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The History Of Modern Women And Body Art

1430 words - 6 pages

The History of Modern Women and Body Art

I chose to do this field report on body art because I, personally, find the topic very complex and interesting. It is for this reason that I decided to narrow the scope of my field research. I am focusing this report on the trends and evolution in body art as relating to modern women. When I say modern women I am referring to the women from about the 18th century to the current day. I chose to focus on women imparticular because of the strong societal pressure that is specifically place upon them to fulfill a certain role and aesthetically look a particular way. I wanted to research the history of body art and how it related to these pressures and stigmas. In my research I found everything from information on tattooing practices to body modification through clothing.

As De Mello noted in her book, Bodies of Inscription, "Contemporary tattooing has evolved from a practice that was originally imported from the islands of Polynesia and later transformed into a form of working-class folk art" (p10). The credit should be duly given to the original tattoo artists of Polynesia, but the art form also existed in North America within Native Tribes. James Swan sights a specific tribe known as the Haida who practiced the cultural tradition of tattooing (Gilbert, 94-5). Both women and men were tattooed, but as common in many cases, the markings were different for each. The women more commonly had tattoos on their hands and forearms. Most had tattoos also on their breast and legs below the knee. These markings are very culturally significant. They allow the tribe identification on the basis of the design which tells the family name of the wearer (Gilbert, 94-5). The popularization of tattooing in North America came about due to its wide acceptance by sailors, particularly those who traveled to the Pacific islands (De Mello, p 45).

The slow acceptance of the tattoo began, but not without a wide belief in the stigma that a tattooed person was lower in status and in cultural advancement than that of the modern world (p 45-8). In America, tattoos soon began to be . modernized. and changed into more acceptable forms of body art (p.49). Around the beginning of the 20th Century, many everyday people were getting tattooed, but still the largest crowd getting these designs was servicemen (p. 51). A new fetish concerning the tattoo art was the emergence of the display of tattooed people, from the native to the modern tattooed person (p.53). Freak shows became a popular attraction in the amusement industry, but soon became solely focused on the "made freak," the tattooed, as the view of "natural born" freaks evolved (p.53-4). During the late 1800s women began to emerge within the freak show atmosphere and even became the more valued attraction and could even "use their sexuality to sell tickets." The heavy tattooing on these women required them to show their bodies with less clothing than was socially acceptable at...

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