UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Girls and tattoos : investigating the social practices of symbolic markings of identity Vanston, Deborah Carol


The dramatic increase in the masculine practice of tattooing among girls in Western societies is an area of interest for feminist researchers and visual culture educators. Girls’ tattoos are perceived as diverse practices of conformity, resistance, reclamation, and empowerment, and/or as contemporary markers of femininity, sexuality, and desire. Eleven adolescent girls with tattoos from the Central Okanagan region of British Columbia were interviewed during a 12 month period in 2007/2008. Discourse analysis was employed as a method to interpret and deconstruct girls’ narratives with respect to understanding why girls have adopted traditional Western male practices of tattooing as expressions of individuality or identity. Secondly, responses were examined with respect to girls’ knowledge of potential risks involved with tattooing. The majority of participants had strong attachments to their relatives and their tattoos signified a desire to maintain that close family relationship. Research findings indicated girls’ mothers were influential in their daughters’ decisions to get tattooed and in the type of image tattooed. Girls were adamant that popular media figures with tattoos and advertisements of models with tattoos could influence or encourage girls to engage in body art. Knowledge of potential risks was learned primarily from tattoo artists and relatives, with infection indicated as the main associated risk. Participants suggested the distribution of pamphlets in school counseling centres could inform students of potential risks and provide information related to safe body art practices. Participants believed societal norms respecting girls’ behaviors and practices were different than those experienced by their mothers. However size, placement, and image of their tattoos, their own biases, and their experiences with older relatives including grandmothers and some fathers indicate that traditional Western attitudes regarding femininity and the female body continue. In spite of this, girls believe that they have the freedom to choose how they enact femininity and assert their individuality, and they believe “if guys can do it, so can girls”. As visual culture educators we need to listen to and respect the voices of girls to achieve a greater understanding of how girls experience and perform gender through their everyday practices within the popular visual culture.

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