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Ethnographic Study on Tattooed Women

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Beverly Yuen Thompson, an author and associate professor of sociology at Sienna College, details her experience and findings of interviewing tattooed women in her ethnographic study Covered in Ink: Tattoos, Women, and the Politics of the Body. Beverly approached her study by conducting qualitative interviews with various heavily tattooed women, and women associated with the tattoo industry to gain insight on how them being tattooed effects their life experiences. The fairly small study of sixty-five participants revolves around the sanctions placed on women who are visibly tattooed with focus on the social costs and discrimination those women face. The book not only explores women who are tattooed but also details women’s experiences working in the male-dominated tattoo industry.

There seems to be little scholarly literature focusing specifically on women’s experiences being heavily tattooed. Thompson’s book is unique and insightful due to the lack of scholarly literature that exists about the topic of women who are tattooed and those women who work in the tattoo industry; she provides a look into a world that hasn’t been thoroughly explored until now. Women becoming heavily tattooed has grown increasingly common in the United States and is a fairly new phenomenon. Shows like L.A. Ink starring Kat Von D, a heavily tattooed female tattoo artist, have become extremely popular showing that society has an interest in the females of the tattoo world. Due to the increase of interest in females who have and give tattoos and the lack of literature associated with it, the content of the book is extremely valuable to people of various interests including feminism, anthropology, sociology, etc.

The book is engrained with personal narratives from heavily tattooed women to further explain the issues presented by Thompson. Beverly reveals within the book that she herself is a tattooed female which makes the work personal to her. The book discusses several social categories where discrimination occurs brought up by the tattooed women she interviewed including their workplace environments, relationships with family and friends, and in the public. Thompson uncovers the negatives commonly encountered by tattooed women in the form of spoken comments, stares, and even unwanted touching from strangers. To conclude the book Beverly proposes new tattoo etiquette by drawing feminist ideas concerning the politics of the female body and the interviews she conducted to support her proposal.

While Thompson’s ethnographic study provides useful insight into a scarcely studied subculture, there are some shortcomings in the book. Beverly’s personal connection by being a tattooed woman and having strong ideas related to her topic of research makes her increasingly prone to have some biases, and overlook some useful information. In the study, Beverly interviewed only 65 participants, a fairly small sample, that she describes as mostly educated in fine arts reflecting a middle-class outlook. This shows the lack of socioeconomic diversity within the sample leaving out an important aspect of tattoo culture considering the difference of tattooing practices within the classes.

She also describes her own idea of what tattooing means as an expression of the self. This highlights her personal bias on the subject as she fails to consider that other people have reasons and beliefs for tattooing that may be different from her own. She fails to discuss her participant’s sexuality and sexual preferences which could have added vital information to this study. It would have been of value to the audience if Thompson had described in better detail how she recruited and ultimately collected her sample; that information is useful to determine why the sample was lacking in certain diversities. The topic and the ethnographic methods she used are what make the study strong, while the slight bias of Beverly and the lack of diversity in the sample hold it back.

Overall Covered in Ink: Tattoos, Women, and the Politics of the Body is a strong starting point for the study of women in the world of tattoos and is an important work in the field of feminist ethnography. The lack of previous literature concerning women with tattoos allowed Beverly to be the pioneer in this research and start the discussion. Her book being the first of its kind may spark the interest of scholars who will pursue the continuation of the study on this topic; further studies will be able to draw from the shortcomings of Covered in Ink: Tattoos, Women, and the Politics of the Body to contribute further valuable information to this topic. Despite the scholarly aspect of this ethnographic study, the general public might find this book interesting and insightful which makes it accessible for all.

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