Why People Get Tattoos

OK, changing the subject a little: Tattooing has been around for thousands of years, we’re even finding early humans with tattoos. Do you think there is something inherent to human nature that makes us want to tattoo ourselves?
Sure. The cadaver that was found frozen and preserved in the Alps, which I think is about 5,000 years old—he’s in a museum in Italy, you can drop by and say hello—the latest research shows that his body has quite a few tattoos on his skin. They tend to be abstract designs. Based on their locations, it’s been hypothesized that they were there to distract from uncomfortable physical things like arthritis. Or possibly, that they have some kind of magical significance. If you think about it, from a certain point of view, as all of our behavior tends to be very magical in some ways. Imagine that there’s some special power in your symbols, in your tagline, in your brand, that somehow elevates your mood, makes you feel stronger, more capable, better about yourself.

Do you think that’s something inherent to humanity?
Sure. As people, we are regularly on the edge of an existential panic. Becker said that if you were to see the world realistically; just how vulnerable and totally insignificant you are, in terms of the cosmos, you’d go crazy. So you constantly need stories that build up your self esteem and make you feel significant, which is, of course, what culture provides.

Jules Suzdaltsev interviewing Dr. Kirby Farrell about why people get bad tattoos for Vice.

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