Getting a Tattoo Is More Therapeutic Than You May Think

sad woman with tattooTattoos are pretty mainstream these days. About 40 percent of Americans have at least one. But the reason WHY someone gets a tiny rose inked on his or her ankle while someone else chooses several full-color sleeves comes down to more than time, money, or an artistic bent. Women who get four or more tattoos may be trying to cope with emotional trauma.


Texas Tech University sociology professor Jerome Koch, PhD, has been studying body art for YEARS. But the findings of his newest research, which will be published next year in The Social Science Journal, surprised even him.

When he surveyed over 2,300 college-aged women (mostly freshmen and sophomores), Koch found that those with four or more tattoos had the highest self-esteem. But they also had the highest number of past suicide attempts.

What, exactly, does that mean?

"We can only speculate," Koch tells The Stir. "But we think that these women may be using body art as a way to physically and emotionally reclaim their bodies."

It's similar, he says, to the way a breast cancer survivor chooses to get a tattoo after a mastectomy. "After that fourth tattoo, body art becomes a visible part of someone's identity," Koch explains.

More from The Stir: Considering a Tattoo? These Are the Best Reasons & Best Times to Get One

The study didn't get details on the types of loss participants were dealing with, although Koch is curious to investigate that in further studies. He'd also like to explore whether body piercing is similarly used by women as a coping mechanism.

He suspects it is, since a study he did in 2010 found that women who have four or more tattoos OR seven or more piercings (or just one piercing in an intimate place) were much more likely to smoke weed, to drink heavily, to occasionally partake in illegal drugs, or to have been arrested. (In other words, women with tattoos and piercings showed similar backgrounds.)

Those numbers -- four tattoos or seven+ piercings -- aren't entirely random, BTW.

"People with multiple piercings or tattoos see themselves differently," Koch explains. "But with everyone getting body art these days, you need more and more [body art] to distinguish yourself."

Yet another one of Dr. Koch's studies found that women are more likely than men to get a tattoo REMOVED as a way of disassociating from their past.

But apparently, getting inked can offer the same benefit.


Image via Martin Allinger/Shutterstock

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