‘I never want to go back to being that person’ – tattoos as embodiment of strength and identities in the aftermath of abuse

Research output: Contribution to ConferencePaper


Tattoos act as a form of communication, and a means of self expression. Tattoos enable an expression and performance of who people think they are, what they have overcome and how they see themselves within their social worlds (Anderson, 2014). For women tattoos take on specific gendered and embodied meanings. The tattooed female body can be seen as a subversive act against normative hegemonic social constructions of femininity (Atkinson, 2002). Tattoos on the bodies of women are often framed negatively, as exceeding traditional representations of what it means to be a feminine woman (e.g. tattoos might be described derogatively as ‘tramp stamps’). Body modification is often read culturally as a form of mutilation Pitts (1999). Some academic and media representations of tattooing pathologises body modification as ‘self harm’, supporting the negative representations of those who mark their body deliberately as ‘sick’ or ‘troubled’. This is particularly concerning when it intersects with women’s histories of sexual or gendered violence, where self-harm has been particularly problemmatised in academic and professional literature. However, many women who are victim-survivors see the marking of their body with tattoos as a memorialisation of their sense of survival. . This research explores the ways in which women draw strength from their tattoos, and embody identities through their tattooed bodies, after overcoming abuse. In addition, the ways in which tattoos can provide meaning and symbolism are considered, with respect to the ways that society required justification for tattoos on the bodies of women. Using semi-structured interviews, fifteen women were invited to discuss topics relating to femininity, their tattoos and their identities. With an intersectional focus, the analysis considers the individual lived experiences of the women, and centres on what factors form their experiences of tattooing as a form of resistance to personal histories of violence and abuse.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 26 Jun 2015
EventViolence: Children, Family & Society Conference 2015 - The University of Northampton, Northampton, United Kingdom
Duration: 24 Jun 201526 Jun 2015


ConferenceViolence: Children, Family & Society Conference 2015
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
OtherViolence is part of the daily lived experience of many people round the world. As a tool of domination and control, it impacts negatively on people’s health, mental health, interpersonal relationships, harms communities and produces a range of sociopolitical effects. This three day conference aims to provide an interdisciplinary and multi-professional context to consider the experience and impact of violence on children, families, individuals and society. We will also consider interventions and responses to violence at individual, interpersonal, community, political and social levels
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