Harsh Beauty: The Alternative Aesthetic of Tattooed Women Maurice Patterson University of Limerick hidden bodies Consumer research has been slow to tackle the issue of embodiment. Following Shilling (1993), embodiment has been an вЂ�absent presenceвЂ™ within consumer research. While explicit treatment of embodiment has been relatively thin on the ground, the corporeality of consumption has always been lurking in the shadows. If nothing else, embodiment has acted as consumer researchвЂ™s Other. In order to make the case for a rational, informationprocessing consumer, a contrast must be drawn between it and an irrational, emotive, impulsive, and embodied consumer (Longhurst 1995). a resurgence of interest Recently there has been a resurgence of interest in embodiment across various disciplines. Turner (1992) has coined the term вЂ�somatic societyвЂ™ to signify the growing importance of embodiment as a topic for investigation in the social sciences. Although consumer research has belatedly taken up these issues, work within this arena is beginning to appear with increasing frequency. what is вЂ�the bodyвЂ™? natural socially constructed lived the вЂ�naturalвЂ™ body There is a вЂ�naturalвЂ™, pre-social body. This body is the foundation upon which social relations, hierarchies and inequalities are constructed, and through which lived experience is mediated. For example, the position of women in society has been undermined repeatedly by attempts to define their вЂ�unstableвЂ™ bodies as both dominating and threatening their вЂ�fragileвЂ™ minds. Until recently, arguments about how PMT drove women вЂ�out of controlвЂ™ were used to prevent them becoming pilots in Australia and bank managers in the US. the вЂ�socially constructedвЂ™ body There exists also a socially constructed body: a body which has been positioned as an object by the gaze or discourse of those who seek to act upon it. Discourses represent вЂњcognitive mappings of the bodyвЂ™s possibilities and limitations,вЂќ (Frank 1991: 48). These discourses are persistent in their presentation of, and encouragement to achieve вЂ�particularвЂ™ bodies; in their instruction for us to take responsibility for our own bodies, to control and manage our corporeality, and; in their provision of information on how to achieve such bodies for ourselves. smothering inscriptions In contemporary society, aspects of the body are ascribed value and function as embodied capital which may be converted to economic, cultural and social capital. Women in particular are persuaded to devote their energies to working on their bodies in such as way as to maximize their exchange value (Wernick 1987). вЂњThe disciplinary project of femininityвЂ¦requires such radical and extensive measures of bodily transformation that virtually every woman who gives herself to it is destined in some degree to fail. Thus, a measure of shame is added to a womanвЂ™s sense that the body she inhabits is deficientвЂќ, (Bartky 1997: 139). nature, culture & agency Poststucturalist and postmodern accounts tend to valorise the socially constructed body at the expense of the naturalistic body. вЂњTheories of discourseвЂ¦have made bodies the objects of symbolic practice and power but not participantsвЂ¦To break out of [DescartesвЂ™] universeвЂ¦we need to assert the activity, literally the agency, of bodies in social processesвЂќ (Connell 1995: 60). вЂњWomenвЂ™s own understandings of their embodied selves are reduced to an effect of image consumption, while the processes and practices through which the self and the body become meaningful are left untheorisedвЂќ, (Budgeon 2003: 42). the вЂ�livedвЂ™ body Notions of the lived body serve to highlight the tension between вЂ�havingвЂ™ and вЂ�beingвЂ™ a body. The world as perceived through the body was, for Merleau Ponty (1962), the ground level of all knowledge, for it is through the body that people gain access to the world. As the point of overlap between the physical, the symbolic and the sociological, the body is a dynamic mutable frontier. The body is the threshold through which the subjectвЂ™s lived experience of the world is incorporated and realised and, as such, is neither pure object nor pure subject. It is neither pure object since it is the place of oneвЂ™s engagement with the world. Nor is it pure subject in that there is always a material residue that resists incorporation into dominant symbolic schemaвЂќ, (McNay 1999: 98). re-inscription Body culture, the self-disciplining of our bodies, and the pursuit of a chameleonic and impossible ideal have emerged as powerful diversions just when women were beginning to assert their position within society (Orbach 1993; Bordo 1997). вЂњThat which has been most objectified вЂ“ our corporeality вЂ“ is to become the major source of [womenвЂ™s] subjectivity and agency, subject and object reunited and no longer split by the Western dualist traditionвЂќ, (Waterhouse 1993:110). вЂњWomen are working to erase the oppressive marks of a patriarchal society and to replace them with