Controversial Tattooing Almost as Old as Mankind

Contributing Writer

TULSA TATTOO: Former University of Tulsa basketball player Brian Cardwell was known for his heavily tattooed body. Many fans thought he was the victim of excessive foul calls due to referees prejudiced against tattooing.

GTR Newspapers photo

Tattooing is an old custom that is found around the world. It was practiced in Egypt before 1300 b.c. Evidence of tattooing was found in burial remains in Siberia dating from 300 b.c. and Julius Caesar reported that natives of Britain were tattooed when he invaded their island in 54 b.c.

There are hot debates in the Sooner State around the old custom. In March, House Bill 806, legislation that would regulate tattoo parlors and lift Oklahoma’s distinction as the only state that bans the body art, was not heard by a legislative committee, killing it for the year. State Senator Frank Shurden says, “We are the only state that does not regulate tattooing. With hepatitis C on the rise, we need to address this public health and safety issue and do what 49 other states are doing—making sure these businesses are not spreading disease.”

According to the proposed bill, the Health Department would be permitted to license tattoo parlors and use money from licensing fees to pay for the regulation and annual inspections of tattoo parlors. The bill would make it illegal to tattoo or offer a tattoo to anyone under 18.

A tattoo artist, David Muir from Eyewitness Tattoo Inc., located in Tulsa, commented, “Every year, for the past five years the same bill comes up. Licensing of tattooing businesses needs to be done.”

Tattoo businesses have been operating in Oklahoma for some time under a loophole in the law.

Meanwhile, the number of people getting tattoos is rising. Currently, about 44 million people in North America have one or more tattoos. Tattooing is a huge business worldwide. The website, Edinburgh Military Tattoo, advertises tattoo shows and proudly states that the show in Edinburgh, Scotland, was accountable for 88 million British pounds to the Scottish economy.

In July 2003, the company Harris Interactive conducted an online survey of 2,215 Americans. It found that 16 per cent of all adults have at least one tattoo. The highest incidence of tattoos was found among the gay, lesbian and bisexual population (31%), and among Americans 25 to 29 years old (36%) and 30 to 39 years old (28%). Regionally, people from the West (20%) are more likely to have tattoos. Democrats are more likely to have tattoos (18%), than Republicans (14%) and Independents (12%).

Why do people get tattoos? In the past, in Tahiti both men and women were tattooed, especially those of high social status. Some tribes of South America use an arrow or a tooth in their tattoo designs in the belief that man can intimidate evil spirits with the picture of a sharp implement. Burmese males were once tattooed from the waist to the knee with repeated individual figures in patterns. Demon figures were expected to protect against snakebites, and cats were believed to increase the wearer’s agility. Up to the middle of the 20th century many people in Iran were tattooed to beautify themselves, to cure sickness, or to protect against the evil eye.

The above-mentioned survey by Harris Interactive says that 34 per cent of the American respondents think that tattooing has made them sexier. More females (42%) feel this way than males (25%). Because of the tattoo, 29 per cent feel themselves more rebellious; 26 per cent feel more attractive; 5 per cent feel more intelligent; 4 per cent feel healthier; and 3 per cent feel more athletic. “Some people do it for decoration; for others, it is a form of self-expression,” Muir says.

How do people without tattoo feel about those with them? The survey by Harris Interactive shows what antitattooists think about people with tattoos: they are less attractive (42%), less sexy (36%), less intelligent (31%), and more rebellious (57%).

Updated 04-26-2005

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