• Yuna Cheng

Taboo or Tattoo !?

Updated: Mar 3, 2020

In the year 2020, you may see tattoos everywhere and nearly on everyone. They are just something very normal and been regarded as a means of art. Especially in East Asia, this phenomenon completely subverts the public's impression of tattoo culture. Only a few years ago, the tattoo was still a taboo and a forbidden topic in eastern society. So, what happened? Why are tattoos becoming more socially acceptable? How does it reverse, regain a good reputation and even become a fashion trend in the young generation?

Why was tattoo a taboo in East Asia before?

In the past, the tattoo has been regarded as the representatives of gangsters and had a very negative impression in the eastern society. However, tattoo has nothing to do with the gangsters in the beginning.

Date back to the origins of tattoo history, tattoos first appeared in the Aboriginal culture. Facial tattoos symbolize their identity or honor. It is not only the expression of aesthetics, but also the functional purpose as it has been regarded as a means to distinguish between ethnicities and as a pointer of one’s place within the tribe.

In modern history, the main cultural resources were the Japanese tattoos. They were popular among the middle and lower classes, who were involved in physical demanding work and often who work topless. Thus, a full-back tattoo culture gradually developed as a way to show bravery and masculinity.

Affected by underworld movies in the 1960s and 1970s, tattoos have long been stigmatized since many Japanese associate tattoos with gangsters and criminal organizations, this also influenced neighboring cultures. Thus, the prisons where gangs gathered became an important place for the development of tattoos. Consequently, this built an even stronger stereotype of tattoos with negative connotations.

Long-lasting until the 2010s, the public was still holding a rigid and negative impression about tattoos as relevant words appearing in the headlines of news were often inseparable from rogues, crimes, and underworlds. The direct social contexts put pressure on people to appear in a way that is acceptable, respectful or generous to those who are present, having tattoos became an unwritten rule: tattoos are equated with violations of social customs.

Why tattoos are becoming more socially acceptable?

In the past decade, the influence from Europe and North America regarding the understanding of tattoos as an art and a fashion is becoming popular in the younger generation. People have gradually begun to view tattoos from different perspectives, thus opened free space, willing to understand the tattoo culture. The increasing freedom of society brings the new generation to become more open-minded. Taking advantage of the wave of self-awareness, freedom and the rapid development of Internet technology, the power of the younger generation is gradually emerging.

  • They are beginning to seek different ways to communicate with society and to express their own uniqueness.

  • They are willing to learn and to accept new concepts.

  • They are brave enough to express their ideas through various media.

Tattoos are no longer exclusive for the underground gangs, they are a kind of body art, in addition, a fashion and accessories.

Tattoo in the fashion

Nowadays, tattoos have even been applied in fashion collections by young designers. The acceptance of tattoos in eastern society has gradually increased, and it subverted the negative impressions of the past.

A Taiwanese fashion designer-- Justin Yu-Ying Chou took tattoos as his inspiration for the collection “TATTOO YOUR FXXKING LIFE” in a fashion Presentation Show. Collaborated with tattoo artists and piercing artists to implement real tattoos on leather pieces.

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