The Beauty Mark: The History of Women and Their Tattoos

Ink up, ladies.

women with tattoos
(Image credit: Marie Claire)

1. The Ancient Tat, The B.C. Years.

Tattoos were the trend du jour ranging across ancient cultures including: Egyptian, the Scythian people of the Altai Mountains, to tribes in Peru and Colombia. In Egypt, they were marks of prostitution and supposedly even protected one against sexually transmitted diseases. In other cultures, such as in Ancient Greece, tattoos were meant to brand someone as a slave or as a member of a religious sect. Tools to apply ink included a sharp point attached to a wooden handle, bronze instruments, and needles tied together.

2. The Aristocratic Tat, 1890s - 1910s.

Tattoos were briefly fashionable with the British upper class during the late 1800s and early 1900s. They were usually in places that were easily covered by clothes and designs ranged from butterflies (hello early tramp stamp?) to initials. Queen Victoria was rumored to have a Bengal tiger fighting a python. Now, we have to ask: Is Queen Elizabeth II keeping this tradition alive?

3. The Taboo Tat, 1920s - 1960s

Shifting away from high society to more of an underbelly association, tattoos became a cultural no-no. Heavily tattooed women usually ended up performing in sideshows with traveling circuses. Some of the most famous tatted women of the time include Betty Broadbent who had exhibited at the Ringling BrothersMaud Wagner — the first female tattoo artist, and Pam Nash (picture above) who repped some stunning ink of a Chinese pagoda on her back.

4. The Spring Break Tat, Late 1990s - Early 2000s.

As the "drunken-scorpion bowl of a Spring Break in Cabo" tattoo, lower back ink is the permanent complement to a decade of crop tops, low rise flares, and Britney Spears. Close cousins include: Chinese characters that stand for nothing, the lower back butterfly, and tribal patterns. Saucy with a little bit of scandal, the trend still lives on.

5. The Tiny Tat, 2013.

Smaller tattoos get the eye spy treatment, tucked and hidden away on ears, hand creases, and fingers (we're looking at you, model goddess, Cara Delevingne with your cool hand ink—pictured above). Petite enough to hide away for those job interviews but with a little sexy sass, we hope this tiny tattoo trend is here to stay.

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