marks of their own choosing which contest patriarchal powerвЂќ, (De Mello 1995:74). tattoo & deviance Tattooing has long been associated with outsiders. Reintroduced to Europe in the late C18th by Cpt. James Cook. A century later criminologists suggested that tattoos were corporeal markers of criminality (Caplan 2000): where once criminals were tattooed to mark them out, now anyone who was tattooed was viewed as criminal. This didnвЂ™t prevent Victorian gentry from adopting tattooing in order to access the transgressions of the working class and the fantastical world of the вЂ�primitiveвЂ™ Other (Braunberger 2000). Even today вЂњit is perceived as a social marking that, if not inscribed on the bodies of deviants, then constitutes a deviant practice on the bodies of individuals (Fisher 2002:97). tattoo & women The mother of all tattooed circus women, Nora Hildebrandt arrived at BunnelвЂ™s museum in New York in March 1882 boasting 365 designs and claiming to have been forcibly tattooed by her father after being captured by вЂ�red skin devilsвЂ™. By the 1920s there was a glut of tattooed sideshow women and, in order to forge a career, women had to capitalize on the sexual side of their work. Enter Betty Broadbent who participated in a beauty pageant at the 1939 WorldвЂ™s Fair. By the 1970s the call for radical fundamental change for women could be answered by a commitment-demonstrating tattoo. Over the next twenty years or so the most popular images (butterflies, flowers and hearts) equated the feminine with the natural and seemed to annul the contestation of the tattoo, but all that was to change. function & meaning There are a number of common reasons cited in deciding to get a tattoo: Decoration, Protection, Ritual & Identification Many tattoos are denotative signs: Football Team Crests, Harley Davidson Logos etc. However, the majority of tattoos deny literal interpretation and their meaning often emerges in the construction of self-reflexive narratives containing complex justifications which change as the tattooee is exposed to new discourses (DeMello 2000). Thus, tattooed bodies often represent open texts: Following Garber (1992) they may be viewed both as signifiers and that which signifies the undecidability of signification. themes pain boundaries placement looks pain There is a particularly prevalent concern with tattooing as a practice that causes pain. There were moments where I could feel my nerves in my chin just go off. It hurt so badlyвЂ¦I was lying there, trying to think of things to get the pain off my mind. My muscles were twitching, and tensing up. Once the needles hit my skin, my muscles just started spasming. The pain was excruciating. However, in celebrating the tattooing process many tattooed people challenge the meaning and cultural evaluation of pain. I think the whole process is gorgeousвЂ¦I mean even if I canвЂ™t get a new one, IвЂ™ll go in and get them touched upвЂ¦ just вЂ�cause I like the needle on the skin. pain Far from acting as passive consumers, tattooees are necessarily positively involved in the production of the tattoo. They must put up with the pain and the process and they must complete the product through attention to the appropriate healing procedure. YouвЂ™ve gotta sit there for hours and put up with the pain. So even if you are really rich, if you canвЂ™t stand the pain you canвЂ™t get tattooed. You have to resist the urge to scratch, it itches like hell but you just canвЂ™t touch it. Just wash it a couple times a day and apply the cream. placement The body is not a flat canvass, but is a natural, living entity whose contours must be worked with. This artist who worked from home, he actually showed me how to work out placement on the body and how your body is so much different from a flat piece of paper. Where on the body a tattoo is placed may effect the reading of the image. There is a huge socio-cultural difference between a discreet tattoo and tattoos on the face and hands, for example. This girl came in with her boyfriend and she wanted a dragon tattooed on her armвЂ¦He said: вЂ�DonвЂ™t have it on your arm, have it on your back where nobody can see itвЂ™. She said: вЂ�I want to be able to see itвЂ™, and he said: вЂ�Girls with tattoos on their arms look disgustingвЂ™, and I was sat next to him and I said: вЂ�Shall I pretend IвЂ™ve not heard thatвЂ™. placement The extensively tattooed woman is more likely to provoke anxieties related to the вЂ�excessive female bodyвЂ™, and to be seen as вЂ�butchвЂ™ and вЂ�aggressiveвЂ™ etc. I donвЂ™t think women would have big tattoos because itвЂ™s fashionableвЂ¦I think theyвЂ™d be too scared toвЂ¦I think it is a big decision to make, I think itвЂ™s a bigger decision for women than for men. boundaries The tattoo needle pierces the skin pushing ink between the layers; too deep and the tattoo will turn out blurred, too shallow and the body will reject the ink. It also draws blood. I donвЂ™t know what it is but I always bleed heavily when IвЂ™m being tattooedвЂ¦And if IвЂ™ve had a