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How much meaning is enough?

How much meaning is enough?
February 27
19:30 2017
Man contemplating his tattoos_possible regret_tattooed the thinker

A man contemplating his tattoos and possible regret, inspired by Michelangelos “the Thinker”

Many among us tattooed people, have often heard the same ”age old” question asked of us, whenever we show of our ink. Whether we show our collection of to; family, friends or strangers, often the question they ask is: “so does it have any deep meaning?” or something to that effect.
Well as a sociologist I have often pondered this question more than most of my tattooed brothers and sisters might do, in most cases. I have even thought it over throughout my years of research on tattoos, especially whenever I read and indeed re-read the work of Margo DeMello called “Bodies of Inscription”.

It is true that we all, as DeMello would say, form a narrative with our tattoos, some sort of connection. However the depth of this connection is a much more diverse subject, than a lot of non-tattooed people understand.
Thus this article is for the people wanting to know more about tattoos, and why we ink our skin, to some extent and for my fellow tattooed people, this might be the article you show your family and friends, to explain why you got that seemingly random pirate tattoo, despite being afraid of sailing, or why you chose to have that saucy pinup done on your arm, despite it looking like no living person they or you know off.

It all boils down to what I already mentioned, the ‘tattoo narrative’, in other words the story the person forms with their tattoos. This story is both formed to defend the tattoo towards others, all those relatives again who are worried about job prospects or who think we are stupid for getting inked up.
But it is indeed also used to defend our tattoos in regards to ourselves, so to speak. What is meant by this, is that through these narratives, we form a connection with our tattoos, and without going into too much detail as that would be a study in and off itself, it is this connection that has to stand the test of time, in order for us to not regret our tattoos.

Now dear reader (tattooed or not), this is where you probably say to yourself “but that sounds like quite the significant task for the tattoo to perform, would it not need some really deep meaning then?” well…
As it turns out, it doesn’t really need that deep a meaning to form that strong a connection/narrative for the person wearing it. Not to say that having deep meaning hurts the tattoo at all, for the people that have really deep meaning within their tattoos, this definitely strengthens the narrative even more, however it is not required.

Man thinking of tattoos

A man contemplating what tattoos to create, and perhaps what they might mean.

What is required is personal reflection, not to the extent that you need to spend years in a cave contemplating the heavens and the stars, before getting your tattoos. Just enough that you find a connection with the image, this connection can be something as simple as “wow, me and my artist came together and came up with this amazing image for my next tattoo”, this process of the tattoo becoming a combined (art-) project for both the wearer and the tattoo artist, can indeed be more than enough for the individual not to regret the tattoo. “Why?” is what you probably then ask, or perhaps you ask how?
Well it is actually quite simple; it has to do with the fact, that though the connection is for a lack of a better term a ‘simple’ one, it is still a fully personal connection which is formed with the tattoo, which strengthens the narrative/connection

So whether you get a tattoo that reminds you of something profound about your personal existence or the tattoo simply just reminds you of who you are, in some small way or other, it is more than enough personal meaning, for the tattoo to last. So think before you ink is my advice, but no need to overdo it if you don’t feel like it, just be careful and be personal.

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About Author

Mads

Mads

Mads W. K. Masters of science in Sociology (Cand. Scient. Soc.), from the University of Copenhagen, who specializes in embodiment sociology, but especially in tattoos and tattoo culture etc.

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