Wednesday, April 10, 2013
Women and Tattoo Culture
By Alyssa Hamilton
It’s not every day that a book enters its third printing with more information in each edit. It’s also not every day that you hear the history of women and tattoos.
To dispel myths and fight prejudices of women and tattooing was the objective of Bodies of Subversion, as explained by its author Margot Mifflin, when she gave a presentation at Saint Thomas Aquinas College on March 21. The presentation, which lasted for about an hour in Lougheed Library, went into some of the information in the book, accompanied by a PowerPoint presentation showing images of the tattoos she was referencing.
An author and journalist whose work appeared in The New York Times, Mifflin offered a perspective as a “critic of visual and women’s culture,” as she herself does not have any tattoos. She asked the question, “Tattoos reveal what?” Interestingly enough, they mostly reflected the culture of the time.
The history she explained began in the 1850s with Olive Oatman, the first documented white American woman to be tattooed, was captured by Native Americans and was tattooed as one of their own. Mifflin then went on to talk about how tattooed women were oftentimes part of the circus and used the body art, depicting religious or patriotic imagery, as means of making a living. It wasn’t until around the mid twentieth century that tattoos for women began to be done more for personal satisfaction than as a show attraction.
Mifflin also explained how Janis Joplin inspired more women to get tattoos and how Kat von D changed a lot of tattoo culture and its relationship with women seeing as she was, and still is to this day, a successful tattoo artist. Nowadays, tattoos are used to express self-governance contemporary women have, and the line between art and tattoos is blurring.
One of the most interesting points Mifflin made was when she admitted to using Facebook to gather some of her information. She found a relative of one of the early figures in female tattoo artists and managed to get exclusive information and photos of objects such as her tattoo kit. Using social media shows that, like tattooing, journalism has evolved to fit the tools and needs of the times.
And so, as a student of both journalism and history, there was a lot to be learned in listening to Margot Mifflin.