Paper Title

The Tattooed Lady: Marked Rebellion on Display within Nineteenth Century Freak Shows

Location

Room 212, West Center

Start Date

March 2016

End Date

March 2016

Keywords

tattoos, gender, 19th century, America, Britain

Abstract

The tattooed lady is a unique and contrasting image to the Victorian era’s proscribed standards and norms. Motivated by images of tattooed men in freak shows and dime museums – such as Captain Costentenus (one of the original and arguably most popular, tattooed male performers of the nineteenth century) – these ladies chose to tattoo their bodies from the chest down, and capitalize on their “otherness”. Quickly over shadowing tattooed men in popularity within the developing entertainment industry, tattooed ladies donned revealing costumes in order to display their bodies - costumes which would have been considered pornographic within any other venue during this period.

Tattooed ladies capitalized on the popular literature of the period by including falsified captivity narratives in their biographical booklets and cards as an explanation for their tattoos. These narratives served to reassure middle class audiences that these women were forced to mark their bodies, while adding sexual connotations to their tattoos through language such as “violation”, “outrage”, and “indignity”.

By displaying their tattooed bodies for profit, tattooed ladies were able to successfully manipulate and challenge proscribed gender roles. These women achieved financial and social independence during a period that offered few avenues for work, and often subjugated women to the domestic/private sphere.

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Mar 31st, 5:00 PM Mar 31st, 6:15 PM

The Tattooed Lady: Marked Rebellion on Display within Nineteenth Century Freak Shows

Room 212, West Center

The tattooed lady is a unique and contrasting image to the Victorian era’s proscribed standards and norms. Motivated by images of tattooed men in freak shows and dime museums – such as Captain Costentenus (one of the original and arguably most popular, tattooed male performers of the nineteenth century) – these ladies chose to tattoo their bodies from the chest down, and capitalize on their “otherness”. Quickly over shadowing tattooed men in popularity within the developing entertainment industry, tattooed ladies donned revealing costumes in order to display their bodies - costumes which would have been considered pornographic within any other venue during this period.

Tattooed ladies capitalized on the popular literature of the period by including falsified captivity narratives in their biographical booklets and cards as an explanation for their tattoos. These narratives served to reassure middle class audiences that these women were forced to mark their bodies, while adding sexual connotations to their tattoos through language such as “violation”, “outrage”, and “indignity”.

By displaying their tattooed bodies for profit, tattooed ladies were able to successfully manipulate and challenge proscribed gender roles. These women achieved financial and social independence during a period that offered few avenues for work, and often subjugated women to the domestic/private sphere.