On Tattoos and Taboos Down Under

Ta Moko on a Maori Chief, 1784

Someone told me the other day that nearly a third of the people living in Australia are tattooed.

I’m not surprised — I’ve seen a lot of tattoos around, perhaps more exposed than usual in the summer. I have found myself idly wondering if there is more acceptance here of something considered taboo in other Western countries because of proximity. For example, the nearness of the Maori over in New Zealand makes seeing that kind of body art as normal, or the scarification and body paint practices of the Aboriginal and other indigenous tribes here in Australia, and their beautiful geometric patterns that readily translate to tattoo art. (An aside: Australia’s indigenous people were officially recognized here as First Peoples in February.)

But I myself still couldn’t do it. I’m brainwashed into thinking of it as unprofessional, and I retain some of the religious taboos I was taught at an early age. As a good Jewish girl, you aren’t supposed to harm the integrity of your body. But I already have pierced ears (taboo), and I am marked as an organ donor on my driver’s license (also taboo).  Maybe I ought to reconsider the tattoo taboo sometime…

But don’t worry, Parental Units who might be reading this: I promise I won’t do it any time soon.  It sounds painful, too permanent, and yet also too ephemeral — I might wait until I get wrinkles and my skin has sagged enough so that any tattooed images won’t warp with age!

In the meantime, I enjoy thinking about it, and I hope you (Dear Reader) might enjoy some photos from the US a century ago of tattooed women, and a few other stories:

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