The Attraction Of Ink

“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder”, or so they say, but what if there are definitive ways to make yourself more attractive. What if one of these methods was to get a tattoo. Effectively, what I am asking is, are people with tattoos more attractive than people without tattoos? This question may seem controversial but it is not entirely ridiculous.

The Harris Poll in January 2012 found that 30% of people with tattoos said that the ink made them “feel more sexy” and 21% said that it makes them feel “attractive or strong”. The results of this show us that half the people who get tattoos believe that by simply having a tattoo they have increased their attractiveness. This belief though, does not appear to be reflected by the thoughts of those without tattoos. 45% of those who have not been inked see tattoos as a turn-off rather than a turn-on, people with “tattoos are [considered] less attractive”.

From an evolutionary, and psychological, standpoint are these people only kidding themselves. Mindclockwork.com, a website focussing on psychological studies, believes part of the reason women decorate their bodies is because of biological urges to attract males. Women, rather than men, are more likely to get pierced and tattooed, and those with these decorations are more likely to attract male attention. Other aspects of female culture also reflect this need to decorate; hair styling, make up, cosmetic surgery and even large shoe collections. I am not being sexist and saying that women only do this to attempt to please men, no doubt there is a lot of feel-good-factor to looking good. Almost throughout human history however, society has been unfairly male dominated. The burden of impressing the opposite sex has been on females as the males hold the power to choose a mate. Look at wedding proposals for example, it is the man picking his partner, and not the other way round.

So people could be more attracted to tattoos without even knowing it. It may also be true that people are getting tattoos to subconsciously attract a mate. Charles Darwin in fact looked at the concept of sexual selection inside his theory of natural selection. Natural selection was a struggle for existence, who would survive and who would die, but sexual selection was a struggle for reproduction, who would mate and have the most offspring, thus passing on their genes. Quite unlike with humans, in the animal world the burden to attract is on the males, the females hold the power of decision. This is why you see manes on lions, extravagant feathers on peacocks and antlers on stags.

Continuing along the scientific theme, Scientific American ran an article in May-June 2012 entitled “Survival of the Tattooed and Pierced?” In that article it focused on researchers at the University of Wroclaw in Poland who looked to study the body symmetry of a number of people. Body symmetry – how alike your left and right side are – indicates genetic health and is associated with sexual attractiveness. Half of the men and women measured had ink and/or piercings, and the other half did not. The findings of the research showed that “men with bodily decorations exhibited greater symmetry than those without”. The belief is that getting inked is a risk-taking behaviour we have inherited from our ancestors. They were the people “who were strong enough to endure injuries and survive”. “Therefore, at least in men, body art could serve as an “honest” signal of fitness in the Darwinian sense”.

So thus far tattoos are seen to be used by females as decoration to attract a male, and by males to show that they are fit and strong, essentially proving to the females that they are capable of fathering a child. In contrast to the findings of these scientific studies there are still a huge number of people that find tattoos unattractive.

Caroline Kent wrote for The Telegraph in October 2013 and explained why she found tattoos “a huge turn-off”. Though Kent admires those that get tattoos and she sees the appeal of them, she believes that “there’s nothing attractive about tattoos”. She is “sceptical” about tattooed guys but she admits that this is because she does not find tattoos in general “visually appealing”, simply saying “they are not for me”. Her article reflects a feeling that I think many would agree with. Unless you are a tattoo enthusiast yourself it is unlikely that you will put much significance on whether a member of the opposite sex has ink or not. Even those people who are tattoo enthusiasts have their own tastes about what is attractive and what is not. One friend with whom I spoke believes that she does find people with tattoos more attractive, but that the attraction depends on the “artwork itself”, for her “tribal tattoos aren’t attractive”. I would have to agree with her, I do find people with ink more attractive but even I would find an entire sleeve of Spongebob Squarepants pretty off-putting.

So if, as expected, the attraction to people with tattoos is subjective and down to each individual person, does a tattoo have any impact at all? Does the previously mentioned belief that tattoos act as a decoration to attract males stand up to scrutiny? Surprisingly, it does.

Psychology Today highlights the work of French psychologist Nicolas Guéguen. He found that men viewed women with tattoos as more approachable as well as being more promiscuous. Guéguen conducted his studies on the beaches of Brittany, France, with women lying on a beach in a red “two-piece swimsuit” reading a book or magazine. Half the time the women “wore a temporary tattoo of a butterfly on their lower back” and half the time they did not. These women were observed to see how many times they were approached by men on the beach. The study found that women without the tattoo were approached 10% of the time, whereas women with the tattoo were approached almost 24% of the time. As well as being approached more often, they were also approached in a much shorter time. On average those with the tattoo were approached at around 24 minutes, but those without the tattoo were approached at around 35 minutes.

Guéguen furthered this study by interviewing men who were located close to these women wearing the red swimsuit. After asking them to look at the women for a short period Guéguen asked the men what they thought the probability of getting a date with that woman was, and “if the opportunity presented itself, the probability of having sex with her on the first date”. Guéguen found that the “male beachgoers thought their chances of having a date or having sex with the female confederates were significantly greater when they were displaying a tattoo than when they were not displaying a tattoo”. Therefore Guéguen concluded that tattooed women are seen as more promiscuous than non-tattooed women.

Writing for Psychology Today, Vinita Mehta, a clinical psychologist and journalist, states that “the results suggest that tattoos… serve as [a] signal that men see… as an advertisement of heightened sexual intent and/or receptivity”. Once again this follows the evolutionary standpoint that “women may adorn tattoos as a way to enhance their appeal to men and, in turn, to attract more males”. The women attract more males because they have decorated their bodies with artwork, the more males that are attracted, the higher the chances are of finding a good partner. As well as this males can be seen to pursue women who are more sexually receptive, as males want to pass on their genes. If tattoos are a sign of sexual receptivity, as well as decorative adornment, then it makes sense that males will seek out the women with tattoos, over those women without.

As the large majority of the people I have asked stated, tattoos impact little on how attractive they think a person is. Features, personality and even dress sense were given more priority. However, tattoos are clearly an eye-catching feature, an advertisement to the world, and to potential partners. Whether the person knows it or even intends it, tattoos act as decoration and advertisement. In women they signal a greater approachability and assumed promiscuousness, and in men, historically at least, they show greater strength and fitness. A beautiful person will be a beautiful person whether they have ink or not. For perhaps the first time ever I find myself agreeing with, and echoing, words printed in The Telegraph. To quote Caroline Kent once more, true beauty “is never simply skin deep”.

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