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Bodies of Subversion  was the first history of women's tattoo art when it was released in 1997, providing a fascinating excursion to a subculture that dates back to the nineteenth-century and including many never-before-seen photos of tattooed women from the last century. Newly revised and expanded, it remains the only book to chronicle the history of both tattooed wome Bodies of Subversion  was the first history of women's tattoo art when it was released in 1997, providing a fascinating excursion to a subculture that dates back to the nineteenth-century and including many never-before-seen photos of tattooed women from the last century. Newly revised and expanded, it remains the only book to chronicle the history of both tattooed women and women tattooists. As the primary reference source on the subject, it contains information from the original edition, including documentation of: •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 80s when women tattooists became soul doctors to a nation afflicted with body anxieties. •Breast cancer survivors of the 90s who tattoo their mastectomy scars as an alternative to reconstructive surgery or prosthetics. The book contains 50 new photos and FULL COLOR images throughout including newly discovered work by Britain's first female tattooist, Jessie Knight; Janis Joplin's wrist tattoo; and tattooed pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber. In addition, the updated 3rd edition boasts a sleek design and new chapters documenting recent changes to the timeline of female tattooing, including a section on: celebrity tattoo artist Kat Von D, the most famous tattooist, male or female, in the world; the impact of reality shows on women's tattoo culture; and, therapeutic uses of tattooing for women leaving gangs, prisons, or situations of domestic abuse.  As of 2012, tattooed women outnumber men for the first time in American history, making Bodies of Subversion more relevant than ever. "In Bodies of Subversion, Margot Mifflin insightfully chronicles the saga of skin as signage. Through compelling anecdotes and cleverly astute analysis, she shows and tells us new histories about women, tattoos, public pictures, and private parts. It's an indelible account of an indelible piece of cultural history." —Barbara Kruger, artist


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Bodies of Subversion  was the first history of women's tattoo art when it was released in 1997, providing a fascinating excursion to a subculture that dates back to the nineteenth-century and including many never-before-seen photos of tattooed women from the last century. Newly revised and expanded, it remains the only book to chronicle the history of both tattooed wome Bodies of Subversion  was the first history of women's tattoo art when it was released in 1997, providing a fascinating excursion to a subculture that dates back to the nineteenth-century and including many never-before-seen photos of tattooed women from the last century. Newly revised and expanded, it remains the only book to chronicle the history of both tattooed women and women tattooists. As the primary reference source on the subject, it contains information from the original edition, including documentation of: •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 80s when women tattooists became soul doctors to a nation afflicted with body anxieties. •Breast cancer survivors of the 90s who tattoo their mastectomy scars as an alternative to reconstructive surgery or prosthetics. The book contains 50 new photos and FULL COLOR images throughout including newly discovered work by Britain's first female tattooist, Jessie Knight; Janis Joplin's wrist tattoo; and tattooed pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber. In addition, the updated 3rd edition boasts a sleek design and new chapters documenting recent changes to the timeline of female tattooing, including a section on: celebrity tattoo artist Kat Von D, the most famous tattooist, male or female, in the world; the impact of reality shows on women's tattoo culture; and, therapeutic uses of tattooing for women leaving gangs, prisons, or situations of domestic abuse.  As of 2012, tattooed women outnumber men for the first time in American history, making Bodies of Subversion more relevant than ever. "In Bodies of Subversion, Margot Mifflin insightfully chronicles the saga of skin as signage. Through compelling anecdotes and cleverly astute analysis, she shows and tells us new histories about women, tattoos, public pictures, and private parts. It's an indelible account of an indelible piece of cultural history." —Barbara Kruger, artist

