Reflecting upon “Tattooing the World” and many of the recent articles I could not help but think of the following correlations: tattoo, clothing, identity, conformity and rebellion. Within these elements, we have discussed tattoo as clothing, but furthermore, through conformity and rebellion it has also become a symbol of identity. Once I drew this connection, I immediately thought of my students at St. Mary’s. While the eighth grade population does not generally have tattoos, they do however use clothing as “a primary form of signification that indicates who does and does not belong” (6). In short, their particular styles of clothing determine their standing within their “eighth grade culture” just as the tattoo serves as an indicator of social standing in the Pacific.
Especially as a female, I can remember the trials and tribulations of shedding my comfortable “kiddie” clothes and moving on to the more trendy styles, or simply the styles that coordinated with my newer, older, self. I see this again in the students at St. Mary’s who come in each week with new jackets, earrings, necklaces, hats, and hooded sweatshirts- both males and females- searching for their new look, or the look of mature flattery. Similarly, “Tattooing the World” states that the art of tattoo “…was, and still is, about metamorphosis, about change, about crisis, and about coping too; and…is a strategy too, a means of encounter, an expression of self” (11). Therefore, like the tattoo, the students have used their clothing as this right of passage; this metamorphosis into a new stage or era of their lives. Their clothing allows for this change, through a means of substantial transformation on their own terms, by their own means. They may not have the power of preventing growing older, but through clothing they do however, have the power of expressing how they interpret their older self.
The previous analysis leads to my next observation: conformity. Because the students are in fact a part of the eight grade community of St. Mary’s their clothing does rely heavily upon this aspect of their “culture.” The students are then expected to wear their uniforms. This includes, shoes, socks, skirts (for girls) pants, ties, (for boys) sweaters, vests, and belts that all carry the St. Mary’s emblem. Therefore, just like the tattoo, while it is a form of expression, it is also conformity, or paying tribute to community. Thus, clothing like “tattoo involves more than aesthetic. The practice also conveys an ethic…of responsibility to one’s family and community” (12).
After thinking further about the students clothing, I instantly began to recap “flashy” and over-the-top accessories and additions to their uniforms. The more I thought about it, the more I began to wonder if these were more than just an expression of ones self, but in fact a rebellion by some to their uniform, or required conformity to their St. Mary’s community. I remembered the discussion of the Moa-e-tahi and others within “Tattooing the World” and how they used “tattoo to defy the new laws and the missionaries who helped introduce them” (25) by using language they learned in the schools their oppressors set up, the same language their oppressors spoke, to write their tattoos. In conjunction with this idea of rebellion I concluded that some of the students were in fact wearing their excessive accessories simply as a “sign of protest, a banner” of the eighth grade, rather than of the school.
These constitute an interesting idea then. It is clear that the students clothing provides for them what tattoo provides the sovereign people of the Pacific. What is additionally interesting is that in their expression of identity they both conform and rebel against one particular community to better exemplify themselves. This then confirms that clothing like tattoo “involves both surface and depth [that] makes visible the simultaneous intensification and joining of the interior and the exterior” (18).