Tattooed Women More Likely to Have Attempted Suicide, but Have Higher Self-Esteem

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Newman_tattoo_231115Women with multiple tattoos are more likely to have both high self-esteem and a higher frequency of past suicide attempts, according to new research.

The study’s findings may seem contradictory, but researchers believe they might indicate that women use tattoos to cope with past trauma or difficulties.

The study, which will be published in The Social Science Journal, examined data from surveys given to over 2,300 college students. The survey questioned respondents about their self-esteem levels, history with mental illness and suicide attempts. Participants were also asked about the number of tattoos they had.

The study found that there were no significant differences in men with tattoos compared to men without tattoos. For females, however, there were noted differences in their mental well-being depending on the number of tattoos they had.

In general, women were found to have lower self-esteem levels than men. However, for every tattoo that they had, they were more likely to report greater levels of self-esteem. Women with four or more tattoos had the highest self-esteem out of all female groups.

While these women had higher levels of self-esteem, they also had much higher levels of past suicide attempts. In fact, women with four or more tattoos were four times as likely to have attempted suicide as women without tattoos.

Despite having more past suicide attempts, women with more tattoos weren’t found to be more depressed than other women.

“Women with four or more tattoos were the group that showed us the only two interesting connections: they had a much higher suicide attempt history, and paradoxically, it was this same group – and the only group – that showed an increased level of self-esteem,” said Jerome Koch, lead author of the study and a sociology professor at Texas Tech University.

While the results may seem conflicting, Koch believes that the findings suggest women are using tattoos to help get over trauma they have experienced. “Our interpretation is maybe it’s a parallel, emotionally, of what we see with breast cancer survivors,” said Koch, referring to the body art women often use after having a breast surgically removed.

Koch thinks that the study’s findings reflect the extra attention that women have placed on their appearance and body image through the media. “I think women, especially, are more aware of their bodies through, among other things, fat shaming, the cosmetics and plastic surgery industry and hyper-sexualized imagery in media,” said Koch. “What we may be seeing is women translating that awareness into empowerment.”

While tattoos seemed to increase women’s self-esteem, a previous study by Koch also found that women were twice as likely as men to want their tattoos removed.

While Koch believes that tattoos may be used as a coping mechanism by women, he warns not to draw too many conclusions from the research. “We can only speculate what these findings might mean, and more research needs to be done,” he said.

Sources for Today’s Article:
Hobart, P. J., “Women With Many Tattoos Have Higher Self-Esteem, Because Ink Is Sometimes A Coping Mechanism,”Bustle web site, November 21, 2015;

Koch, J. R., et al., “Tattoos, gender, and well-being among American college students,” The Social Science Journal, 2015; doi:10.1016/j.soscij.2015.08.001.
Young, G., “Tatoos May Be A Coping Mechanism For Some College-Aged Women,” Texas Tech University web site, November 19, 2015;