30 review for Bodies of Subversion: A Secret History of Women and Tattoo

  1. 4 out of 5

    Anna

    ‘Bodies of Subversion’ is a largely visual history of tattooed women, and thus quite a quick read. The narrative is more anecdotal than the academic-sounding title might suggest, but still informative. Perhaps most interesting is how the social acceptability of women getting tattoos has waxed and waned in the Western world. There was a fad in the 1880s for society ladies to get discreet tattoos, which is rather enchanting. Allegedly even Queen Victoria had one, although opinions seem to be divid ‘Bodies of Subversion’ is a largely visual history of tattooed women, and thus quite a quick read. The narrative is more anecdotal than the academic-sounding title might suggest, but still informative. Perhaps most interesting is how the social acceptability of women getting tattoos has waxed and waned in the Western world. There was a fad in the 1880s for society ladies to get discreet tattoos, which is rather enchanting. Allegedly even Queen Victoria had one, although opinions seem to be divided on that. More visible in the historical record are the 19th century women whose tattoos were their livelihood, as they toured with circuses showing them off in freakshows. During the 20th century, more women began to do the actual tattooing, although the author notes that plenty of sexism remains the industry. In the late 20th century (my edition is from 2001), tattoos have become more mainstream for women, although Mifflin makes the good point that they still appear transgressive if not concealable beneath ordinary business wear. Getting a tattoo on your face or hands retains quite a powerful stigma. The range of designs and styles shown in ‘Bodies of Subversion’ demonstrate how fashions in tattoos have changed over the decades. This made me think about their permanence on the body making it into a history book of sorts, whether this is an intentional feature of the designs or not. Mifflin doesn’t speculate very systematically upon why women get tattoos, but there are some thoughtful comments and examples. The interview material can get a bit repetitive, as I felt that the underlying ideas weren’t that clearly articulated. This book wasn’t as in-depth a study as I might have liked, but it was still compelling and quite inspiring. The pictures of Elizabeth Weinzirl’s beautiful tattoos were a particular highlight.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Anya Weber

    Well researched and vastly entertaining. Margot Mifflin unveils the history of tattooing among western women, from roughly 1860 to the 1990s. I'd expected this to be regular-sized, but it's actually large, kind of like a soft-bound coffee table book. There are lots of photos of tattooed women from all eras and walks of life; Mifflin examines the reasons that women have been drawn (heh) to tattoo through the ages, and the significance of body art within the feminist, Pagan, spiritual, punk, mains Well researched and vastly entertaining. Margot Mifflin unveils the history of tattooing among western women, from roughly 1860 to the 1990s. I'd expected this to be regular-sized, but it's actually large, kind of like a soft-bound coffee table book. There are lots of photos of tattooed women from all eras and walks of life; Mifflin examines the reasons that women have been drawn (heh) to tattoo through the ages, and the significance of body art within the feminist, Pagan, spiritual, punk, mainstream, and biker-chick communities. Fascinating content here about women tattoo artists (those who tattoo others), as well as "collectors" (those who receive tattoos).

  3. 4 out of 5

    Grace

    Not just a beautiful cover. An in depth and well researched look at the modern history of women and tattooing. It focuses mainly on the west, starting with The Tattooed Lady in the circus, to women as tattoo artists in the early 1900's and right up to the modern day industry and the struggles for female tattoo artists as well as tattooed women. With a great selection of photographs and snippets of interviews from a who's who of female tattoo artists, this is a must read for anyone interested in the Not just a beautiful cover. An in depth and well researched look at the modern history of women and tattooing. It focuses mainly on the west, starting with The Tattooed Lady in the circus, to women as tattoo artists in the early 1900's and right up to the modern day industry and the struggles for female tattoo artists as well as tattooed women. With a great selection of photographs and snippets of interviews from a who's who of female tattoo artists, this is a must read for anyone interested in the subject.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Sara

    I wish this book was longer. It has some awesome tattoo photos of both artists and their work, and is an interesting look at how women broke through this male dominated industry. It analyzes how gender plays a role in the industry. One thing that really stands out in my mind is how different women and men display themselves and their ink in industry events/contests, and how sexualized women continue to be, even in this "fringe" group.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Anne

    A very interesting limited cultural history of tattooed and tattooing women in the US. Good pics although I wish there were many more.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Alicia

