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Behind the Ink NZ: Tattoos in Aotearoa New Zealand and the Link to a Process of Self-Healing

This study aimed to examine the reasons why individuals in Aotearoa New Zealand tattoo their bodies and analyse the mechanism by which tattoo acts as a method of coping, self-healing and self-transformation for these individuals. Further this study aimed to investigate how tattoo allows individuals to re-write and transform their meaning of traumatic and/or stressful events into stories of empowerment, strength and survival. While tattoo has been explored for meaning and function in Aotearoa New Zealand, there was seen to be no empirically grounded research looking into how tattoo might serve as a therapeutic tool. The study examined 427 survey respondents and eight interviewees across Aotearoa New Zealand. The participants ranged in age from 18 to 65-years-old and varied across multiple ethnicities. This study combined quantitative and qualitative data collection methods in a two-phase project. Data collection phase one involved 427 participants respond to an online survey. This establised a baseline for cross-comparison of attitudes, backgrounds and life experiences. Data collection phase two involved eight semi-structured interviews to explore individual experiences and uncover the relationship between their tattoos and how it had helped them to cope/heal in some way. To analyse these interviews, thematic analysis was combined with phenomenological analysis. The findings from this study suggest that there are multiple reasons (expression of self, aesthetic aspects, identity, passage of rights, remembrance/tributes and personal healing among others) why individuals chose to engage in the art form of tattooing. Findings also suggest that tattoo, directly relating to the mind/body continuum of stress/trauma can serve as a mechanism to enable individuals to re-script stressful/traumatic events, reinforce identity and self-acceptance, acknowledge past difficulties and turn them into positives and increase inner motivations and positive thinking which was seen to initiate healing and recovery. This suggests that tattoo serves as a powerful mechanism to aid in personal transformation, but also challenge previous meanings associated with the art form of tattoo.
Type of thesis
Membery, B. (2015). Behind the Ink NZ: Tattoos in Aotearoa New Zealand and the Link to a Process of Self-Healing (Thesis, Master of Social Sciences (MSocSc)). University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10289/10100
University of Waikato
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