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‘Just Tattoo of Us’: more to face ink than meets the eye?

ByBea Bray

Dec 3, 2017

In the age of shows like MTV’s ‘Just Tattoo of Us’, tattoos are becoming more popular on an international scale. In 2016, it was estimated that 36% of 18-25 year olds in America had at least one tattoo, showing just how popular they are. Facial tattoos have less popularity, although generally those who have them argue that they are just another means of expression, no different from art.

One of the most popular facial tattoos is a teardrop, which can have several meanings dependent on where it is placed. It is primarily associated with prisoners, gangs, suffering and the loss of loved ones, but for each individual the same tattoo can bear a different meaning. The teardrop tattoo can be used to signify the number of murders a person has committed or the length of time someone has been in prison.

The reasons behind tattoos like this can also have different cultural significance. In Australia, teardrop tattoos used to be forcibly given to prisoners who were serving time in prison for child sex offences. In America, the meaning has changed over time, from being used in prisons to show that someone has committed murder, to signifying the loss of a loved one. Outside prison culture, American men usually chose a teardrop tattoo to signify their mourning for their late wife or family member, as a symbol of remembrance and memorial.

The colour and location of the teardrop also changes its meaning. If the tattoo is empty rather than being coloured in for example, this symbolises the loss of a loved one, or that the wearer has killed someone. Celebrities in mainstream culture such as Lil’ Wayne and Amy Winehouse have chosen to have facial tattoos, perhaps raising facial tattoos’ status and acceptability.

However, facial tattoos tend to be less popular, perhaps because of their negative implications for employers. This could explain why most of the individuals interviewed for a 2016 Vice article were employed in tattoo parlours. Generally, these people believe that their facial tattoos are a form of art, signifying a deeper meaning beyond the mere image. For example, one interviewee, Luka, has an AK-47 gun under his right eye. Although at first this may be interpreted as a symbol of gang affiliation, Luka explains that the gun serves as a gesture of respect for Kalashnikov’s engineering genius. He claims “it’s a kind of metaphor for the person I strive to be. Unbreakable”.

Face tattoos can also be used as a path to notoriety, for example the man nicknamed ‘skull boy’, with his skull tattooed over his head has achieved a place in the public eye. Now working as a model and actor, he was able to use his facial tattoo to gain publicity.

However, not all facial tattoos receive such a positive response. Gucci Mane’s ice cream cone tattoo has caused much controversy over the past few years, sparking various conspiracy theories.

Questions have also been raised recently regarding the ethics of giving someone a facial tattoo, as it has the potential to artificially manufacture obstacles in a person’s later life. Tattoo artists always have the right to refuse to tattoo someone, and often they will send people away to reconsider their choice of a facial tattoo before performing it. The process of removing any tattoo is often painful and expensive.

Being heavily tattooed is often seen as a way to resolve inner conflict, however this is not necessarily always the case. When people are proud of them, they can be viewed as works of body art. However, when they are regretted, such as in the case of Mark Cropp who recently sat through 12 laser removal sessions to remove the word ‘devast8’ from this jaw, facial tattoos can be damaging to both a person’s mental and physical health.


Image: Katherine Cassidy

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