A tattoo was seen as evidence of a ‘racy’ or dodgy past, and an indication that someone wasn't’t quite ‘respectable’. Exceptions might be made for someone who had spent time at sea, for example, but tattoos, especially on women, were always a bit controversial. Celebrity tattoos changed all that.
When celebrities started getting tattoos and flashing them publicly, it did a lot for the public’s perception of tattooing. After all, celebrities are the closest thing we have to royalty – they tend to function as role models for the rest of us, for better or for worse.
When the concept of tattooing was first brought to Europe by seventeenth century explorers, tattoos were difficult and expensive to get, so only a few lucky members of the upper classes had them. Later, when tattooing became more accessible, it was devalued.
Then, when celebrity tattoos became public knowledge, it seemed to give the rest of us permission to explore the ancient art of tattoos ourselves. As a result, tattoo images themselves improved, incorporating more classic – and classy – styles.
Critics are quick to point out that Jolie broke one of the cardinal rules of tattooing – she incorporated the name of her former husband in a prominent tattoo design on her upper arm, and then had to undergo a painful and tedious laser tattoo removal treatment after they broke up (she had more tattoos removed).
Angelina Jolie’s tattoos can also be a bit of a challenge for movie makeup crews to cover up – putting all that aside, though, they are a creative and fascinating expression of her individuality and personal philosophy. Examples include a saying in Arabic that means “will” or “determination”, and the phrase “know your rights” in gothic letters across the top of her back.
Depp’s other tattoos include a tribute to his mother and his daughter, a skull on his ankle with the words “Death is certain”, and, most puzzling, the number 3 between his thumb and index finger!
These and other celebrity tattoos are great examples of how the art of tattooing can be adapted to individual taste and expressions of personality. Celebrity tattoos have been instrumental in the rehabilitation of this ancient art, making it attractive and acceptable for the rest of us.