Professor Margot Mifflin’s account of the women’s tattoo culture, “Bodies of Subversion: A Secret History of Women and Tattoo,” has just come out in its third edition. First published in 1997, the book features hundreds of photos of tattooed women and female tattoo artists dating back to 1851.
The updated work from PowerHouse Books was released shortly after a Harris Poll showing that 23 percent of U.S. women now sport tattoos, compared with 19 percent of men.
As Mifflin writes in the introduction, “Tattoos appeal to contemporary women both as emblems of empowerment in an era of feminist gains and as badges of self-determination at a time when controversies about abortion rights, date rape, and sexual harassment have made them think hard about who controls their bodies—and why.”
The book contains information on:
•Nineteeth-century sideshow attractions who created fantastic abduction tales in which they claimed to have been forcibly tattooed.
•Victorian society women who wore tattoos as custom couture, including Winston Churchill’s mother, who wore a serpent on her wrist.
•Maud Wagner, the first known woman tattooist, who in 1904 traded a date with her tattooist husband-to-be for an apprenticeship.
•The parallel rise of tattooing and cosmetic surgery during the 1980s when women tattooists became soul doctors to a nation afflicted with body anxieties.
•Breast cancer survivors of the 1990s who tattoo their mastectomy scars as an alternative to reconstructive surgery or prosthetics.
Mifflin, who is co-director of the Arts & Culture Reporting Program at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, is also author of “The Blue Tattoo: The Life of Olive Oatman,” about a 19th century frontierswoman known for the blue chin tattoo she acquired after she was kidnapped by one native tribe and adopted by another.