American Culture Studies Ph.D. Dissertations


"I Can Do Whatever the Hell I Want": Female Tattoo Artists, Their Experiences, and Identity Creation

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


American Culture Studies

First Advisor

Lesa Lockford (Advisor)

Second Advisor

Bradford Clark (Other)

Third Advisor

Radhika Gajjala (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Allison Terry-Fritsch (Committee Member)


In this dissertation I explore the lived experience and identity creation of female tattoo artists. Identity is not singular, as such this project examines identity on multiple levels, each more specific: identity in the broad tattoo community, identity as a tattooed woman, and identity as a female tattoo artist. Each chapter explores identity and experiences within its particular focus and provides evidence, based on interviews, observations, and supporting research, as to how participants negotiate their agency to constitute their identities.

I utilize both a phenomenological and ethnographic approach. As such, I conducted interviews with seven female tattoo artists as well as five female clients and two male colleagues. The chapters are built around the emerging themes from these interviews and observed interactions, as well as my own experiences as a tattooed woman. These themes include handling emerging conflicts as participants identify with or resist identification with the tattoo community, navigating personal reasons for getting tattooed amidst the various reactions of others, and negotiating their identities as female tattoo artists while encountering societal gender norms as well as gender norms within the tattoo industry. Through the participants’ narratives, their experiences, how they navigate a male dominated work environment, how they constitute their identity and challenge or reify gender norms is revealed.