    At its best in the later sections where there is more analysis and interrogation of tattoo culture, but the history of 19th/early 20th century tattooed women is interesting too.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Leonard

    Well illustrated with a lot of history about tattoos and women if you find that subject interesting.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Brittany

    Feminism + tattoos = INCREDIBLE BOOK. This is a fantastic, fascinating read. And the gorgeous pictures just make it that much better. I can't believe I waited so long to read this. As a heavily tattooed woman myself, it really made me appreciate the rich history of tattooed women, and the role it plays in why, where, & what we get tattooed. The concept of using it as a way to own my own body in the face of abuse & the litany of legislation written by old white evangelical men to tell me what I c Feminism + tattoos = INCREDIBLE BOOK. This is a fantastic, fascinating read. And the gorgeous pictures just make it that much better. I can't believe I waited so long to read this. As a heavily tattooed woman myself, it really made me appreciate the rich history of tattooed women, and the role it plays in why, where, & what we get tattooed. The concept of using it as a way to own my own body in the face of abuse & the litany of legislation written by old white evangelical men to tell me what I can & can't do with my body was something I had never actually consciously THOUGHT about, but it really struck home with me. This book made me even prouder to be a feminist, and a tattooed one at that. I bought a copy for my (female) tattooist as well. I hope she enjoys it as much as I did.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Carey

    I really enjoyed this book. It filled in the lady shaped gaps in the history of American tattooing. A lot of the literature on tattooing portrays women with tattoos as sluts, lesbians, or both. I don't mean in the good way either. In regard to other books, I kept thinking, "Hey, author, you really couldn't find any women to interview who weren't maybe drunk and getting a rose tattoo on their boob?" Oh no, they couldn't because all of those ladies were busy getting interviewed by Mifflin. So, tha I really enjoyed this book. It filled in the lady shaped gaps in the history of American tattooing. A lot of the literature on tattooing portrays women with tattoos as sluts, lesbians, or both. I don't mean in the good way either. In regard to other books, I kept thinking, "Hey, author, you really couldn't find any women to interview who weren't maybe drunk and getting a rose tattoo on their boob?" Oh no, they couldn't because all of those ladies were busy getting interviewed by Mifflin. So, thank you, Margot Mifflin for writing a history of female tattoo artists and collectors. This book is both fierce and intelligent. It also has really amazing photographs.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Kat

    This book is a fast read with mentions of tons of figures in the tattoo community with accompanying pictures. It also offers some analysis of trends in female tattoo designs and fashions. As well, it looks at the challenges female tattooists have faced over the years and how the culture has changed today. I quite enjoyed it but am thirsty to find out so much more. I wish the book was three times as long with more pictures of the people she mentioned and more in depth looks at certain women's his This book is a fast read with mentions of tons of figures in the tattoo community with accompanying pictures. It also offers some analysis of trends in female tattoo designs and fashions. As well, it looks at the challenges female tattooists have faced over the years and how the culture has changed today. I quite enjoyed it but am thirsty to find out so much more. I wish the book was three times as long with more pictures of the people she mentioned and more in depth looks at certain women's histories.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Jillian Mcclelland

    So good. This history of women in tattooing is a fascinating and very unexplored/undervalued aspect of society. I adored reading about its evolution through the early 20th Century as a form of torture into how it has changed in the contemporary period into a form of self-expression. Recommended for women to view how feminism is a varied concept, and recommended for men as well so they can appreciate the hard work and tenacity many women had to face to achieve recognition. Permanent place on my s So good. This history of women in tattooing is a fascinating and very unexplored/undervalued aspect of society. I adored reading about its evolution through the early 20th Century as a form of torture into how it has changed in the contemporary period into a form of self-expression. Recommended for women to view how feminism is a varied concept, and recommended for men as well so they can appreciate the hard work and tenacity many women had to face to achieve recognition. Permanent place on my shelf.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Mads Whitmarsh-Jones

