Tattoos have been around, it seems, since the dawn of humankind.
In an interview with Smithsonian.com in 2007, Joann Fletcher – research fellow in the department of archaeology at the University of York in Britain – stated that the earliest known examples of tattoos “were for a long time Egyptian and were present on several female mummies dated to c. 2000 B.C. But following the more recent discovery of the Iceman from the area of the Italian-Austrian border in 1991 and his tattoo patterns, this date has been pushed back a further thousand years when he was carbon-dated at around 5,200 years old.”
But while most of us living in the modern world won’t pass judgment on a shriveled up, centuries-old female Egyptian mummy for having tattoos on her fingers and face, there is definitely a bias – albeit it a dwindling one – against living, breathing men and (particularly) women with tattoos in today’s society.
Shortly after graduating from a strict Christian college – where having the nickname of “Goat” didn’t go over very well at all – I got my upper body tattooed with some esoteric symbols from old Tarot reference books. When my father (a straight-laced accountant with the temperament of a pit bull with hemorrhoids) found out, he exploded. After a highly entertaining string of expletives, he said: “The only people who get tattoos are either in the Navy or Marines or they’re convicts!”
I recently asked my father-in-law, a pretty open-minded guy who grew up during the 1950’s, how he would react if, back when he was in his twenties, he met an attractive woman with tattoos. He thought about it for a while and said: “I would’ve thought she was in the circus.”
Well, that was then but this is now. It’s a different world. In the last few decades, it seems that tattoos have become so culturally accepted, they’re almost passé. Just watch a NBA basketball game or some music videos or any awards show, tattoos are everywhere. And it’s not just men – dozens, hundreds of famous women have tattoos: Angelina Jolie, Beyonce Knowles, Paris Hilton, Jessica Alba, Cher, Megan Fox, Pink, Pam Anderson, Danica Patrick, Gabrielle Reece, Joss Stone, Rihanna, Amy Winehouse, the list goes on and on….
And that proliferation of tattoos into every facet of our society has definitely influenced paranormal fantasy. It seems like every other new paranormal fantasy I receive has a cover portraying a woman with tattoos. The outstanding Mercy Thompson saga by Patricia Briggs (Moon Called, Blood Bound, Iron Kissed, Bone Crossed and the soon to be released Silver Borne) features a shapeshifting, tattooed female auto mechanic. Marjorie M. Liu’s Hunter Kiss series (Darkness Calls and The Iron Hunt) revolves around a female demon hunter with sentient tattoos. Karen Chance’s Cassandra Palmer saga (Touch the Dark, Claimed by Shadow, Embrace the Night, and Curse the Dawn) chronicles the adventures of a tattooed clairvoyant.
There’s even a new anthology – fittingly entitled Inked – that includes supernatural stories dealing with body art from authors Karen Chance, Marjorie M. Liu, Yasmine Galenorn, and Eileen Wilks!
It’s gotten so bad that there is even a tattooed woman on the covers of all three of Adrian Phoenix’s singularly brilliant A Maker’s Song novels (A Rush of Wings, In the Blood and Beneath the Skin) even though – get this! – there isn’t even a comparable character in the storyline! Adrian was recently a visitor in BarnesandNoble.com’s Paranormal Fantasy forum and she addressed the question of “who’s exactly on the covers?”
This is what she said: "Given some of the awful covers I've seen on books in the past, I've been pleased that the covers for my books look good and *do* draw readers, but I'm with you – I don't know who is on the cover… The covers are well done, but safe, and don't represent the characters.”
So what’s your opinion? Why are these covers featuring tattooed heroines so phenomenally popular that publishers are actually featuring tattooed women even though they’re not integral to the story within? Is it because female readers want to temporarily escape reality and live life vicariously through these edgy heroines and male readers want to enjoy their literary escapism by being these sexy protagonists’ love interests? And what’s so significant about the tattoos? Do they symbolize on some level a fusion of danger, unbridled sexuality and arcane mysticism?
I guess we’ve come a long way from people thinking tattooed women were either in the circus or in prison… right, Dad?