What is ‘Heavily Tattooed’?

When I started to write my PhD research proposal, I knew I wanted my research to focus upon “heavily tattooed” women. So I wrote this into my proposal, and knew that there would come a time where I would have to actually quantify what I meant by ‘heavily tattooed’ – did I mean 50% body coverage? 60% 70%? Or did I mean visible ink? It was a difficult decision to make, and one that I avoided thinking about.

Last week I was lucky enough to be put in touch with somebody who might want to take part in my research – I was told by our mutual contact that she was heavily tattooed. When I met with the possible respondent, she laughed that she had been deemed heavily tattooed and told me she didn’t consider herself to be. I don’t know if I would deem her to be heavily tattooed, I didn’t see any of her tattoos – we just talked about ideas and some brief experiences of being a tattooed woman, and it really wasn’t necessary for us to share our ink on any kind of visible level.

This got me thinking about the term ‘heavily tattooed’ and my difficulty in quantifying what it is, and what it isn’t. One person’s heavily tattooed is not another person’s heavily tattooed. One person’s minimally tattooed, is not another person’s minimally tattooed. I don’t know if there is a difference between how tattooed people categorize fellow tattooed people, and whether non-tattooed people categorize tattooed people differently. I just don’t know.

As a researcher, do I have the right to categorize the level of body coverage somebody has and to deem her heavily tattooed or not?

I’ve decided to include this question/issue/dilemma in the actual research process  – I’ll pose it as a question within the focus groups and interviews. Do you consider yourself to be heavily tattooed? What is heavily tattooed?

I think it might spark some interesting discussion around how people categorize themselves, and others.  It also allows the participants to categorize themselves for the benefit of my research – which goes someway to empowering the respondent within the research process, I hope.


On the Sexualization of the Transgressive Body

I know I have written about the sexualization of tattooed women before; my previous post on the subject focused upon tattoo magazines and the images they choose to adorn the cover pages with. Today’s post was inspired by a Facebook status by one of my local tattoo studios, a new studio opened by somebody I respect as an artist. The studio was advertising for “female tattoo models” for a calendar, and to find “Miss …..* Tattoo” (*insert name of studio).


As a tattoo fan, especially if you are a consumer of tattoo magazines, you won’t be a stranger to the Tattoo calendar. Usually given away with special new-year issues of the magazine, featuring scantily-clad women with varying levels of ink. I’m not denying the photography is usually pretty cool, the artistry is good and the calendar is generally aesthetically pleasing. But the models usually fit into societal norms of what is ‘beautiful’ or ‘sexy’, just with added body art. So is this formula not a bit old-hat now? Do we not deserve something a little different? A little more exciting? Or is there no market for anything other than “sexy-thin-model-with-tattoos-posing-in-provocative-stance”? I think there is a market for something different, we’re either not making ourselves heard or we’re not being pro-active enough in our power as consumers.


What about tattoo fans that yes, appreciate a woman with a good tattoo, but also appreciate a man with a good tattoo– because, shock horror! It’s the ink we’re looking at and not the body wearing it. Now I know this is a radical idea, but how about a calendar featuring both men and women with high quality ink? If it’s a calendar of ‘sexy women’ we’re after, surely we can rely on Nuts and Zoo magazine for that?


And as for a competition to find “Miss Tattoo” – I was obviously in the throws of a bourbon haze when we were all bundled into the time machine and transported back in a midst of flares and platforms to the 1970’s – the days of beauty contests pitching women against each other in an attempt to eek out the ‘beautiful’ one who strives for world peace. “Miss Tattoo” my foot.


My PhD is taking a positive stance and looking at heavily tattooed women creating new beauty norms, new aesthetics and transgressing the ideals we are fed constantly by society. I wanted to keep it positive, looking at what women are doing to subvert ideals and resist the pressures. But, after getting so angry over this, and contemplating where I sit with the whole issue, I would really like to include a chapter on the sexualization, or the fetishization of the transgressive body…

All I need to do now is work out how.