few drinks the night before that blood just flows. Tattooing also violates the integrity of the body, defiling boundaries and raising questions over such fundamental oppositions as nature/culture, inside/outside. boundaries The opening up of oneвЂ™s body to the tattoo needle may be viewed as an act of reclaiming the body from its increasing penetration by corporate, governmental, medical and scientific interests. IвЂ™ve been through all the adolescent things, and IвЂ™ve had my children, and now my bodyвЂ™s just mineвЂ¦to do what I want with. looks A vital consideration for anyone being tattooed is that tattoos are a permanent mark on the body. Right now I look quite feminine so I can balance it. But I do wonder sometimes what IвЂ™m going to do when IвЂ™m 40вЂ¦I suppose, if nothing else, IвЂ™ll make a colourful corpse. There remains, even within the tattoo community a sense of which tattoos are appropriately feminine and which are masculine. Some of the stuff you see in magazines now is fantastic and itвЂ™s so lovely and delicate, even though its bold, and I still think itвЂ™s feminineвЂ¦and I get so excited about it. looks Tattooed women express their capacity to decide how they want to look despite dominant norms of femininity and beauty. Girls often say to me: вЂ�I wouldnвЂ™t have that, but it looks nice on youвЂ™вЂ¦And my dad said to me: вЂ�YouвЂ™ve made yourself an acquired taste nowвЂ™. I think I look nicer with themвЂ¦I think that if they suddenly disappeared IвЂ™d look quite strange. looks Moreover, heavily tattooed women not only transgress conventions of beauty, but, by making themselves вЂ�visibleвЂ™ they challenge definitions of the ideal woman as restrained and diminutive (Covino 2000). These women strategically appropriate a predominantly male expression of physical power and potency, and actively attract and challenge the gaze, thus asserting control over the viewer. People are fascinated by it and at the same time theyвЂ™re disgusted. Mind you, those who are determined to tell you how much they hate it are also the first ones up to try and get a closer look. looks WomenвЂ™s constant surveillance of their femininity produces вЂ�docileвЂ™ bodies although they may, at the same time, be transgressive bodies (Johnston 1996). Women have so internalized the beauty imperative that any actions that might challenge such an imperative are likely to be viewed as threatening them with вЂњdesexualization, if not outright annihilationвЂќ, (Bartky 1997: 146). I think IвЂ™m quite well turned out anywayвЂ¦I donвЂ™t dress scruffy or anything like that so I get away with itвЂ¦Even though IвЂ™m proud of it, sometimes I do feel a bit uncomfortable. I mean, if I had to go somewhere where I thought it might cause problems IвЂ™d cover up. ItвЂ™s not like I have a point to prove or anything. docile bodies Many tattoo conventions involve competitions where tattooees go on stage and display their tattoos. Men are usually proud but often only grudgingly willing. Women seem to be judged as much for their bodies as for their tattoos. www.suicidegirls.com has become a cultural phenomenon. It offers tattooed women another layer of agency, but it has been criticized for depicting only thin, beautiful models. вЂњFeminism offers us knowledge and analysisвЂ¦it does not provide us with wings to fly above our culture. Feminists should be critical about cosmetic surgery, tattooing, piercing and so on, without undermining the people who choose this as a solution for their problemsвЂќ, (Van Lenning 2002: 548). conclusions The association of tattoos with deviance allows them to be used for the purposes of resistance. Nonetheless, this really only applies to heavily tattooed women for, as Hayt (2002: 2) indicates, even for middle-aged American women the tattoo is so commonplace that it may be losing its вЂњallure of naughtinessвЂќ. вЂњWhen people talk about their tattoos, about getting tattoos, and about living with tattoos, they move back and forth between what it means to them and the reactions other people have to their being tattooedвЂќ, (Rosenblatt 1997: 306). If there is a shared understanding of tattooing, it is to be found in the role of our bodies in expressing and challenging the relationship between the individual and the social whole. This is made possible by the body surface, the skin, which is at once inside and outside, part of the self and what we present to others (Falk 1994; Rosenblatt 1997). conclusions вЂњBy engaging in these practices, people not only articulate the critique but enact it: they inhabit it and it becomes part of them.вЂќ, (Rosenblatt 1997: 319). In assessing how women negotiate dominant conceptualizations of femininity, therefore, we need to underline their agency. However, we must also accept that the category вЂ�deviantвЂ™ often serves to reinforce the category вЂ�normalвЂ™. A tattoo may well be an expression of a desire for agency, but it must not be confused with the types of agency that are likely to impact directly on social power structures.