Why So Many Sailors had Tattoos of Naked Ladies

23 Nov

Tattoos were a sailor’s talisman, rabbit’s foot, and security blanket all rolled into one permanent lucky charm. They tattooed what they hoped for – both the positive and the absence of negative.

Tattoo Symbolism
A pig and/or rooster meant that you wouldn’t drown. Since neither animal can swim, their presence in tattoo form would float to the water’s surface, bringing you with them. Makes perfect sense to me.

Propellers would bring you  to shore. Eyelids let you know when someone’s watching you – a handy aid when picking up new crew at port.

And why the naked woman? A calm sea. Sure… that’s a way to apply symbolism to to the symbol! But here’s the rub: in 1908 the U.S. Navy banned offensive tattoos, including the abundant and voluptuous naked ladies. So artists made a fortune painting hula skirts and shell bikinis to cover their, um, glory.

Origins of Tattoos
The word “tattoo” comes the Polynesian practice of “tatau,” which were traditional indelible markings. They’re named for the sounds made as the needle tapped. The practice and name were picked up by the British during eras of exploration and/or occupation.

So ultimately, all the folks today with the abandon and simultaneous commitment of a tattoo, have sailors to thank for popularizing the art.

How do I know these things? From a visit to the Mystic Seaport in Connecticut.

What symbol what you create to guide your passage?
What existing symbol has meaning to you?


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