Tattoos For Tots

The art of tattooing has existed for thousands of years, having been forged by primitive tools and is evidenced by preserved skin on mummies.  Recorded documents show that this practice was widespread with history in Italy, Austria, Russia, China, Egypt, Japan, Polynesia, New Zealand, Indonesia, India, Thailand, Africa, Ancient Greece and Rome, Western Europe, Central and South America, North America, England, France and the Middle East.  There is also proof that tattoos and even piercings were worn strictly by those in the aristocratic class since the Victorian era, not to mention the fact that they have also been important parts of various tribal cultures and carry great significance as marks of identification, status and beauty.  Prince Giolo is chronicled as the first man put on display for his tattoos in 1691, but it was not until 1804 when Jean Baptiste Cabri was discovered by a Russian explorer that the tattooed man became popularized in sideshow.  James F. O’Connel was the first tattooed person to appear in the United States, and was exhibited at Barnum’s American Dime Museum in 1842.  He was succeeded by Prince Constantine in 1873, who is reported to have been the most successful tattooed exposition of the era with a base salary of $1000 a week in addition to earnings from his own book sales.  Prince Constantine is also noted to have been the first person to completely tattoo his body for the sole purpose of being put on display.   Tattooed women were often the highest paid performers in a sideshow, because men could gawk at exposed  skin in an era where it was not usually seen.  For over 70 years, ever major show employed several heavily tattooed people, some of which performed traditional circus acts such as juggling.  Even today, models with body modifications make up a significant portion of what is represented in magazines and on clothing or accessory websites.

In 2009, Totally Stylin’ Tattoos Barbie was introduced to a demographic of 5-10 year-olds, being described as “trendy” and comes with 40 temporary tattoos that can be applied to the doll, her fashions or the skin via “tattoo stamper”.  Outrage from concerned parents was almost immediate, with claims that the doll is “skanky”, “trashy” and somehow lacks educational value because of these novelty tattoos.  The criticism even extended so far as to claim that the doll would motivate young children to desire permanent designs, and attitude dictated that was not something parents wanted to encourage.  However, I find it interesting that these same parents seem to forget that many Barbies  have  earrings [there was even a collection of Earring Magic Barbies], complete with little holes in her ears where the plastic studs can be inserted.  Some even have no problem bringing babies and young children to the mall to have ‘cute’ little studs shoved through their earlobes.  That is an entirely different topic, but I just wanted to make note how plastic earrings seem to be okay while tattoo stickers are not.

This brings up the question of why parents feel that such a thing is inappropriate, stirring up stereotypes and misconceptions that tattooed people are degenerates, convicts, bikers, drug or alcohol addicts, gang members, uneducated and will be subjected to perpetual unemployment.Unfortunately there are people who fall into every one of these categories, but it is absolutely unfair to judge an entire community of diverse individuals based upon the actions of a few.  The idea that tattoos [or other body modifications] somehow make a woman “trashy” etc., is something that I feel can be attributed to ‘alt porn’ websites in which they are depicted as fetish objects and display affection for casual sex.  Personally, I would rather be associated with Betty Broadabent and Nora Hildebrandt, who were revered for their suits of ink and are considered legends in  both tattooing and circus history.

 Surely face painting does not lend children to want facial tattoos, and I can say with absolute certainty that temporary tattoos have been sold as novelties in coin-operated machines at supermarkets since I can remember.  Oh, and let’s not forget the fact that stickers have often found their way to children’s faces and arms, but I don’t see parents complaining about their availability to impressionable minds.  Which leads me to wonder what the point is in making a fuss over a toy that you don’t even have to purchase for your child.  Showcasing ignorance and perpetuating negativity does nothing to help eradicate the behavior, and while tattoos have become more commonplace within society, there apparently remains those who fail to see the significance beyond just another stupid teenage decision or passing trend.

