly serve as marks of status and rank, symbols of devotion, pledges of love, rites of passage, sexual lures and marks of fertility, decorations for bravery, punishment, amulets and talismans, and as the mark of convicts, slaves and outcasts.

The symbolism and impact varies in different cultures. Tattoos may be a symbol of love or admiration towards a family member, friend or more commonly a celebrity.

Why People Get Tattoos and Piercings

Nowadays, tattoos are most commonly used for artistic reasons. It has also uplifted the cosmetic industry since patients are more inclined towards getting an artistic tattoo to hide a surgical procedure scar.

In many cases tattoos have sentimental and memorial value for the bearer. It is also used to express religious beliefs and is believed by some to help in spiritual practices.

Tattoos are also very common in USA in symbolizing loyalty to particular groups including criminal gangs, motorcycle clubs, ethnic or racial group and law-abiding subculture.

In some parts of the world it is used for magical reasons. For example, in Philippines certain tribes believe that tattoos have magical qualities, and help to protect their bearers against evil and increase their luck and their lifespan.

Reasons for body piercing vary greatly but the most common reason is to express one’s individuality. It is also done to overcome traumatic experiences or simply for aesthetic value.

Body piercing is also a very common expression of rebellion towards society or culture, particularly among teenagers and social outcasts in western cultures. It remains controversial, particularly in youth, even though there is an increase in the practice. Many states have strict laws that require for underage youths to have parental permission in order to receive body piercings.

Risks and Disadvantages

Despite the widespread practice of body piercing and tattooing, there are certain risks associated.

The biggest drawback is that most of the tattoos are permanent and can only be removed by laser treatments which are very painful and expensive and body piercings leave scars. It could lead to traumatic consequences if the decision is made when the person is not completely in their senses or under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

Addiction to tattooing and body piercing is also increasing rapidly and results in the person having a heavily tattooed body or excessive piercings. This addiction is attributed mostly to the adrenaline rush the body gets when the skin is under stress or pain which a person might seek over and over. It could also be caused by the admiration to one’s tattoos or piercings by other people or by themselves which leads to addiction for these practices.

Decorative tattooing is used among members of traditional freak shows and by performance artists who follow in their tradition.

Tattooing and body piercing is still a taboo in some parts of the world and may be looked down upon by some people. Some parents do not consider individuals with tattoos and piercings to be ideal role models for their children. Certain corporate organizations also prohibit display of body piercings and tattoos by their employees.

These practices can also have health risks if sanitation precautions are not taken and risk of infection, allergic reactions, excessive bleeding remains if the equipment used is not sterilized.

Body modifications are considered a norm in some societies whereas it remains a taboo in other more religiously inclined societies. However, its development into a very powerful means of expression of opinions, beliefs or belonging to a certain school of thoughts makes these practice a very important part of the modern day culture.

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