    A necessary volume detailing the participation of women in the male-dominated world of western tattoo. Thoroughly educational, it does its absolute best to objectively handle a subject about which just about everyone has a strong subjective opinion. Mostly it succeeds, though a jibe in the introduction stuck with me for the duration of the book. The only drawback is that it occasionally reads like a laundry list of names, especially around the middle, but even so, it serves its purpose of illust A necessary volume detailing the participation of women in the male-dominated world of western tattoo. Thoroughly educational, it does its absolute best to objectively handle a subject about which just about everyone has a strong subjective opinion. Mostly it succeeds, though a jibe in the introduction stuck with me for the duration of the book. The only drawback is that it occasionally reads like a laundry list of names, especially around the middle, but even so, it serves its purpose of illustrating the legacy of female tattoo artists and enthusiasts.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Sara Willis

    If you are looking for a survey of women's tattoo history this might be your book. If you are looking for in depth analysis or anything other than superficial conclusions you may want to look elsewhere. Tattoos and women with tattoos are already a spectacle which draws interest, perhaps this book relies to heavily on that fact to present much else. To be fair, it is a good cursory glance at the history which I think is its purpose.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Melanie

    The stories of female tattoo artists are interesting, but the overall history of tattooed women--from circus acts to today--is kind of slight. It almost comes across as more of a picture book of tattooed ladies.

  15. 4 out of 5

    S

    There were some really cool older photos in this book. Tattooed ladies, I love them.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Elise

    A great analysis of women and taattooing.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Alison Claire

    An amazing look at the often undiscussed subject of women's tattoo history. Definitely an interesting read!

  18. 5 out of 5

    Jenny D.

    Really interesting social and feminist history of women and tattoos. Lots of great photos.

  19. 4 out of 5

    WaterstonesBirmingham

    Not just a beautiful cover. An in depth and well researched look at the modern history of women and tattooing. It focuses mainly on the west, starting with The Tattooed Lady in the circus, to women as tattoo artists in the early 1900's and right up to the modern day industry and the struggles for female tattoo artists as well as tattooed women. With a great selection of photographs and snippets of interviews from a who's who of female tattoo artists, this is a must read for anyone interested in the Not just a beautiful cover. An in depth and well researched look at the modern history of women and tattooing. It focuses mainly on the west, starting with The Tattooed Lady in the circus, to women as tattoo artists in the early 1900's and right up to the modern day industry and the struggles for female tattoo artists as well as tattooed women. With a great selection of photographs and snippets of interviews from a who's who of female tattoo artists, this is a must read for anyone interested in the subject. Grace

  20. 4 out of 5

    Anna Ivask

    Although the content was very interesting and I definitely learned a lot, the structure and the way it's set out was confusing to me. There were so many names dropped I couldn't have possibly remembered every single one and then she'd mention them again a chapter later and I would be confused at who she's talking about. Also she'd talk in depth about one artist but the images showing the artist and their work would be shown somewhere on some other unrelated page. This made it difficult to link a Although the content was very interesting and I definitely learned a lot, the structure and the way it's set out was confusing to me. There were so many names dropped I couldn't have possibly remembered every single one and then she'd mention them again a chapter later and I would be confused at who she's talking about. Also she'd talk in depth about one artist but the images showing the artist and their work would be shown somewhere on some other unrelated page. This made it difficult to link and visualise everything. But overall it was alright and definitely a unique book.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Alexandra Kocik

    Great collection of stories and photos, but preachy Loved learning the history of women and tattoos. Saw a lot of images is I'd never come across before. But wish the author has stuck to what her subjects were saying instead of constantly derailing the narrative by pointing out obvious feminist issues or editorializing off topic.

