A small dolphin on the ankle, a black line on the lower back, a flower on the hip, or a child’s name on the shoulder blade—among the women who make up the twenty percent of all adults in the USA who have tattoos, these are by far the most popular choices. Tattoos like these are cute, small, and can be easily hidden, and they fit right in with society’s preconceived notions about what is ‘gender appropriate’ for women. But what about women who are heavily tattooed? Or women who visibly wear imagery, like skulls, that can be perceived as masculine or ugly when inked on their skin?
Drawing on autoethnography, and extensive interviews with heavily tattooed women, Covered in Ink provides insight into the increasingly visible subculture of women with tattoos. Author Beverly Thompson visits tattoos parlors, talking to female tattoo artists and the women they ink, and she attends tattoo conventions and Miss Tattoo pageants where heavily tattooed women congregate to share their mutual love for the art form. Along the way, she brings to life women’s love of ink, their very personal choices of tattoo art, and the meaning tattooing has come to carry in their lives, as well as their struggles with gender norms, employment discrimination, and family rejection. Thompson finds that, despite the stigma and social opposition heavily tattooed women face, many feel empowered by their tattoos and strongly believe they are creating a space for self-expression that also presents a positive body image. A riveting and unique study, Covered in Ink provides important insight into the often unseen world of women and tattooing.