Tokidoki has recently released their own version of Barbie [with tattoos painted on her upper body] in addition to shirts, hoodies and accessories that also bear her image.  The American Academy of Dermatology reports that one in four Americans [ages 18-50] now has at least one tattoo.  Despite the fact that there are many people who do not like or understand the point of tattooing, there are undeniable statistics which declare that the practice has a long, sordid history and it is not going away as a mainstream art any time soon.  No matter what one may hold as a personal opinion, as human beings we have the freedom to choose what we want to do with our appearance.  Modifications were once encouraged in tribal cultures, to the point where one would not even be considered beautiful or appropriate for marriage if lacking a certain physical attribute.  Again, I fail to see how any of these connotations can be considered negative to the point where people must hurl insults at complete strangers all because of the choice to be tattooed.  Certainly there are worse things that an individual can do, and I feel that no one has the right to dictate what can or cannot be done to the body so long as it places no harm on the person.  Also, I would like to point out that Barbie has always carried the ability to be undressed, and a good portion of her clothing is made out of cheap materials, often iridescent and metallic, which are easily removed as they are held together with velcro.  This is apparently not a concern for parents and somehow teaches children about morals, but if Barbie comes with a couple of pretty pictures painted on her skin that is suddenly inappropriate.

There are plenty of dolls that encourage other types of things, such as the ability to cut or dye their hair.  Why is this not something that outrages parents?  With certainty I can say that I have read some rather humorous stories about a pigtail or lock of hair getting snipped off, but to blame a mere toy for such things seems a bit ridiculous.  When does the parent assume responsibility for educating a child?

There are figurines that come to mind which portray characteristics of physical distinctiveness such as piercings, alternative fashion and colored hair – Bleeding Edge Goths, Living Dead Dolls and the more recent Monster High franchise which consists of a cartoon show, collectible dolls and clothing with a fun interactive website that features  games, activities and videos.  Custom creations have also been spotted, where the plastic bodies are repainted and tiny clothes are made by hand.  None of this comes across as harmful to me, and if anything, they encourage diversity and the acceptance of people or things that are different than you or what you like.  Not exactly something I would have wanted to be deprived as a child, and I am glad that I was exposed to certain things in order to have a more open-minded perspective.

Instead of coming to the conclusion that you know why people get tattooed and presume that they must lead an undesirable lifestyle, it would be beneficial to all parties if children are allowed to pursue their curiosity without being chastised.  Being interested in tattoos, whether one chooses to admire or adorn, can be likened to admiring any drawing, painting or sculpture – they are just another creative expression, a monument to the skill of the artist and the endurance of the wearer.  They immortalize loved ones that have passed on, significant achievements, important moments in time, favorite items and any number of things that are as varied as the people who wear these images emblazoned on their skin.

It is safe to say that parents should be able to explain the difference between make believe and reality, as I doubt many girls grow up thinking they are actually mermaids, fairies or a princess, as depicted by many toys.  There are also a number of products that tend to be more offensive, such as cultural appropriations and racial stereotypes, which can be found on readily available merchandise that is purchased without as second thought.  The point is that some things are not as bad as they seem and a little knowledge can go a long way.  Any toy that relates to tattooing is certainly not as harmful as some would like to believe.  There is nothing wrong with stimulating imagination, and it can be argued that young girls are motivated to strive for a ‘perfect’ figure just like Barbie which could develop into eating disorders or body dysmorphia.  If these things sound extreme, imagine how silly it seems to those of us that are tattooed to hear that painted on images will give children the “wrong impression” or somehow devaluates ones morals.

Resources: Brief History of  Tattoos, Human Marvels

Photos: 1 – A Drop of Ink, 2 –, 3 –, 4 – Tokidoki

5 –, 6 –


3 comments on “Tattoos For Tots

  1. […] Read more: Tattoos For Tots « […]

  2. Jon Pawson says:

    Very well written blog post, Lenore! Insightful and informative!

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