Communicating without words (sometimes)
One of my favourite sessions that I teach on the Psychology undergraduate course is on Non-verbal communication. Whilst it is situated within social psychology, and we consider the related theories that explain how and what we communicate non-verbally, it allows me to segue into discussions about tattoos (obvs).
Tattoos allow people to communicate things that they verbally feel they cannot. Depending on the design, the context, the meaning (discussed elsewhere on the blog), the tattoo might represent something that the person finds difficult to put into words. Or it represents the closing of a chapter, or the start of a new one. The imagery is integral to the message.
Tattoos allow people to communicate with their bodies - or not. They can be agentic with their bodies, showing or covering tattoos to communicate something, or to keep something private. Within the workplace, for example, tattoos may be covered up, to show 'professionalism' (will be discussed soon on the blog, it's a big thing for me) and outside of the workplace, at home or out with friends, someone may choose to wear clothing that enables them to show or show off their artwork.
It's all well and good saying how tattoos allow the person to communicate a message, but in some cases, that message is open to interpretation from others. What one person considers as highly personal, representation of their life context, is just a generic marking to another person. A good example for this is how name tattoos get perceived - whilst a mother may get the name of her child tattooed on her as a symbol of love, name tattoos are often read as a tag, signifying ownership, and often are mistaken for the names of partners or lovers (BIG mistake, apparently. A LOT of judgement is made about name tattoos).
Even taking a step back from this - having a tattoo in itself communicates something. Whether the tattoo is visible or not, to say you have a tattoo might cause shock or surprise to others - 'you're not the type'! and all that carry on. It says something about you, without anything being said.