Inked women: narratives at the intersection of tattoos, childhood sexual abuse, gender and the tattoo renaissance




Armstrong de Almeida, Ana-Elisa

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This study explores how heavily tattooed women with a history of childhood sexual abuse give meaning to their tattooing practices in view of the recent appropriation of tattooing by the mainstream. Embodied feminist poststructuralist theory revealed the ways that dominant discourses on gender, beauty, painful body modifications, and childhood sexual abuse intersect and interact in attempts to shape the identities of the participants. These intersections also reveal the participants’ resistance strategies and the process of identity transformation they engage in as they get tattoos. The constitution of identities through discourses offers alternative ways of seeing this population, challenging dominant discourses regarding female survivors of childhood sexual abuse tattooing practices. The research methodology used was a qualitative approach based on ‘interpretive interactionism.’ This approach makes visible and accessible to the reader, the problematic lived experiences of the participants through their narratives. The research methods involved several in-depth interviews with three heavily tattooed women who were survivors of childhood sexual abuse. The analysis involved interpreting the meanings participants gave to their tattooing practices in relation to how they construct their identities as they negotiate gender ideology, the tattoo renaissance, self-injury practices as related to tattooing, healing from childhood sexual abuse and oppressive beauty ideals. This study unearthed alternative ways of conceptualizing painful practices, female aesthetics, tattooing, women’s body reclamation projects, emotional trauma release, embodied domination, and bodily learning. It also offered insights into how the participants fragment their subjectivities and actively take over the authorship of their identities as they also try to positively influence their environments, challenge beauty norms and seek healing outside of traditional therapeutic environments.



Child and Youth Care, Tattoos, Child Sexual Abuse, Self-injury, Tattoo Renaissance, Qualitative Research Methods, Layered Accounts, Narrative, Gender, Feminist Poststructuralist Theory, Embodiment, Interpretive Interactionism, Women, Counselling, Trauma, Non-traditional Therapeutic Approaches, Dissociation, PTSD