We’ve come a long way, when it comes to tattoos. Far from a modern phenomenon, tattoos have their beginnings in ancient tribes, and in the marking of people – for example – as part of a religious sect.
In the growing Western worlds, tattoos were taboo, save for a brief fad between the late 1800s and early 1900s where they were popular in upper-class Britain. These were mostly placed where they could be easily covered up with clothes, and designs ranged from initials to butterflies. This was a feminist gesture; women wanted to take control of their bodies when they had very little power elsewhere [Margot Miffin, Bodies of Subversion].
Tattoos soon shifted away from high society. In the early 20th century, tattoos were stigmatised (and even illegal in some jurisdictions) because of their association with raunchy male imagery. Middle-class women who were tattooed knew they would be considered “loose” or seedy if they showed their marks, and such “marks” were considered a ruination of their femininity and a violation of nature, often as tattoos were seen on the upper arms of sailors returning from sea.
Heavily tattooed women were most often seen performing in sideshows with the travelling circus. Famous names include Maud Wagner, who was also the first known professional female tattoo artist, Betty Broadbent, and Pam Nash.
In the 1950s and 1960s, women began to get tattoos more recreationally, and their popularity began to grow. It has only continued to grow further and is now very far removed from its original roots. No longer the preserve of sailors, women of all ages get tattooed in equal measure as an expression of art and personality, and more women than ever are becoming tattoo artists since Maud Wagner began the art in the early 1900s.
I chose three beautiful ladies to show off their ink for this photo shoot, and asked them what their tattoos mean to them and whether or not they had a favourite.
Sky Valentine (pictured with red hair): My tattoos are mainly for aesthetic reasons. I don’t believe you need a meaning to decorate your body, though some of my tattoos do have a lot of meaning behind them: a young Cernunnos (the God of the wild hunt) adorns my leg, for example.
The perfume bottle on my arm is just a thing of beauty, although it is impossible to wear a picture of something and avoid attaching symbolism to it. Perhaps a perfume bottle can be associated with feminine seduction?
I don’t really have a favourite tattoo but if I had to pick, I would choose the Trill (a species from Star Trek) spots on my face, chosen to emulate the beautiful character of Jadzia Dax, who I had a crush on when I was 9!
Liz Samways (pictured with black hair): I basically see my tattoos as art, so don’t have much of a reason behind them; so I also don’t have a favourite.
Lauren McFarland (pictured with brown hair): I love my Deathly Hallows tattoo (from Harry Potter) because it reminds me of a childhood of reading and believing the world has magic.
Cassandra Snow – our stylist – said, “As a fashion stylist I’d love to see more tattooed women featured in editorial and commercial photography; I feel whilst males arguably get the lion’s share of the coverage – excuse the pun – we are yet to embrace female ink to its full potential in a styling sense.”
Tattoos are now commonplace and sported by many. They have definitely found a home in the modern rockabilly style, complementing the clothing and becoming an accessory and a fashion statement in their own right. Rockabilly fans are now sporting icons from the 50s to honour the era, from pin-up ladies to Martini glasses, anchors to dice, swallows to spider webs, cherries and flames… emulating traditional styles and using the body as their canvas.
Of course, there is still some stigma attached to tattoos, but on the whole they are far more widely accepted. Much like the world of art, everyone has a different idea of beauty and aesthetics, so not everyone is going to agree; otherwise, the world would be a very boring place!
Models: Sky Valentine, Liz Samways and Lauren McFarland
Photographer: Joey Lamb Photography
Hair: Betty Lou Vintage, Beachcombers, St Ives
Make-up: Katy Notley, MUA at Urban Decay Cosmetics, Truro. Lucy Slack – “Babykake Makeup” & MUA at Bareminerals, Truro. Betty Lou Vintage
Stylist: Cassandra Snow of Peace Vintage, Plymouth
Location: Mustard and Rye, Truro