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.