  22. 4 out of 5

    elizabeth roberts-zibbel

    I loved reading this. I can now describe myself as a “heavily tattooed” woman, and the history of both tattooed and tattooist of the female variety was interesting and informative. The theories about why women might turn their bodies into canvases all felt on the mark. I took photos of some of the author’s thoughts and quotes from those interviewed to think about later.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Aleasha

    More about women tattoo artists than anything. I was hoping for a more in depth look into what makes tattoos themselves so liberating, in particularly for women

  24. 4 out of 5

    Angela

    Interesting history, would love to see updated edition (I read this book several years ago), with more information about artists like Jacci Gresham.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Erica

    Fascinating history on women and tattoos.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Sundar

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Am so excited

  27. 4 out of 5

    Alexandra Watters

    I loved the pictures of the beautiful work. I did get lost in the repetitive histories of who and when. The early chapters were best and I learnt a lot about early tattoo history for women.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Elizabeth Finnegan

    Last year I heard Margot Mifflin talk about this book, and what she says in person is a little different from the overall tenor of this book. This book is likely to appeal to people already interested in tattoos rather than the history of female independence and Mifflin writes for that audience. This book has a beautiful collection of pictures but it is notable that that only "beautiful" tattoos are featured, which from an historical perspective leaves some noticeable gaps. In the book Mifflin w Last year I heard Margot Mifflin talk about this book, and what she says in person is a little different from the overall tenor of this book. This book is likely to appeal to people already interested in tattoos rather than the history of female independence and Mifflin writes for that audience. This book has a beautiful collection of pictures but it is notable that that only "beautiful" tattoos are featured, which from an historical perspective leaves some noticeable gaps. In the book Mifflin writes about circus performers of the late nineteenth century and the financial stability their career choice gave them. However, the economics falls out of narrative in the 21at century. Mifflin does not interview or feature one of the "skinny blondes" who tattoo themselves to become convention models. We have no idea if their choices are motivated by economics, aesthetics or need for attention. It would have been interesting to find out. Mifflin also features the rare and unusual but again does discuss the economics differences that may or may not exist when a fine artist decides to pursue tattooing as an art form, versus the tattoo artist that works her way through an apprenticeship. Also would other mediums be as lucrative for the fine artists? Mifflin adopts a quasi-feminist approach to the discussion of attitudes toward female tattoo artists and tattooed women, but again leaves questions. What do women who have a tattoo in the middle of the lower back think about their choice being derogatorily described as a "tramp stamp?" Another question, if it is socially acceptable to use this derogatory term why we would question any woman's choice to keep her tattoos covered? Also Mifflin does not delve into the issues surrounding tattoo removal or cover ups which for many women is also a form of self expression and independence. She does discuss the paradox of the pink ribbon tattoo which starts out for many women as a symbol of survivorship,and then becomes a regret tattoo because it constantly reminds them of a painful, difficult time in their life. Mifflin includes examples of women who get their breast augmentation tattooed but does not even mention women who choose to get their radiation tattoos removed. This is a coffee table book so there is no discussion of the darker side of tattoos. Only one photograph of a tattoo associated with an abusive relationship is included, and it is only included because it is a cover up. For me a comprehensive account of tattooing women in Western society would include the dark side including prison tattoos, gang tattoos and concentration tattoos. Mifflin asks why Marina Vainshtein would have images of the holocaust tattooed on her body. I wonder does she portray these images as a form of artistic expression, because we are still afraid to express the experience of women any other way?

