Tattoos, No longer a Taboo
Tattoos, No longer a Taboo
  • Koo Kim Gyohyun
  • 승인 2014.10.09 01:20
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When you hear the word 'tattoo,' how do you feel?  Some might get a little scared because a tattoo was once only done by gang members.   However, these days we can see many kinds of tattoos on people in the streets naturally.  Also, there are street stalls that do henna for university students, so if you go to Hongik University town, you’ll see a long line of students waiting in a queue to get henna done on their skin.  Like these, tattoos are becoming everyday ways to enhance one’s appearance, especially among the younger generations.


Tattoo the Passion, Tattoo the Youth

Tattooing has grown over the years in many cultures, and it has spread all over the world.  British novelist, George Orwell, who wrote "Animal Farm" described the root of a tattoo as a wound in the skin.  He was referring to coal miners who worked in coal mines in the UK whose skin was rubbed so often from the coal dust their skin became permanently marked by the coal dust.  The art of tattooing over the years ranges from charm in one ancient period to degradation and association with “low- life” society.  These days, perception is changing as the expression of individuality has become acceptable to all.

Especially for young people, a tattoo has a unique meaning. Jin Kyungoak, Professor of Department of Textile Fashion Design at Dongmyung University said, "These days, a tattoo is regarded as an accessory, similar to make up on the body.  People do not typically when young adults get tattoo; they regard their behavior as being young."1 Like this, people, especially the young, tend to think of a tattoo as a mere fashion item. Depending on personal preference, interest among people has grown for various types of tattoos. Instead of a huge body tattoo, people prefer smaller ones like lettering and mini-size images.  People who worry about the eternity of a tattoo are enjoying tattoo stickers, henna, and even eyeliner type tattoos.  Kim Solsum, a student at Korea University said, "I debated getting a small letter tattoo or just using a tattoo sticker because of the ‘foreverness’ of a tattoo.  I finally chose to use a sticker because I can remove it easily and I can change it if I didn’t like it anymore."

Like these, there is high interest in tattoos, so many kinds of tattoos are appearing among people, especially among students.


New Genre of Self-refreshment 

Getting a tattoo on one’s body has become popular for several reasons.  First of all, tattoos themselves have changed to meet the needs of today’s people with their higher hunger for art.  In the past, most people with tattoos were gangsters or street roughs.  Accordingly, tattoos were seen negatively and brought about images of furiousness due to the use of aggressively pitching animals such as tigers or dragons.  However, the tattoo artists’ job was to draw what the customer wanted.  As tattoo artists have gained popularity as a respected career, they are now creating expressive art work.  One tattoo artists, majoring in Industrial Design said, "One of the conditions of designing is to communicate, and I make work that fulfills that role."2  Rather than duplicating others’ work, the artists create and develop a variety of tattoos, making use of various colors and materials. For instance, each tattoo artist has his/her own specialized techniques, which comes through in his/her unique types of tattoos such as ‘lettering,’ ‘black & gray’ and ‘Japanese.’  Secondly, the desire to express oneself has become stronger, especially when it comes to the younger generation.  However, self-expression does not necessarily mean showing off. That is to say, people like to express themselves for self-satisfaction.  Therefore, people started getting mottos, maxims and personal convictions tattooed on their fingers and wrists.  According to the book, “Shouting Out to the World!” written by idol group BigBang, one reason one of the group’s members tattooed the phrase “Too fast to live too young to die, the famous line of a movie, was that it encouraged him in times of frustration.”3  In this way,tattoos are not only a means of expressing oneself to the outside world but also a way of strengthening one’s self-consciousness.  Last but not least, tattoos are everywhere and appear on a variety of mediums: broadcast and advertisement.  Since tattoos are quite eye catching, these are used to attract the eyes of an audience.  Therefore, this exposure has naturally made younger people less repulsive and resistant towards tattooing compared to the older generation.  Currently, more and more entertainers are getting a body tattoo.  Moreover, photo shoots and fashion luxury goods have begun to use models with tattoos.  For instance, Portuguese luxury shoes brands Exceed and Felmini held an advertising event; it paid for participants to have a tattoo. Jeon Sujin, who was in charge of the event said, “I am so glad that we can now introduce high priced luxury shoes to people in their twenties in much more friendly way.  We are going to continue this interesting marketing idea.”4


A Step towards Maturity

With the various styles and kinds of tattoos, people are obsessed with creating their own individuality—an expression of one’s characteristic and personality.  Rather than taking a negative view toward people who have tattoos, now is the time to respect individuality.  According to Franz, who is an opera composer, “A tattoo is just another physical type of art and a way to express oneself.  This art form does not harm anyone.”5  As Franz highlights, a tattoo does not negatively impact others.  It can be regarded as a culture specific to a certain group of people.  We are not qualified to criticize people who wear unusual clothes.  It is ‘their’ style and ‘their’ way of self- expression.  Even though one may not understand those groups of people, it is not right to blame their individuality.  Similarly, tattoos are like clothes that people love to wear to show their individual character.  Since some people wish to express their individuality through letters and pictures on their skin, we should respect their choice.  Lee Hyunmoo, School of Communication and Media ’14, said, “Many of my friends enjoy tattoo stickers as a means of self-expression.  I think tattoos give us a chance to express our personality to others.”  University students had better open their minds to and respect the new tattoo culture.


Decide after Deep Consideration

However, indiscrete tattoos can have harmful effects in the long run.  Although a tattoo is a means of expressing oneself, tattoos are definitely bad for our skin and body.  Young adults are often ignorant of the risk and think only of expressing individuality.  That is, people get a tattoo in order to express their soul and energy to others, but a tattoo cannot totally support one’s powerful soul if done in the extreme; that is, if the tattoo covers a large surface of the skin.  Due to pigmentation of the skin to get the desired color or effect, a tattoo might do much harm to our skin in the long run.  Taking such a dangerous risk may not be worth it.  Everyone should bear in mind that style and individuality shines only when they are intertwined adequately.



1 Jo Youngmi, "Tattoo Stickers, as in Life," Busan-ilbo, June 27, 2014

2 Kim Juyoung, "Tattoo, Escaping the Darkeness," Hankook-ilbo, August 19, 2014

3 BigBang, “Shouting Out to You in the World!“ Sam and Parkers, 2009

4 Kim Jonghyo, "Novel Event of Exceed Shoes and Felmini at Hongdae, Free Tattoos if the Shoe is the Right size for You," Newsen, September 5, 2014

5 Choi Sungkwan, “Tattoo, This Summer’s Fashion Code,” Chosun Daily, July 28, 2014

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