Re: mutilation and ritual

Adrienne Dearmas (DearmasA@AOL.COM)
Thu, 4 Jul 1996 11:44:27 -0400

In a message dated 96-07-03 16:23:25 EDT, mkconrad@ACSU.BUFFALO.EDU (Marie K
Conrad) writes:

> With all this talk of a lack of ritual, etc. in Western "tattooing," is
> there anyone out on this list who has actually gotten a tattoo or talked
> to someone who has gotten a tattoo? We seem to be approaching this
> question with an a priori view that Western tattooing has no ceremony,
> symbolism and ritual, and trying to explain why this is, when in fact, I
> would argue just that opposite might be true. If tattooing has no
> symbolism, then why
> bother with "Mother" or a loved one's name? Why get the name removed to
> make a new loved one happy - it must mean something? And as far as
> ceremony, don't Navy guys still get drunk and tattooed as expected? It
> may not elegant, but it might still qualify as ceremony.
> Just my .02.

When I first began my research, I figured I'd better get something. I didn't
want a piercing (other than my ears), had no intention of being
clitoridectomized, wasn't planning on taking up corseting or footbinding this
late in life, cranial deformation was out, couldn't affor cosmetic surgery,
and having white skin, scarification was out. So, I got a tattoo. I even did
fieldwork in the place befor getting one. The getting drunk thing is kind of
out in reputable places b/c most won't do you if they think you are
intoxicated. I've seen marines getting their chests and skulls tattooed and
it being a very macho thing for them trying not to cry. Endurance, bravery,
survival of the fittest, that kinda thing. Definately ritual in that. The
little waif girls that come in to get a unicorn on their butts are into the
thrill of baring their ass to a stranger and pissing off their parents. Then
there are those who are having a mural created on their bodies for purely
aesthetic reasons (god wouldn't have given me this much blank skin if he
didn't want me to put something on it during the course of my life). It seems
that rather than there being a lack of ritual, there is not a cohesive one
which binds people together so that deciding whether to get a tattoo is a
decision one makes. Even tho I have my own personal tetthbrushing ritual
variation, brushing one's teeth in the US is a ritual almost everyone
practices. As for symbolism, you have to ask what "mom" or "Winona forever"
means to you as well as Johnny Depp. For me, choosing my tattoo took years:
where to put it (in a place that wasn't likely to sag, and a place which
would be strong enough to handle the disruption of balance that
transformations of the body produce), what to get (had to be very meaningful
to me and symbolize that which I wanted to "wear on my sleeve" about myself),
color vs. non-color. However my choices were personal to me. My friend Jamie
has tattoos all over her body and each one is something different - one was a
freehand creating by a friend who wanted to practice working on arms, one is
her sign, one is her favorite album cover. No standardized ritual involved.

- Adrienne