Nowadays, no one even bats an eye if you’re female and have a tattoo or three. You might turn a few heads if you have sleeves or tattoos covering pretty much your entire body, but even then it’s nowhere near as controversial as it once was. In Margot Mifflin’s Bodies of Subversion: A Secret History of Women and Tattoo, she explores the history of both women who have tattoos as well as female tattoo artists. Although the first edition was originally published in 1997, the third edition expanded upon the original manuscript and was re-printed in 2013. It is the only book to ever closely chronicle the history surrounding tattooed women.
Not only does Mifflin examine the life of the first known female tattooist, a woman named Maud Wagner who started working as an apprentice in 1904 with the man who would become her husband, but she also discusses how in the Victorian era, high society women would often wear tattoos as custom couture. She even mentions that Winston Churchill’s mother had a snake tattoo on her wrist.
Mifflin also looks at the rise of female tattoo artists from the ‘80s to the present day. Female tattoo artists, she says, are often “soul doctors” for women who are looking to get inked as a way of healing their anxiety about their bodies. For example, in the ‘90s, more and more tattoo artists saw women who had undergone mastectomies come in to get ink over their scars, which was seen as an alternative to prosthetics or reconstructive surgery.
The book includes 50 full color images, a section on modern celebrity tattoo artists like Kat Von D, and another section that goes in-depth on the therapeutic uses of tattoos for women. Bodies of Subversion is chock-full of fascinating historical tidbits and boldly celebrates tattooed women, no matter their shape or size.