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Thoughts On Tattoos And The Media

Today, The Guardian have published a piece of online news titled ‘Study restores the link between tattoos and anger‘. As soon as I saw it, I lifted my head to the sky and sighed, knowing what would follow the publication of an article like this. I have spent the last two weeks relentlessly contacting newspapers and magazines to spread the word about my tattoo artist exhibition which opened in the Midlands this month. Part of the motivation behind the exhibition, this tattoo blog (Inkluded), and indeed the tattoo magazine that I write for (Skin Deep), is to change the mass general public’s perception about tattoos, tattooed people, and tattoo artists.

I have always believed that the process of getting a tattoo is a beautiful, insightful and unique process like no other, and there should be room in the media for us to explore this. We need more permanent places that offer information, education and inspiration about this creative art form. There are too many misconceptions and misrepresentations out there about what tattooing is, in the minds of those on the outside of its community. Outdated biker stereotypes, media shock stories, dramatic television shows – the majority of the general public (who don’t read tattoo magazines or blogs) are fed information about this artistic industry that’s not in the slightest bit accurate.

My job as a tattoo journalist (and my recent exhibition project) aims to interact closely with those who are at the heart of the tattooing world in order to generate a media viewpoint… tattoo artists. Only by communicating with them regularly am I able to attempt to produce an industry discourse that’s respectful and truthful, and above all celebrates and showcases the unbelievable artwork that’s being created all day, every day, in this country.I’ve been sending out a press release about the exhibition to journalists all month (I have emailed 440 people in total – not that I’m counting). All of the artists involved are taking part for the very reason that I am writing this article, and we’ve had some brilliant regional coverage, but it’s not something that any of our national news publications have been interested in. That’s why, when I saw this article pop up on Twitter, I sighed.

My premonition was correct –  I’ve spent the entirety of today seeing people express their anger and disgust at this news story, a news story that includes the sentence: people who have tattoos report higher levels of verbal aggression and reactive rebelliousness – and the more tattoos they have, the angrier they are”. It’s not my place here now to go into detail about why a statement like this would upset and offend so many people, as it’s pretty obvious from reactions on social media and comments beneath the article itself. Whether the story is a joke or not can be debated (I’ve had a Tweet from the journalist today to tell me it was a joke), but from scrolling through my own feeds today I can report that 100% of the tattooed people that I know who have read it, have taken it as realistic news from a trustworthy news site. Actually, even for a non-tattooed person to see a media organisation re-enforce an already existing stereotype, for a joke, is wrong on many levels.  

But it is my place to respond in some way. I’ve spent the last few years completely absorbed in the tattoo artist community and very quickly learnt how disheartened and disappointed many artists are at the media portrayal of their industry. Every time I see an article like this shared, liked and commented on, I hear the digital teams at those newspapers reporting back on the engagement that particular post generated, and the decision being made that it’s been an effective and relevant piece of coverage. Myself and the tattooed community of the UK (which is growing to be a pretty substantial group of people) will keep continuing to fight to change the way tattoos are talked about by others. The drunken cover-up stories, opinion-provoking statistics and social stereotypes need to stand to one side, and make way for what is, actually, the fastest growing artistic and creative movement in this country at the moment

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