Do young women with tattoos have lower self-esteem and body image than their peers without tattoos? 

Crazy girl for Tattoos on body

Crazy girl for Tattoos on body

Crazy girl for Tattoos on body 

Crazy girl for Tattoos on body


The available evidence on the reasons why people acquire body markers like tattoos is conflicting. The present study was designed to investigate the relationship between self-esteem and body image in young women with tattoos. To this end, the repertoire grid technique (RGT) was adapted and used to assess the differences between women with and without tattoos in terms of self-esteem and body image. Sixty young women with tattoos and sixty women without tattoos (all between 18 and 35 years old), took the RGT Color to assess the relationship between self-esteem and body image. Compared with women without tattoos, women with tattoos showed significantly lower self-esteem and showed stronger relationships between three constructs: ideal body, ideal self, and tattooed woman status. No significant differences in body image were detected between the two groups. Women with tattoos were characterized by an association between body image and self-esteem, while women without tattoos showed no such correlation. Thus, it appears that the links between self-esteem, ideal body, ideal self, and "tattooed woman" constructs may play a role in tattooing behavior in young women.


The popularity of tattoos within Western culture is increasing rapidly and tattoo behavior has become more accepted. This may be related to celebrities and sports icons with tattoos appearing on TV shows and magazines. Some people perceive tattooed people as immoral, rough, unstable, undesirable, and dumb, while others consider them attractive, interesting, unique, self-confident, desirable, and progressive. Despite the growing popularity of tattoos , little is known about the motives behind the acquisition of these body markers. Not surprisingly, interest in psychological insights into tattoo behavior has increased in recent years . A closer look at tattoos can help identify the reasons for this behavior. Tattoos are a non-verbal communication and a way of presenting oneself. To quote Cipolletta et al., People with body modifications "want to communicate in a radical way, and they do so using their own body as a means of communication ..., with the message ... which is their own authentic way of being and feel". Therefore, tattoos are used as a way to develop a unique identity and thus achieve a better self-image. The reasons for tattooing behavior that university students mention most frequently include: 'expressing myself', 'achieving mastery and control over the body' , self-assertion and identity creation , consolidating identity , and a way to "build a personal distinctive character" . The meaning of tattoo behavior today is varied and includes cultural rebellion, but also personal expression and self-definition . Numerous empirical studies have shown that tattoos may be associated with changes in self-esteem . Global self-esteem refers to the degree to which an individual appreciates himself . Low levels of global self-esteem have been associated with a number of negative outcomes including poor subjective well-being and psychopathology . There are three possibilities for the relationship between self-esteem and getting tattoos:

Tattooed youths have lower self-esteem than non-tattooed controls . Litt  suggested that the tattoo is an expression of maladaptive identity. Schools of psychoanalysis also view tattooing behavior as an indication of deliberate motives for self-harm due to impaired self-esteem .

Subjects with tattoos have higher self-esteem than controls without tattoos. People with tattoos tend to rate themselves as more adventurous, creative, individualistic, and attractive than those without tattoos (high self-esteem characteristics) [22-25]. Cipolletta and co-authors  found that people with body art and body modifications have positive self-esteem, an extremely consistent and stable sense of personal identity, and a high level of self-attractiveness and personal fulfillment compared to controls.

The level of self-esteem of people with tattoos is similar to that of people without body modifications.

Cross-sectional studies tend to show a strong association between body satisfaction and self-esteem among women . Prospective studies found limited support for a causal association between these two variables . In longitudinal studies, the association between body satisfaction and self-esteem is modest . However, the negative impact on self-esteem, of dissatisfaction with physical appearance, has been reported in several studies . Claes and co-authors reported that although body modification was not associated with low self-esteem, it demonstrated a negative attitude towards one's own body. In addition, other studies have identified associations between dissatisfaction with physical appearance and tattoo behavior . Therefore, examining the associations between self-esteem, self-esteem, and tattooing could lead to a better understanding of tattoo behavior. The paucity of studies on this topic is surprising, given the popularity of the tattoo as a visible form of interpersonal communication . The values, preferences, and meanings assigned to tattoo behavior deserve a deeper exploration. This study used the ideographic approach, which is a type of descriptive research that shows that a situation can be viewed differently by different people, or even by the same person at a different time or in a different situation. The ideographic method is a way of understanding diversity in the representation of approaches where some aspects of the world are subjectively perceived and interpreted. In previous studies, researchers assessed self-esteem and body image using self-report measures. Traditional body image questionnaires are often insufficient to describe complex subjective experiences of the body . Such an assessment requires an idiographic approach rather than nomothetic and quantitative psychometric methods. Furthermore, the assessment of the degree of self-awareness  using traditional questionnaires is sensitive to bias and, despite the fact that Favazza maintains that self-assessment in populations with tattoos is reliable, according to several reports this population has high levels of alexithymia  that can significantly interfere with your self-awareness. 

