Body art[1], such as tattoos, body piercings, and pubic hair styling, doesn't appear to be just a passing fad. Therefore, as mothers of adolescent daughters, we need to know all about it.

What should my daughter know about tattoos?

In the course of examining my patients, something I've seen more and more frequently are tattoos. These tattoos come in all shapes, sizes, colors, and varieties— just like the women who sport them. And what's more, these tattoos are located in a lot of different locations on these women's bodies. In addition to the usual, expected spots such as the ankle, leg, arm, and chest, in some instances they appear where only the woman's most intimate partner—or her gynecologist—could ever see them. (Oh, and I guess the tattoo artist had a pretty good look as well.)

I have seen all kinds of tattoos: cartoon figures, names, logos, words, fruits, animals, portraits, and symbols of undetermined significance. Some are cute, some are odd, some are interesting, and some are downright obscene. I have seen some that are works of art, and some that look as if the tattoo artist was drunk, blind, or both.

The tattoo that I remember most was on a young woman who came to my obstetrics practice. She had a picture of Gumby prominently tattooed on her stomach. As her belly grew during her pregnancy, so did Gumby. That thing stretched and stretched and stretched. However, by the time the baby had been delivered, poor old Gumby was a wavy, streaky mess.

The history of tattoos is rather interesting. They've been around for thousands of years, but in recent centuries in Western cultures, their use has ebbed and flowed. Further, until the last couple of decades, they were confined almost exclusively to men. They were popular among patriotic soldiers in World War II, resurfaced as an antisocial symbol in the 1960s, became a rock star emblem in the 1970s, and then died out for a while before becoming a part of mainstream culture in the 1990s. Now, most people don't even think twice when they see someone with a prominent tattoo. In fact, it's been estimated that as many as 23% of all high school and college students have tattoos, and half of those tattooed students are women.

Adolescents say they get tattoos for a variety of reasons: as a form of decoration, as an effort to enhance self-identity, as a sign of rebellion against their parents and/or society, as a means of gaining peer acceptance, and as an indication of group membership (including gang membership). Some researchers claim there is a correlation between getting tattoos (and body piercings) and engaging in risky behavior such as underage sex, binge drinking, smoking, and illegal drug use.

However, a number of other researchers dispute this assertion. They claim that studies of young adults with tattoos and body piercings show that they are similar to their peers without body art in terms of positive family relationships, parental education, and religious involvement. In fact, in one high school study, more than 50% of the students with body art had A or B grades.

Before your adolescent daughter even thinks about getting a tattoo, there are certain things that you, and she, need to know.

Kama says:

My daughters and I are big fans of constant change. So, I agree with the thought that a henna or removable tattoo is the only way to go. If you don't want to wear the same nail polish color every day, why would you want to get a "forever" tattoo?

  • [1] A form of art expressed on the human body. Some examples include tattoos, piercings, scarification, branding, and pubic hair designing.
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