Embodying security: the power of tattoos

The personal expression and intimate body art of tattoos is partially wrapped up in an array of pre-conceived judgements and narratives mostly paralleled with aesthetical contributions of first impression. Tattoos are an everyday entity not naturally related to issues of security but rather simply to personal taste and artistic design. However, tattoos are more inherently bound up within everyday experiences of feelings of security as well as wider implications of security imagery in ways that traditional security narratives simply fail to consider. Therefore, to conceptualise tattoos as a security entity, there is a requirement to reposition understandings of the relationship between the flesh and skin of the individual in speaking security and indeed feeling security.

Image courtesy of flyingpurplemonkeys via Wikimedia, © 2006, some rights reserved.

Tattoos expose a space and connection with personal security that is not considered via other explorations primarily through being physically and permanently on the skin. Naturally choosing something so permanent is often associated with expression of identity and as such are often identified as a way of interpreting an individual’s personality. On a wider scale, this can become interpreted into identification of the initial feeling of security or insecurity. Often individuals fully ‘clothed’ in tattoos across their body will often be interpreted as ‘dangerous’ as the tattoo acts as a layer of altering and hiding their physical features. As such this is often anticipated as suspicious, menacing or unnatural. Furthermore, in a professional environment tattoos are often strictly controlled and required to be hidden. They are often used as forms of identification which can result in social exclusion. Whether it be limiting to potential career perspectives such as within security establishments – such as regimental tattoos in the armed forces- or within gang culture as ways of displaying loyalty or opposition to different organisations.

The recent action of the Chinese national football team in banning the displaying of tattoos is an interesting example of the ways in which tattoos arguably have the ability to speak. In this sense, tattoos become a physicality in which those with power have the ability to control and manipulate the removal or imagery of tattoos, constructing them as something needing to be policed and restricted. In an interview a China Football Association official stated, “China promotes cultural confidence among nationalities and core socialist values, so as the national team, it has a responsibility to provide a healthy football culture for society and work as an example in this respect”. The line highlights this constructed notion of tattoos as dangerous and having a negative effect upon social values.

In this sense, tattoos provide an underlying vision and perception of security through institutionalised notions of unprofessionalism, danger and the unnatural. However, this cannot simply be the end of the relationship between security and tattoos. In their very nature of being an experienced and embodied everyday image displayed on the skin, there cannot simply be a singular fixed narrative. The relationship between tattoos and security has to be more and, as I argue, need to be further problematised and considered on an everyday level. In other words, can tattoos actually be instrumental in providing security?

The intimacy and personal implications of tattoos are often viewed in a characterising profile of an individual. However, if this is altered and accepted to visualise a more unique interaction between the tattoo and the individual, a more complex relationship can be explored. An interesting theatre when considering the usefulness of tattoos is that of the physical body itself. Our bodies are centrally the ‘canvas’ of tattoo art and therefore not to make a connection with the actual body itself is to limit an analysis and understanding of tattoos. An obvious area of alternative analysis is within the health sector. Indeed, tattoos are starting to become for many patients an essential security speaker with potential life or death stakes attached. Certain individuals with complex and chronic health issues have started looking towards tattoos as an important features to provide personal safety. Emerging technology has made it possible for individuals to tattoo QR codes onto their skin in order to retain health records. What’s more, these QR codes not only act as forms of making the experience of health complexities potentially smoother but are simultaneously being used as money movers and thus performing multiple security functions at once. Tattoos cannot therefore be understood simply as one-dimensional expressions or even singular forms of art. Rather tattoos are emerging as a new frontier of security not limited to the connection to one’s skin. Furthermore, Microsoft is currently developing wearable technology in the format of tattoos that will be able to remotely control devices from the skin. This revolution in technology further blurs the lines between the ‘face value’ of tattoos and the physical and virtual fields which tattoos have the ability to enhance. In other words, new innovations within technology in the format of tattoos are arguably becoming a way of bringing security closer to the person, bringing it into personal space and everyday connections. Thus, tattoos are not simply constructed through or conditioned through the lens of first impressions but rather have an infinite amount of possibilities in affecting and performing the role of security.

Personal security is a highly intimate and personalised subject; therefore, not to look at the most intimate of self-expressions and their interconnections with the body fails to fully explore the everyday issues of security. To simply dismiss tattoos as characteristics of insecurity and danger is to not fully problematise their variety of purposes. In order to fully and accurately engage with tattoos as a space of security, I suggest we need to look further into the relationship with the body and demystify and deconstruct pre-conceived associations that limit the capabilities and ways in which tattoos can benefit our lives. Ultimately tattoos are embodied and performed practices that have a life separate to the skin they are imprinted on. As such they engage with the world in a multiplicity of ways and have near-infinite possibilities. Undoubtedly tattoos have untapped potential within personal security, and to unlock this society needs to understand body imagery having a voice and speaking as its own entity in constructing emotional and physical security.

Banner Image: Image courtesy of Tony Alter via Wikimedia, © 2015, some rights reserved.