The current study used a more complex model to analyze people's interpretation of their tattooing behavior. The theoretical basis of the present study is the individualized approach to Personal Construct psychology, suggested by Kelly and her followers . Kelly describes each person as an "incipient scientist" who creates a subjective model of the world - a system of constructions - from an objective reality and then modifies this subjective model based on daily experience. of the person. A personal construct is considered the individualized way of seeing, giving meaning, or interpreting the elements of a person's environment. People differ from each other in their perception of events. The repertoire grid technique (RGT) was developed to detect subjective constructs used to make sense of people's personal experiences. Kelly's TMN is a method of exposing subjective decisions that underlie a subject's behavior. This knowledge is captured unconsciously in an implicit way, often even without the examinee being aware of it. Kelly suggested that to understand someone, we must use their own terms, thus allowing an identification of their personal constructs. TMN is a useful "semantic mapping" approach for understanding how individuals derive meaning from their environment and experience it . It is an idiographic method that adequately evaluates individual constructs and their associated emotional and cognitive aspects and has been validated.

This study attempted to delve into the controversial issue of the association between self-esteem and body image in young women with tattoos. To empirically test such an association, the personal constructs of tattooed and non-tattooed women were compared. The following four hypotheses were formulated: (i) The group with tattoos would show a significantly greater discrepancy between the current self and the ideal self than the group without tattoos; (ii) Women with tattoos would have a lower current body image than women without tattoos; (iii) The degree of association between body image (ideal body-present body) and self-esteem (ideal self-present) in women with tattoos would be greater than in the group without tattoos; (iv) The ideal body and ideal self would be significantly associated with the construction of “tattooed women” among women with tattoos, but not among women without tattoos.


As described in a previous study by the authors,  all participants (women with and without tattoos) were recruited to participate in a research project investigating decision-making styles in tattooed and non-tattooed women, through Through advertisements published in universities, personal contacts and social networks (Facebook). All participants were recruited from the Tel Aviv area between March 2012 and July 2012. Participants in both groups (research and control) were employees, students or graduates and of similar socioeconomic backgrounds. Participation in the study was voluntary, without payment. The compensation for participating in the study was a free consultation, regarding their ability to inhibit and professional advice based on their neurocognitive and personality assessments. The study was approved by the Review Board of the University of Bar-Ilan (Ramat Gan, Israel) and was carried out in individual sessions that included information on the objectives of the study, followed by the signing of the informed consent forms by part of the participants. The duration of these sessions was up to an hour and a half. The entire investigation process was carried out over a period of five months.

All participants completed a screening interview, which covered the following areas: medical history, illicit drug use, and personal and family psychiatric history. All subjects were free of any psychopharmacological treatment.

Sixty women with tattoos, between 18 and 35 years old (M = 28.4, SD = 5.95), were included in the study. Forty-eight percent of them had a permanent tattoo and fifty-eight percent had more than one tattoo. All participants were either employed or students with the following levels of education: high school diploma or lower: 46.7%, bachelor's degree: 25%, master's degree: 23.3%, and doctorate: 5%.

Exclusion criteria consisted of neurological disorders, mental retardation, alcohol and substance abuse / dependence (other than smoking), severe psychiatric disorders, and treatment with psychiatric medication. It was established that 55% of the participants in the tattoo group were smokers. One researcher (AK) administered a semi-structured interview of a 20-item measure of tattoo characteristics.

The control group included sixty non-tattooed women of a similar age range: 18-35 years (M = 28.5, SD = 5.43), who were recruited from the same area. The levels of education in the control group had the following distribution: high school diploma or lower: 25%, bachelor's degree: 28.3%, master's degree: 41.7%, and doctorate: 5%.

Exclusion criteria for the control group of non-tattooed women included any current or past DSM-IV-TR axis I psychiatric disorder. Only 10% of the participants in this group smoked regularly.

