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The rise of tattoos in the fashion world

Tattoos. Once synonymous with trouble, crime, and danger, they are now working their way onto runways and ASOS models – but how? Heidi Quill analyses the rise and fall of inked flesh in the fashion world.

In the past few years, the body positivity campaign has been gaining more and more focus on the fashion and beauty industries. A specific branch of this concerns the unattainable and almost inhuman beauty expectations, which are created by airbrushed and photoshopped images that we are being shown every single day.

As a response to this, online retailers such as Missguided and ASOS have taken a pledge not to retouch their models, meaning that cellulite, stretch marks and tattoos are left for us all to witness…and to make us feel just a bit more real and normal.

This means that tattoos have more of a presence in online fashion retail than ever before, almost becoming part of an ensemble. For example, a model, someone whose job it is to be visually beautiful, has a tattoo. It becomes an element of their beauty, perhaps making it more desirable to others.

Simultaneously, tattoos have been losing their stigma as a piece of gang-like iconography, becoming more a piece of body art, or physical memory, even. No more will the simple presence of a tattoo lower your chances of getting a job, or mark you with stereotypical connotations. No longer associated with deviance, the number of people sporting tattoos is as high as it’s ever been. As of 2015, one in three young adults were inked.

Since these images have been gracing our phone screens, we’ve become more aware of tattooed models and celebrities. In fact, in some campaigns, tattoos have been front and centre. Take David Beckham’s underwear line for H&M – with a substantial sleeve, back and abdomen tattoos on full display, Beckham is shown modeling the underwear, the tattoos becoming a huge focal point of the image. Almost a selling point, even.

No longer are tattoos being hidden due to awkward associations, but they’re out in the open, even being shown off within the fashion industry. Whilst to some tattoos are still a bold choice, times are changing. And, as we millennials continue to make bold decisions about our bodies and appearances, we also continue to embrace ourselves and others – both in the world of fashion, but also in day-to-day life, the job market and online. Something worth bearing in mind perhaps.

Six female celebrities who are proud of their tattoos
1. Eve Salvail

Perhaps the most notoriously eye-grabbing is Eve Salvail’s dragon tattoo, which she had inked on her head. Obtained at 18 while travelling in Japan, the model shaved her head in order to receive the infamous dragon. It may even have been because of this that Jean Paul-Gaultier took such an immediate shine to her.

2. Cara Delevingne

Cara Delevingne’s more subtle yet equally ferocious lion tattoo on her finger, has become iconic and something she is known for and commonly associated with.

3. Rihanna

Of course, Rihanna’s countless hand and finger tattoos have inspired pop stars, models, and civilians the like.

4. Bella Hadid

Bella Hadid’s teensy angel wings detailing each ankle have been revealed to symbolise a milestone in her modelling career – walking the Victoria Secret runway. They are the work of tattoo artist to the stars, JonBoy, who has inked many major celebrities (Kendall Jenner, Justin Bieber, and Hailey Baldwin) and inspired a worldwide ‘tiny tattoo‘ trend.

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🕊@bellahadid #jonboytattoo

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5. Ariana Grande

Ariana Grande continued the theme of attaching meanings beyond the ink with her tiny bumble-bee imprinted behind her ear. Said to symbolise the coat of arms of Manchester, the bee is a reminder of the terror tragedy that occurred at her concert in Manchester the year before and a delicate token of respect to those who lost their lives.

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forever ☁️

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6. Demi Lovato

Demi Lovato demonstrated her spontaneity with a tattoo of a smiley face on her pinky finger. Posting the image on Instagram she captioned it ‘Cause life’s too short not to tattoo your pinky’. Couldn’t agree more!

Whether fun or meaningful, these tattoos no longer demonstrate a tough or jailbait lifestyle. But a memory, a feeling or a milestone. And that’s much nicer.


Heidi Quill

Heidi is a freelance non-fiction writer, specialising in fashion-related journalism and gender theory. Heidi originally started writing as a form of self-help and escapism from a series of mental health issues, and that angle of self-love flows throughout her writing.

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