The Tattooed Lady: A Social and Sexual History


Irish, Anni.pdf


Irish, Anni, “The Tattooed Lady: A Social and Sexual History,” Scholar@Simmons, accessed January 16, 2021,


The Tattooed Lady: A Social and Sexual History


Irish, Anni




My thesis discusses the social history of tattooing in America and how this has contributed to a fetishisitc attitude of the heavily tattooed female body. I focus on two cases studies, Nora Hildebrandt who was the first professional tattooed women in America and was active during the turn of the 19th century, and Kat Von D who is currently the most recognizably women within the tattoo industry. By focusing on these two case studies I was also able to consider the larger cultural and social elements that has contributed to many of the stereotypes of the tattooed female body.

I consider the social spaces both Hildebrandt and Von D inhibited and how stereotypes surrounding tattooed bodies have contributed to the social attitude of these women's bodies. In my thesis I define fetish within the context of media scholar Linda Williams. Williams looks at fetishism through the lens of Marx and discusses the way in which bodies have become social commodities. Through Williams framework, I discuss the ways in which tattooed bodies have become both sites of labor and commodity. By becoming tattooed, one engages in labor. This occurs from the physical stress the body experiences by getting tattooed, and also the labor that is being done by the tattoo artist. Tattoos then also become a commodity. This occurs on two levels: because an individual is paying for the service of getting tattooed they become a commodity and by becoming tattooed there is a specific social attitude that is ascribed to them. By looking at these elements, and also considering the kinds of jobs both women had that were related to the tattoo industry, a greater understanding of how tattooed women have come to be socially viewed can start to be had.


Simmons College (Boston, Mass.)


1 PDF (61 Pages)




Masters Theses