“Wait, What?”: Our Team’s Thoughts on Tattoos

Human beings have decorated their bodies with tattoos since 6000 B.C., but why do we do it, and how?

Human Acceleration

Human beings have decorated their bodies with tattoos since 6000 B.C., but why do we do it, and how?

In our weekly “Wait, What?” sessions, anyone in the company can bring up a topic that interests them and talk about it with the rest of the team. In the past few months, we’ve talked about everything from space exploitation to the frequency illusion. In a move away from mental patterns and space, one of our most recent talks was about tattoos, a topic raised by one of our deployment consultants, Terri Helus, who hails from Texas but now lives in Alabama.

Terri’s well researched presentation went into some statistics about tattoos, as well as how they are actually done, contrary to popular perception. Her talk also touched on the fascinating history behind tattoos, and some of the reasons why we’ve chosen to ink ourselves, even if it has come with a stigma in the past.

Insight into Tattoos #1: How Do Tattoos Actually Work?

Contrary to what many people think, tattoos aren’t injected into the skin. What actually happens is that, similar to a paintbrush being dipped in paint, with the help of speed and capillary action, tattoo needles puncture the skin and allow the ink to “run” into the dermis around the needles. The machines that make tattoos are based on Thomas Edison’s engraving machine.

In Terri’s presentation, she shared a video that gives some insight into this process, in a fun, animated sequence:



Insight into Tattoos #2: How Do Tattoos Last?

Tattoos last because the ink is put into a deep layer of skin, underneath the epidermis, which is the layer of skin that is replaced regularly through skin cell shedding. While tattoos will naturally fade over time, the very action of your body processing the dyes placed in the dermis keeps them there, as unlike the epidermis cells, the dermis cells are more stable. Since your body’s natural inflammatory agents can’t process all of the dyes, it stays there. Dyes are so effectively placed in the dermis layer of the skin this way that it’s only through laser therapy that can the dyes can be broken down, and removed.

Interestingly, and frighteningly, tattoo ink is made up of some ingredients you wouldn’t expect, from lead to soot. Who knew that soot was an ingredient in tattoo ink? There are a range of different kinds of tattoo ink but be careful, some of these of highly toxic, especially the glow-in-the-dark kind.

Insight into Tattoos #3: Why the Stigma in Certain Societies?

For the most part of the last hundred years, tattoos were banned in the United States, because of the fact that tattoo parlours weren’t regulated from a health and safety perspective, and diseases like hepatitis were transmitted through the reuse of dirty needles.

In popular culture, at least in countries like the United States, tattoos were associated with biker gangs and criminals, and a general sentiment of anti-conformity and counter culture. In conservative societies, tattoos were taboo, perhaps it’s something to with the fact that you have to go through pain to get them, and this freaks people out!

Insight into Tattoos #4: Tattoos Are Actually a Fascinating Part of Ancient Human History

In Terri’s talk on tattoos, she shared a fascinating slideshow with us called Tattoos Over the Ages. The oldest tattoos discovered on a human being were on the Tyrolean iceman, who was found preserved in a glacier in the Austrian Alps. The iceman had tattoos all over his body, interestingly in the exact places where an acupuncturist would have put needles to treat rheumatism- a disease that he was shown to have through further examination.

In Ancient Egypt, the mummies of women were found to have several symbolic tattoos, which is an insight into a whole system of adornment according to gender, which is also interesting considering the fact that according to the statistics Terri shared, women are more likely to get a tattoo than men.

Maori facial tattoos, or Moko, are another famous example of body ink, and many Maori leaders used a drawing of their facial tattoos on official documents in the place of a signature, such as on deeds of sale in the early days of British colonialism in New Zealand.

Insight into Tattoos #5: Tattoos Were Made Famous by Sailors

Not only did British sailors like Joseph Banks bring tattoos back to Europe after voyages to places like Tahiti (which caused an uproar), sailors also brought a symbolic storytelling element to the modern tattoo.

For example, all the tattoos that sailors have, in this case sailors from America, tell a story about what they’d accomplished and what positions they’d held at sea. For example, the words “Hold Fast” tattooed across the knuckles of both hands means that the sailor worked as a deckhand.

Other famous sailor tattoos include swallows, which show that the sailor has set out to sea, and a nautical star, a sign of a sailor who always knows how to find his way home. Other tattoos particular to sailors include the stereotypical Hawaiian hula dancer, which shows that a sailor has sailed to Hawaii, as well as a fully rigged ship, which shows that a sailor has made it around Cape Horn, the most southern tip of South America, famous for its dangerous seas.

What are your thoughts and insights into tattoos? Share with us in the comments below.

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