TTU prof says tattoos can be a form of healing for women

Published: Nov. 20, 2015 at 2:20 AM CST|Updated: May. 19, 2016 at 2:26 PM CDT
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Annie Lawrence
Annie Lawrence

LUBBOCK, TX (KCBD) - A Texas Tech Sociology professor believes tattoos may serve as a coping mechanism for some college-age women.

Jerome Koch has observed tattoo trends since 1998, and will publish his "unexpected findings" in a study titled, "Tattoos, gender and well-being among American college students" that will be featured in the The Social Science Journal in 2016.

It discusses "interesting emotional correlations" that he claims emerge among college-age respondents with four or more tattoos.

According to Koch, women with multiple tattoos report higher levels of self-esteem than anyone else studied – leading him to believe that the more tattoos a person has the less likely they are to report depression or suicidal thoughts.

However, he said these tattooed women did admit to previous suicide attempts.

Koch explains that he thinks in these cases, tattoos and body art are used to "dissociate with one's past."

"I think women, especially, are more aware of their bodies through, among other things, fat shaming, the cosmetics and plastic surgery industry and hyper-sexualized imagery in media," Koch said. "What we may be seeing is women translating that awareness into empowerment. We know women sometimes replace a surgically-removed breast, for example, with elegant body art. We wonder if more tattoos might be a way of reclaiming a sense of self in the wake of an emotional loss – evidenced by a suicide attempt."

Instead of focusing on the relationship between deviance and tattoos, Koch wanted to explore how tattoos reflect a person's wellness. In this case, how it becomes a form of healing for women.

In a 2008 study, "Motivation for Contemporary Tattoo Removal," Koch's team found women were more than twice as likely as men to want tattoos removed, to distance themselves from their past. But this new study shows the addition of a tattoo can serve the same purpose as a removal.

"Our interpretation is maybe it's a parallel, emotionally, of what we see with breast cancer survivors," he said. "We can only speculate what these findings might mean, and more research needs to be done. But I think the logic holds when linking suicide survivors and breast cancer survivors who might use tattoos when reclaiming an emotional or physical loss."

Annie Lawrence, a tattoo artist at Inkfluence in Lubbock, said she has seen this firsthand with breast cancer survivors as well as women who use to harm themselves.

"I have some women that have like self-inflicted scars and it seems to me that they pick the most beautiful thing they can to put over it," she said. "Something like flowers, or something that reminds them of something beautiful and how they've overcome such a dark period, and now when they look at that dark period of their life, now they see something beautiful and colorful."

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