Women With More Tattoos Have Higher Self-Esteem

Photographed by Lauren Perlstein.
Those of us with tattoos know that it takes a certain level of confidence to put your favorite quote or design on your body permanently. So it's probably not surprising that, according to a new study, having more tattoos may also come with more self-esteem.

For the study, which will appear in an upcoming issue of The Social Science Journal, researchers surveyed 2,395 college students from six universities. Participants were asked about the number of tattoos they have as well as their levels of depression and self-esteem. They were also asked whether they had ever thought about or attempted suicide.

Results showed that, for women, self-esteem went up as the number of tattoos went up. But paradoxically, so did participants' reported levels of depression. And women with higher numbers of tattoos were also more likely to have attempted suicide. In particular, the rate of suicide attempts in women with at least four tattoos was four times higher than that of women with no tattoos. So there's clearly something emotionally complicated going on here.

Although we don't know whether the tattoos were responsible for the jump in self-esteem, the authors of the study suggest women might be using their body art to heal emotional wounds: "Just as breast cancer survivors and abuse victims acquire tattoos and piercings to restore physical losses," the authors write, "we think the women in our study may be trying to restore emotional losses with more tattoos." Indeed, as we've written before, the act of transforming mastectomy scars into tattoos has become an incredibly meaningful way for women to define the breast cancer experience on their own terms.

However, there are some weaknesses in this study. For one, the highest number of tattoos someone in the study could say they had was "four or more." While it's totally possible that participants could have potentially many more than four tattoos, in this study, someone with 10 or 12 tats would show up in the data as exactly the same as someone with four. So four may not be as significant a number as the authors would have us believe.

And obviously, many women who get tattoos don't have a history of depression or suicide, so it's kind of surprising that the authors didn't just ask their participants why they got their tattoos. Considering many people get their body art for personally significant reasons, that's an obvious place for the researchers to look next. In the meantime, I'll be over here planning my next tat.
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