The Tattooed Lady: A History

by Lisa Kirchner

Today, tattoos on women are about as rare as birthmarks, but once upon a time, being inky was considered kinky. In this artful book, Osterud explores how, beginning in 1882, a few brave ladies bared (almost) all for their tattooists and then showed off their body art in sideshows.

To not be treated as deviant or sick, these women had to literally stay under cover in their real lives, but on the road they made good moola flaunting their elaborate tats. Interestingly, their show bios were just as elaborate–fictional tales that involved being tattooed against their will by savages (punctured purity was how a news article described one tattooed lady). Despite their constraints, these working-class women were pioneers, according to Osterud, because they traveled and earned their own income during a time when most women led staid and dependent lives; plus, they paved the way for future female tattoo freaks.

The Tattooed Lady doesn’t offer the most (sk)in-depth history of women and body art, but it does provide a fun peek into the lives of several early-sideshow gals and a few contemporary tatted-up performers. And though many of the photos come from the same source, what fantastic photos they are: beautiful vintage shots revealing intricate ink. Buy this book for your favorite body-art buff or for your own tattoo artist.

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Founded in 1993, BUST is the inclusive feminist lifestyle trailblazer offering a unique mix of humor, female-focused entertainment, uncensored personal stories, and candid reporting that tells the truth about women’s lives.

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