The repertoire grid technique (RGT)
The current study used PsyScan software (AnimaScan LTD, Israel). The PsyScan is a RGT nonverbal rank order [45]. PsyScan uses the card classification approach that provides a deep understanding of the user's mental models, explaining how a participant often uses to classify and label content in her own mind [49]. RGT is a tool that uses the ability of the individual to compare elements to obtain constructs for the evaluation of personal tacit knowledge (as opposed to formal, codified or explicit knowledge). The use of Color RGT had two objectives: the first was to obtain the relevant concepts considered important in the association between body image, self-esteem and tattooing behavior in the non-verbal presentation.

Although the traditional RGT analyzes the data in the grid at the individual level, we focus on the analysis at the aggregate group level, in order to obtain information about the vision of the group as a whole of that association. To compare distances between constructs in semantic space, the Manhattan Distance  was calculated. The Color RGT used in the present study is based on “associative color experiments” (especially, in the study by Etkind ).


The elements of this TMN are colors. To ensure clarity and consistency, the selection of elements followed three rules: 1) elements must be discrete (not overlapping), 2) elements must be homogeneous, and 3) all elements must be non-verbal. Colors were chosen for this study as they are an inseparable, non-verbal component of our everyday experiences. Colors are also widely recognized to have a strong impact on our emotions and feelings . Some colors can be associated with multiple emotions and some emotions are associated with more than one color . Colors have a symbolic meaning that can manifest itself in the way an individual associates them with thoughts and emotions . The relationship between color and emotion is closely tied to color preferences. They help elicit implicit responses from individuals to questions in contrast to explicit verbal responses [45, 46]. The elements of color (E) were chosen in our RGT since a color reflects the encoding of a feeling rather than its representation in a form of verbal decoding . and are the "elements" to order. Each € color element is a separate standard color: El-blue, E2-green, E3-orange, E4-yellow, E5-purple, E6-brown, E7- black and E0-gray.

Bj√∂rklund describes tacit knowledge associated with sensory information that individuals store in implicit memory as signal patterns along with a qualitative emotional evaluation of the event. The RGT Color identifies the perceptions associated with feelings and conclusions about the essence of a particular question. A RGT color is a tool to expose the sensory pattern that was experienced and stored in an implicit library of previous experiences. You can identify the subjective meaning of phenomena such as body image, tattoo behavior, or ideal body constructions. Bj√∂rklund  described this type of knowledge as a "sensogram".

Constructions (implicit theories) are difficult to describe verbally. Constructs are expressed automatically and therefore difficult to obtain through introspection. Obtaining reliable information is difficult when it includes potentially disturbing content. In such cases, psychological defenses are likely to suppress essential information. When the objective is to derive implicit and difficult-to-express reasons, the choice of non-verbal TMN seems preferable. In nonverbal TMN, the participant must rank various visual elements, from highest to lowest relevance, for a specific bipolar construct .


The constructions were obtained by means of the rank of the elements (colors), according to Fransella, Bell and Bannister , instead of the triadic method traditionally used with the RGT . The subject is required to use constructs (my body, ideal self, etc.) as scales and to classify the order of the color elements. Each build is presented as a series of color preference options (see procedure below). The color rating is the expression of the examinee's preference on an 8-point grading scale. For each construct, a participant ranks the eight elements in order, from the most suitable to the most inappropriate. Therefore, each construction is classified in a bipolar way, namely "similarity" or "dissimilarity". Each construction reflects a subjective experience expressed by color preference. Color preference is a psychological continuum that represents a choice, from most preferred to least preferred.

The focus of the study was to assess the values ​​and preferences of the tattooed people and each participant was given a list of self-reference items (e.g. ideal self) to ensure possible aspects of self-perception relevant to the tattoo. The individual's personal construction records, the individual's point of view regarding tattoos or other relevant topic, and the individual's contrasting points of view were recorded. Seven relevant constructs for self-perception and interpersonal relationship were selected as follows: 1. What I am today (present self), 2. The woman I want to be (ideal self), 3. My current body, 4. Ideal body , 5. Tattooed woman status, 6. My favorite color, 7. Good / bad trans-individual standard color preference (as per ).

The advantages of the RGT color are: (i) The game-like presentation offers a simple and pleasant format that does not aggravate the intensive anxiety related to the test, since it does not require correct or incorrect answers. (ii) The non-verbal character is adapted to participants with a low capacity to verbalize their emotions, since their responses are expressed in a non-verbal symbolic way and the responses provide abundant and detailed information about the participants' perceptions. (iii) Minimum time required for the test procedure, (iv) The color is perceived immediately, almost without conscious attention, (v) It combines a projective stimulation with a numerical calculation. The rich data collected with the RGT color exposes each individual's implicit meaning of issues such as body satisfaction and self-esteem.


