What do Tattoos Signify?

What is the deeper meaning behind why we mark our skin?

Tattooing, branding and ceremonial scarring could be as old as cave art and can be found in different cultures across the globe. From South Pacific Islands and Australia to the Vikings and ancient Celts, human beings have been marking their own skin for thousands of years.

In more recent times the perception has shifted, due to an absence of tribal ceremony and a proliferation of personal choice. This has led many people to label tattooing as a “trend” and “cosmetic” devoid of meaning.

Some have gone as far as to say that it’s a sign of mental ill-health:

See article; https://www.couriermail.com.au/rendezview/kylie-lang-why-would-anyone-get-a-tattoo/news-story/163c031ee10de6217ad0f0f4c092d008

But is this really the case, or is it just that our global and virtual culture has fundamentally changed how we express tribalism and mark rites of passage?

There are many personal reasons why people choose to mark their skin, and sure, psychological issues may be a motivation for some people, but I would argue it’s a minority.

Also, someone else’s skin is none of our fucking business.

That’s like having an opinion on plucking eyebrows or whitening teeth. How is this anyone else’s business except the person who’s body it is? Can we collectively stop feeling entitled to comment on other people’s bodies?

That being said, I believe that while the format of how we undergo tattooing has changed, the reasons for them have not.

They still signify rites of passage.

They still signify milestones.

They still mark personal growth.

They still identify you as belonging to certain “tribes” and sub-cultures.

This is all important aspects of being human, finding a sense of belonging, telling your own story, and remembering your past.


Each one of my tattoos contains a story and a significant memory. They all mark stages of my journey so far.

Just above one of my tattoos is a faint little scar (see feature image) and this little scar always reminds me of the cat who put it there. That’s my Boise scar and I remember him every time I look at it.

It’s easy to judge tattooing as a form of self-harm because they inherently involve pain, but pain is a natural part of growth. We can’t, and shouldn’t, be avoiding it so much.

As a society we have become pain averse.

I think this is a precarious place to be. We need to be teaching people how to embrace the process of learning from pain and transmuting it into growth.

If we don’t, then we get stuck in our trauma and can’t get past it.

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