Academic journal article College Student Journal

Tattoos and Piercings: Attitudes, Behaviors, and Interpretations of College Students

Academic journal article College Student Journal

Tattoos and Piercings: Attitudes, Behaviors, and Interpretations of College Students

Article excerpt

Previously, in those segments of America where "proper" behavior was valued, tattoos and body piercings were examples of what Goffman identified as "stigma"--they spoiled one's identity. Today, tattoos and piercings have become more mainstream. This study reports the survey of 400 undergraduates at a large southeastern university. Regarding tattoos, 27% (women more than men) reported having a tattoo. Significant gender differences for tattoos included: women sought tattoos for personal body decoration, men for group identity (e.g. Marines); women, compared to men, were more likely to view tattoos on the other sex as attractive, to believe their parents would not approve of a tattoo, to fear that getting a tattoo would be painful, to believe that negative health consequences would occur, and to believe that the meaning of a tattoo would change over time.

Regarding piercings, 69.7% of the women compared to 28.2% of men reported having any piercings. Men, compared to women, were more likely to report that their parents/current and future friends would not approve of piercing, to report that they were attracted to other sex individuals with piercings, and to feel that a piercing made them a better lover. Health implications and limitations of the study are suggested.


Goffman (1963) defined a stigma as evaluating a person negatively on the basis of one factor. A person who was stigmatized had a negative, soiled, social identity.

In the recent past, in "proper" America, tattoos and piercings were not acceptable. If you had a tattoo or piercing, according to Goffman (1963), it soiled your identity- stigmatized you. "Normals" did not associate with stigmatized individuals. While tattoos and piercings still stigmatize individuals in much of today's society, changes are occurring. Tattoos and piercings are not new. Moses' forbade any printings or cuttings in the flesh (Leviticus 19:28). Both Roman and Japanese Emperors had laws against tattoos. And tattooing was against French national law in 1869 (Armstrong, 2005).

Tattoos and piercings are making their way into mainstream America. Angelina Jolie-Pitt gave national visibility to female arm tattoos when she proudly displayed to cameras her "Billy Bob Thornton" tattoo celebrating her love relationship with him. Ed Bradley of CBS's "60 Minutes" has a pierced left ear which he has had since his youth. Morgan Freeman has a pierced fight ear. While no national data are available, numerous smaller studies suggest that about 20 percent of young adults age 18-25 have a tattoo; one third have a piercing (Armstrong, 2005).

You are likely to know someone who has a tattoo, a piercing, or both. While it is common to see someone with a tattoo or a piercing, limited research has been conducted to assess the motivations and reactions of others to either tattoos or piercings (Saunders and Armstrong, 2005; Caliendo, Armstrong, and Roberts, 2005; Stim, 2003). This study examined gender differences in regard to both tattoos and piercings in a sample of undergraduates at a large southeastern university.

Sample and Methodology

The data for this study consisted of a nonrandom sample of 400 undergraduate volunteers at a large southeastern university who responded to a 52-item questionnaire (approved by the Institutional Review Board of the university) on "Attitudes toward Tattoos and Piercings" Respondents completed the questionnaire anonymously- the researcher was not in the room when the questionnaire was completed and no identifying information or codes allowed the researcher to know the identity of the respondents.

For purposes of analysis, responses of "strongly agree" and "agree" were combined, "neither agree nor disagree" was removed and "disagree" and "strongly disagree" were combined. The results were the same whether using the four separate categories or combining them into the two categories used. …

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