In an earlier post, I discussed growing trends of body modification as illustrative of the new cyborg body. Although it is debatable whether these trends are in fact “new,” (after all, various indigenous cultures have been practicing body modification long before European colonists began taking note of it in their travel diaries), I would like to continue this conversation by looking at one subculture of body modification: tattooing.

As an avid “tattoo collector” myself, I have spent the past few years attending tattoo conventions, hanging out with tattooers, and getting heavily tattooed, all while working on my research regarding the popularization of tattooing. What I notice are changing norms regarding appropriate use of the body as canvas. I would like to draw your attention to one particular trend that is growing in the tattoo subculture: facial tattoos.

What was once the purview only of convicted felons has become an increasingly normative way of expressing one’s commitment to the subculture. (For a case in point, simply Google “facial tattoos” and see what pops up.) What I notice from my interviews and discussions with tattooers and clients alike is a sharp disparity between those who see the face as a legitimate space for artistic display and those who see the face as “off limits.” Traditionally, tattooers were wary of getting tattooed on “public skin” (e.g., face, hands, and neck), as employment in the industry was unpredictable and one never knew if she would need to find another job amongst the masses. Having tattoos on public skin was almost certain to prevent employment. But things may be changing. (more…)