  29. 5 out of 5

    Bishop

    Pioneering, painstaking feminist history of women tattoo artists and women with tattoos. Definitely worth checking out for the first section about the early days of women's tattoo in America. It's crazy to read about just how unthinkable and beyond the pale getting tattoos was for most of society just 100 years ago, especially for women, and how that manifested in phenomena like early tattooees being able to make a living as circus sideshow curiosities, often marrying their tattoo artist, and/or Pioneering, painstaking feminist history of women tattoo artists and women with tattoos. Definitely worth checking out for the first section about the early days of women's tattoo in America. It's crazy to read about just how unthinkable and beyond the pale getting tattoos was for most of society just 100 years ago, especially for women, and how that manifested in phenomena like early tattooees being able to make a living as circus sideshow curiosities, often marrying their tattoo artist, and/or making up weird stories about being abducted by indians and forcibly tattooed to explain themselves to the public. The chapters on more recent history feel a little rote to me, like a directory of important artists with less organization and development of themes than I might like. And it kept bugging me how the pictures don't appear in line with the relevant section of text so I had to keep flipping back and forth to try to find the pictures of who Mifflin is talking about at any given time. I like hearing the wildly different anecdotes/explanations/theories about why people get tattoos. I would say about half the men [I worked on] got tattooed just to get tattooed, whereas almost all the women were getting a tattoo for a reason, says [Sheila] May...(p.56) I like seeing how much Seattle shows up in tattoo history, like with Vyvyn Lazonga's 1979 tattoo shop. Some of the recurring themes are Mifflin lamenting what she considers the over-sexualization and "relentless cheese-cakery of women in the tattoo media", and how the "fine arts world" typically ignores the history and development of tattoo as an art form (example p.101/102). I can see what she means about the cheese-cakery looking at the cover of my recent Tattoo magazine, but on the other hand tattoos are intrinsically sexual since they are made on human bodies and I don't have a super clear picture of what Mifflin envisions a more equitable, preferable media landscape of tattoo art to look like. I assume she would prefer the objectification/sexualization to be more of the self-objectification/self-sexualization variety, which I totally agree with. It's the same problem mainstream porn has. But as far as she seems like she wants insiders and outside scholars in general to be more "serious" about the tattoo art world, I don't really follow her. I personally don't give a shit about whether art is "serious" as such. The high brow/low brow thing just feels like ridiculous arbitrary wall-building to me and I've never been able to detect any correlation between art being good and whether it is "high brow" and "serious" or "low brow" and "vernacular", or whatever.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    This was one of those interesting-but-boring books. Like a textbook. You know that the information is probably fascinating and you’re definitely curious about it, but it’s presented in a way that makes it taste like dirt rather than delicious cuisine. Some folks really like textbooks. They like the endless names and dates and oh-so-minute specifics that frankly just make my mind fall asleep. I’m a memoir girl all the way. I mean, what’s the overall picture here? Where’s the story? Where’s the fl This was one of those interesting-but-boring books. Like a textbook. You know that the information is probably fascinating and you’re definitely curious about it, but it’s presented in a way that makes it taste like dirt rather than delicious cuisine. Some folks really like textbooks. They like the endless names and dates and oh-so-minute specifics that frankly just make my mind fall asleep. I’m a memoir girl all the way. I mean, what’s the overall picture here? Where’s the story? Where’s the flavor? I suppose it’s a personal preference; I’m the type who needs more abstract, big-picture storytelling and less “Jane Doe was born on January 1, 1885 in San Antonio, Texas and in 1900 opened a tattoo shop in San Diego, California where she utilized a single needle tattoo method developed in the early 1700′s.” BLAH. Save your dry regurgitation of facts– it feels SO beige. I’m craving some color here (which, by the way, you’d think wouldn’t be too difficult given that the topic is tattooing…). Good thing the book included some beautiful tattoo pictures or I may not have made it out alive. Textbook-y style aside, women and tattoos do indeed have a very cool history that is worthy of print and discussion. Tattooing has swung from taboo to mainstream to taboo again throughout history, and women have had a particularly complex and remarkable relationship with the art form. From sexualization and objectification to self-expression, memorial, and explicit declarations of self-determination, tattooing represents an enormous variety of meaning that has been ever-evolving over the course of the thousands of years that folks have been hammering ink and ash into their skin. Women as artists, too, are an interesting topic of contemplation. Like most other professions, feminist waves broke their way, slow and steady, through layer upon layer of misogyny and oppression in the world of tattooists. Still not completely void of sexism but definitely making progress, third wave feminists are both reaping rewards of those who fought before, and struggling with their own battles to be heard and respected for their art rather than their genitalia. Long story short– killer topic, not my favorite book.

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