Psychological variables and personal meanings for women who are tattooed

Date

2001-08-30

Authors

Reyntjens, Kathleen O'Malley

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Abstract

This study investigated factors that moved women to adorn their bodies with tattoos, and described the personal meaning they attributed to this ornamentation. It also investigated the levels of distress, self-harm behavior, self and body esteem, and family satisfaction in women with and without tattoos. One hundred fifty women returned questionnaires about their tattoos and their perceived levels of distress, self-harm behaviors, self and body esteem, and family satisfaction. Dependent measures included the Family Satisfaction Scale (Carver & Jones, 1992), the Body Esteem Scale (Franzoi & Shields, 1984), the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale (Rosenberg, 1965), the Self- Harm Inventory (Sansone, Wiederman, & Sansone, 1998), and the Behavior Symptom and Identification Scale (Eisen, Dill, & Grab, 1994). Results revealed that women tattooed for a variety of reasons including self-expression, as ornamental body art, and to symbolize important experiences. Meanings derived from tattoos were both political and personal with themes of empowerment, transformation, and freedom as well as memorials of love, loss, and achievement. Most women tattooed thoughtfully and few voiced regret. Discrimination was integral to their experiences and perceptions. Quantitative results revealed that tattooed women were not significantly different from the control group on measures of body-esteem, self-harm, or psychological distress. Women with many tattoos had significantly higher self-esteem than nontattooed women and women with less tattoos, and the greater the body surface area tattooed the stronger the association with positive self-esteem. Women with a history of abuse (44%) had significantly more tattoos, less self-esteem, less family satisfaction, more self-harm, and more distress than women without a history of abuse. Abused women with many tattoos demonstrated a body esteem substantially equal to that of nonabused women, which, in combination with the positive association with self-esteem, may reflect the use of tattoos as a healthy attempt at resolving trauma. Nonabused women with many tattoos were more dissatisfied with their family of origin than nonabused women with less tattoos or without tattoos. Intentional self-harm was endorsed by 112 women, and high levels of self-harm were found in 51 women, 75% of whom were tattooed. History of abuse, body piercings, and younger age were statistical predictors for the amount of tattoos.

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Keywords

Tattooing, Meaning, Women

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