An Focal · Erasmus · Features · Opinion · Stockholm

Taboos about tattoos?

While talking to an Erasmus student from Sweden recently, the subject of tattoos entered conversation, I for one have always been fascinated by the subject. Finally taking the plunge and getting my long awaited tattoo was one of the best days of my life.

My tattoo (placed on my foot)

Therefore, I was surprised to find that while tatoo culture is still in its infancy here in Ireland it is well into its teenage years in Europe especially in Sweden. This Swedish student revealed to me that it is incredibly uncommon to see people without tatoos in her country.

This said, Ireland is still a bit prudish about tattoos. When I was deciding on where to get mine I was concious of being able to cover it for future career reasons. It is important that future employers and clients cannot see our artwork (and that is what a tatto is, art) as it would be detrimental to the continuation of working with or for them. Irish people have the mentality of a prudish O.A.P. when it comes to things like tattoos, piercings or even dyed hair outside the ‘normal’ colours. Any show of individuality seems to be frowned upon.

We may use them to decorate our bodies with pretty pictures or little reminders and messages, but they were once thought to have medicinal properties. ‘The Iceman’ made headlines in 1991 after being discovered five thousand years after he died. He bore fifty seven tattoos and archaeologists think they may have been used to treat arthritis.

Bringing things closer to home the Celts who arrived on our shores in around 400 BC left behind them a legacy rich in culture but we would never know today that they were famous for their use of body art.

Many tries such as the Maoris use tattoos as a way of signifying a special event that needs to be celebrated in a tribesman’s life. They receive their first one when they enter manhood and leave their childhood behind.

To get a tattoo is a big decision because it is permanent and the laser treatment which could remove it is very expensive and extremely painful. So if you make the hard choice to get one why should you be made hide it from the world? If you’ve got it flaunt it, may not seem like an appropriate phrase to use but it’s true.

Those who have ventured into the subculture of the tattooed know that while it is an individual decision it is also a way of showing your individuality. What’s the point in being an individual if no-one knows?

(text published in ‘An Focal’ 8 March 2011)

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