Each subject was evaluated individually. For the current experiments, we use a transformation from the card sorting approach to RGT . In the PsyScan evaluation, color is essentially a classification category (we used eight colors). The RGT was performed by each participant on a computer, following the instructions that appeared on the screen. The eight color items (displayed on screen as color cards) were presented to the examinee face up in a preset random order. They were classified in eight steps, between opposite poles along a continuum from "I like" to "I don't like". The participants ranged the colors from "1" in the first choice to "8" as the final choice, along each of the constructs in a staggered fashion, from left to right.

The test procedure is as follows: The examinee is asked which of the eight colors most represents a specific construction. For example, one subject prefers item E7 (black). That color is removed from the screen and you are asked to choose from the remaining seven, the color that now most represents that construction. The new chosen color item (eg E5) is removed, leaving six on the screen. You are then asked to choose from the six remaining cards the one that is most representative of the construct and so on until there is only one item left on the screen and it is the last in the series for this construct. The process is repeated for each of the remaining seven builds, but the order of the 8 color elements displayed at the starting point changes from one build to another.

After all the constructions are completed, the relationships between the constructions are calculated according to the selection of elements. The position of each color card during the sort procedure provides the basis for a grid matrix. The result is recorded as a matrix in the rows of the GR. Build express perceptions, without explicit verbalization.

The data is presented in a two-dimensional graph. The identified emotional component is drawn as a horizontal dotted line (X-axis). The cognitive component is plotted vertically, like a Y axis, in a Cartesian coordinate system. The graph represents different constructs, following statistical procedures, which analyze to what extent the ratings of the elements of each construct are similar to each other. Construct similarity is expressed as closeness to each other in terms of distance from Manhattan .

The RGT, as shown in Figure 1, consists of 8 elements that have been classified in relation to each of the 7 constructs. Finally, a classification matrix is ​​obtained. It is transformed into a range of orders for each color element so that the relationships between the rankings can be statistically analyzed by the PsyScan software. Each rendering produced a matrix of 56 ratings based on 8 rated colors in each of the 7 constructs.

Semantic space

A complete interpretation of the relationship between tattoo behavior, body image and the self-esteem constructions of the participants is evaluated by means of a semantic space in color elements in the X and Y axes. The inter-correlations between the constructs are plotted in a two-dimensional space. The two-dimensional bi-graph of the color grid shows the semantic space, where the X-axis represents individual color preferences (emotional component), namely "sympathy / antipathy" and the Y-axis (cognitive component) represents the transindividual standard. . of color preferences, namely "good / bad". The subjective descriptions of the constructs are classified into four quadrants of a semantic space: (i) "good and sympathetic" represents the congruent positive subjective estimate (+ / +); (ii) "mean and dislike" represents a consistent negative subjective estimate (- / -); (iii) "good but antipathy" represents the ambivalent subjective estimate of a construct (+/-); (iv) "bad but nice" represents an ambivalent subjective estimate (- / +). Ambivalence is a measure of the degree to which a person perceives a construct both positively and negatively.

Distance between constructs

Constructs are represented as points and the distance between constructs reflects the distance in space between them. For example, a large distance between the present self and the ideal self indicates a dissimilarity between these two constructs and low self-esteem. This approach is based on the theory of self-discrepancy [59].

Measurements and analysis

We focus on the comparison of construct distances that are closely related to our research question on the relationship between body image, self-esteem and tattoo behavior, using the Manhattan distance to measure the closeness / distinction between the constructs .

The formula for calculating the distance from Manhattan is as follows:

MD = ∑i = 18 | li (1) −li (2) |, where:

MD - distance from Manhattan,

i - color number,

li (1) - placement of color i in the first color construction,

li (2): placement of color i in the construction of the second color.

In this study, the distance from Manhattan ranges from 0 to 32, where MD = 0 indicates that the buildings are identical and MD = 32 indicates that the buildings are completely different. Thus, the smaller the Manhattan distance between the present self and the ideal, the greater the self-esteem and vice versa. The results of the Manhatan distance of the tattooed and control groups were compared using a t test, to evaluate the statistical significance of the differences in the distances between the constructs, and the Spearman test was used to evaluate the correlations between the constructs. . The level of significance was established at p <.05 and SPSS (v. 19) was used for the analyzes.

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