What Is the Purpose of Tattoos?

Tattoos serve a variety of purposes depending on the individual and cultural context. The tattoos of an indigenous culture may signify rank or status within the group. Historically, in western culture, tattoos were once an indicator of outsider status, such as with groups of bikers, gang members, prisoners or slaves.

Some tattoos mark a major milestone for the wearer including events like the birth of a child, an anniversary, a new relationship or even divorce. Some people have tattoos commemorating the passing of a loved one. Other tattoos may reflect political or religious beliefs. Some people consider a tattoo a talisman for good luck. A tattoo may also pay homage to a favorite artist, movie or musician.

In many cases, a tattoo reflects a hidden or submerged aspect of someone's personality and is perhaps a way to express some deeply held sensibility that is hard to put into words. Some tattoos are merely decorative, a kind of pure body art, while others may be intended to cover blemishes, scars, stretch marks or even tattoos no longer found attractive. Finally, some people sell their body as real estate, getting tattoos essentially as advertisement or branding in exchange for money.