From TheAppendix.net: "Europeans and indigenous Americans being judged at the court of Nature
for modifying their bodies, from the frontispiece to John Bulwer's Anthropometamorphosis (London, 1656).
A perfect follow-up to yesterday's post of a 1902 newspaper feature on tattoos is another wonderful history article, published yesterday in The Appendix, entitled: Indelible Ink: The Deep History of Tattoo Removal. Mairin Odle, a PhD candidate in Atlantic History at NYU, cites texts, from as old as a sixth-century encyclopedia of medicine, that discuss ancient tattoo removal procedures; she also offers stories of frustration over the difficulty in removing permanent markings -- the same frustration people talk of today.
Here's a bit from Odle's text:
By the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, documentation of tattoo removal was often found in accounts of Europeans in contact with cultures overseas--particularly, although not exclusively, societies in the New World. The failed effort to remove the English pirate's facial tattoo was not the only attempt at such a procedure in the early modern Atlantic world. A number of French, Spanish, English, and Native American sources suggest that people of the period could regret their permanent body modifications just as much as modern people do.
Tattoo removal in the past, however, reflected something more powerful than transient personal taste. Attempts to undo seemingly permanent body modification remind us how much the cultural aspects of physical appearance mattered, particularly in determining personal and collective identities. Inks and dyes, fixed under the skin, told stories about one's past: who one knew, where one had been, even who one had been. One might wish, or others might insist, that such stories be ignored, forgotten, erased. This is the underexplored side to the history of body modification: regret, resentment, and painful policing of aesthetic and social boundaries.
As much as I am a cheerleader for the tattoo community, I think Odle is absolutely correct that the "regret" issue has not really been explored fully when discussing tattoo culture -- beyond the silly tabloid articles. I think this history of tattoo removal article is a great start.