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Tattoos and American Culture

August 22nd, 2010 | 1 min read

By Matthew Lee Anderson

As if on cue, the Today Show takes upon themselves the onerous task of listing out the ten most tattooed cities in America.

The list is fascinating for its diversity, which seems to reflect the diverse reasons that people get tattoos.

You have the warm-weather beach cities where skin is a commodity that is amply presented (if only because of the weather), and where tattoos have been assumed into the expression of "sexiness" and style.  That so many of these cities should make the list isn't surprising given their popularity in the Us Magazine world.

But Flint, Michigan makes the list as well, reminding us of tattoos prevalence in the lower classes, where they function less as expressions of style and more as an act of rebellion and solidarity, like they might have been for Eminem.

And then there's the artsy cities of P0rtland, San Francisco, Austin, and Kansas City, where I suspect self-expression is the dominant mindset behind the practice.  They are places where hipster culture is prevalent (yes, Kansas City) and where authenticity is a central virtue and tattoos are a sign of resistance against the hegemon that is Madison Avenue.  How they must loathe to see ink become the new fashion trend.

Overgeneralizations, of course.  But as a taxonomy for the cultural significance and motivations behind tattoos, I suspect the above isn't all that far off.

Of course, if you're looking for reasons to not get a tattoo, Paste Magazine provides a few.

And if you're wondering why all the thinking about tattoos around here lately?  That's why.

Matthew Lee Anderson

Matthew Lee Anderson is the Founder and Lead Writer of Mere Orthodoxy. He is the author of Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter to our Faith and The End of Our Exploring: A Book about Questioning and the Confidence of Faith. Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook.