Emotional Wellbeing

Self Improvement

Mandy Kloppers

Tattoos – self expression or self mutilation?

Tattoos are all the rage nowadays. In a world where it is easy to be overlooked, it is becoming increasingly important for people to stand out from the crowd. Tattoos have become very popular over the last few years and they afford an individual a form of self expression. However, when does this form of self expression spill over into a destructive form of mutilation?

According to research, the main motivations for having tattoos done are:

1) Self expression

2) Art appreciation

3) Physical endurance – to prove that one can stand the pain

4) Affiliation with a group

5) Resistance – protest against parents, for example

6) Spirituality, cultural

7) Addiction

8) Sexual motivation – genital regions

Pamela Cantor, a lecturer in psychology at The Cambridge (Mass.) Hospital and Harvard Medical School, explains where she would draw the line between body-modification and self-mutilation. Some adolescents do piercing as a social event, “the way people in an earlier generation would go to a sleepover and polish nails. They do it as an event, it’s not troublesome, not indicative of pathology.”

At a certain point, however, body modification bleeds over into a form of self-mutilation called “cutting,” especially when done in solitary fashion, says Cantor, who teaches psychologists about self-destructive behaviour. “If it is cutting and not piercing, and if it is done in a solitary rather than social manner, then it represents a totally different psychological picture.”

Research on tattoos reveals some interesting findings:

Adults with tattoos have been shown to be more sexually active than controls without tattoos.

People with tattoos have been shown to be more likely to engage in more higher risk behaviours.

Women who get tattoos are more than twice more likely to get them removed as men.

 In studying first impressions of people that have tattoos, researchers have found that people who use an avatar maker and create avatars (neutral) with tattoos and other body modifications were rated as more likely to be thrill and adventure seekers, to have a higher number of previous sexual partners, and to be less inhibited than non-tattooed avatars. This study looked at general stigma associated with people sporting tattoos.

And another study showed both men and women had higher body appreciation, higher self esteem and lower anxiety right after getting new tattoos. Surprisingly, three weeks later men continued to have less anxiety but women had a sharp increase in anxiety that may be associated with concerns about body image.

Like them or not, it looks as if tattoos are here to stay and offer individual expression, a kind of personal marking that says something about us before we’ve said a word.


Mandy X

Photo by Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash