Much of South Korean culture perceives tattoos as illicit, but an ethereal trend incorporating delicate lines and subtle colors introduces softness to an otherwise tough industry. Because they have been historically associated with organized crime, tattoos are still somewhat taboo in South Korea. Although the culture is shifting to be more accepting of inked skin, many formal rules remain that place strict limitations on who can legally perform tattoos and what public gyms and baths people who have tattoos can enter. Most Koreans understand that tattooed skin does not necessarily equate to gang affiliation, but that stigma is so deeply entrenched that it continues to hold power, particularly for women because tattoos are considered decidedly un-feminine.
Fine lines, pale colors, and dainty shading not only distinguishes this trend from traditional American tattoo styles, but also brings a clear femininity and softness to the world of tattoos. In a culture where appearing demure is incredibly important to femininity and your image can determine whether you’re allowed into certain public spaces, creating such decidedly feminine tattoos is a clever act of rebellion. Tattooing such delicate and pretty images helps to expand the definition of femininity in South Korea; it incorporates the rebellious character linked with body modifications while simultaneously challenging the notion that tattoos are inextricably linked with danger.
These delicate tattoos are typically small with pale, watercolor-like inks and incredibly fine lines or with no black outlines at all. Sol Tattoo exemplifies each of these characteristics in tattoos of pets, flowers, film scenes, and more. Most of these tattoos are less than palm-sized, and their soft colors give them a lifelike quality. The natural colors and gentle needlework allows Sol Tattoo to capture the soft fur and gentle pink paws of a client’s pet cat in a tattoo that feels both dreamy and realistic. While Sol Tattoo’s Instagram feed is full of pale, natural colors, Nando Tattooer, who also specializes in these delicate tattoos, often works with more blacks and greys.
Though Nando Tattooer makes use of color as well, their tattoos are dominated by black and grey. One tattoo that stands out in this feed is their take on a traditional barbed wire tattoo. Rather than the bold lines typical of American traditional tattoos, Nando Tattooer personalizes this tradition with the fine lines and and muted shading of this delicate trend. Comparing this elegant barbed wire to the bold lines of a traditional tattoo shows just how dramatic of a difference these fine lines make.
The dark, thick lines of most American tattoos creates a bold and daring image, whereas the graceful lines and light shading of these South Korean tattoos brings a delicate and feminine character to an industry typically associated with rebellion and even criminality. These soft images challenge the cultural perception of tattoos as specifically un-feminine and inextricable from dangerous criminal activity. Soft tattoos of beloved cats or delicate flowers are still daring, as they defy the cultural ideal of beauty. However, they show that while tattoos can be daring, they can also be feminine.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the official position of PainfulPleasures