The subtle art of the facial tattoo

Last week I featured a facial tattoo that was not only large, but was also brightly colored.  Today I want to look at the other side of the coin.

Okvit uploaded this image of his facial tattoo, which I think is a good example of a smaller, subtle piece.


Before I talk about this specific tattoo, I want to take a step back to look at the art of facial tattoos and the significance they play in the wearer’s lives.  Now I obviously can’t speak from experience, and I would love to hear some stories from those of you who do have facial tattoos.  Now when it comes to visible modifications, the facial tattoo is probably one of the more drastic changes, at least to the unmodified world.  Our face, for the most part, is what people notice first about others.  When talking to someone, unless you’re a woman talking to a guy at a bar, chances are they’re looking at your face.  So when one chooses to modify their face, they are in essence changing the part of them that is seen the most.

The ramifications of this change differ from person to person, but the fact remains that any kind of facial tattoos are an intentional modification that will permanently alter the way you are seen by others.  But I’m saying things we already know.  What I want to focus on is what constitutes a subtle facial tattoo, or is any kind of facial tattoo significant enough to go beyond the realm of what most would deem “subtle”.

So looking at the lines above Okvit’s brow, would this fall into the same category as the girl who has the bright flowers covering half of her face?  Or does this qualify as a smaller piece that isn’t as significant?  Then again, I suppose it is all about context and who is viewing the tattoo vs. the wearer’s own feelings about the tattoo.  To the modified community, I think it’s safe to say that this piece is much more subtle than the other image, yet to those who are unmodified, does the same apply?

In the end, does it really matter?  I suppose the person sporting the tattoo cares about what it looks like to themselves, and the views of others are secondary.  Yet in a cultural sense, facial tattoos have always held a position of significance.  Be it the facial lines of the Ainu, or the masks of the Maori, over time many cultures have adopted facial tattoos as a means of transformation.  The tattoos can show familial and tribal ties, they can denote when a boy becomes a man, when a girl is ready to be married, or in many cases, as a form of intimidation towards their enemies.  So while today’s world is drastically different in many ways from the past, the facial tattoo has remained in a position of denoting a significant change in the wearer’s life.

I know that ModBlog has a lot of readers with facial tattoos and I would love to hear some of your stories about how things have changed for you, or if they haven’t at all.  Those without facial tattoos, what are your thoughts on them?  Are they something you would consider getting, is there a reason why or why not?

12 thoughts on “The subtle art of the facial tattoo

  1. i think that looks great!
    so does the big colorful piece on the woman last week.
    it doesnt matter alot to me if someone has a facial tattoo but i have to be honest with myself that a bigger piece on a woman is more striking to me! i think its downright sexy! i find it brave, bold and awesome.
    i also love it when folks just do it cuz they want to…

    for me, facials tattoos are one of the areas that i self-regulate. its the kind of thing i want to earn. maybe thru fatherhood, owning my own shop or brave deeds, like saving a life.
    its an area i want to keep for something special.

    another cool article Rob!

  2. i think this is by far the most beautifful and well suiting facial tattoos i’ve ever seen !

  3. I feel the same as peteD3 about earning a facial tattoo. I made a promise years ago to my mother that I would not tattoo my face until I was 25, but with my 25th birthday this week, I don’t feel that I’ve earned my facial tattoo yet. I used to be impatient to be 25 years old, now I’m impatient to be worthy of my mark.

  4. I have a fairly large facial tattoo (been featured here twice before), that I think falls somewhere between the “flower girl” and this particular tattoo as far as subtlety goes. It covers half of my face, but is only lines.

    Some people have told me that I didn’t deserve to be able to have my face tattooed because I don’t have completed “sleeves” yet. Some people have told me that I didn’t deserve to be able to have my face tattooed because I wasn’t old enough. Some people have told me that I didn’t deserve to be able to have my face tattooed because I wasn’t working in a professional career field at the time.

    Earning a facial tattoo can be interpreted many ways, by many different people. I don’t like the idea of having to “earn” my facial tattoo by basically running out of tattoo space elsewhere. I don’t like the idea of having to “earn” my facial tattoo by turning a certain special age. I don’t like the idea of having to “earn” my facial tattoo by achieving some kind of financial status. I think it should be personal.

    All in all, I do think discretion needs to be made on the part of the artist when considering doing a potential facial tattoo…all you have to do is remember the 52 stars fiasco to see what happens when you don’t use that kind of discretion! However, be careful with how harshly you judge potential facial work candidates as well. I’ve had my facial tattoo for several years now, and it is still my favorite tattoo. It hasn’t had any negative impact on my life. I may not have “earned” it according to some people’s judging criteria, but I think I had earned it in other ways.
    Get to know your potential facial tattoo clients– have several consultations! Learn about their lifestyle and way of thinking as well as considering the other factors.

    That is what I think really matters.

  5. Urgh…. I do realise you’re trying to write with poetic license, but calling taa moko a “mask” (as you put it “the masks of the Maori”) is a little insensitive. Masks are generally used to adopt a persona in ritual or performance, or to hide one’s identity, and taa moko kanohi (literally “face taa moko”) are not masks in any sense of the word. They are not about adopting a persona or hiding one’s true identity, but about a recognition of the birthrights and achievements of the person wearing taa moko.

    I do realise that a quick Google search of the term “kanohi” brings up the term “mask” in the Bionicle series of toys, and Lego has been notified countless times that using te reo Maori for their toy campaign is culturally insensitive. “Borrowing” Maori words and then distorting their meaning does nothing for te reo Maori.

    Annnnnywho, disclaimer aside, this is one of the more interesting facial tattoos I’ve seen on Modblog for quite some time. :)

  6. @Jon P: I agree with you completely. I should have gone into greater detail as I do know the significance behind the moko. For brevity’s sake I used a simplified term to distinguish between a small facial tattoo and a large one. My apologies if it offended you or anyone else.

  7. Since I got my facial tattoos, nothing has changed except the amount of compliments I get on them. Everyone seems to love them, even my SO’s mother who hates everything made a comment about how “simple and beautiful” they are. I’m shocked really, I was expecting the worst and got the best reactions ever!

  8. Toxic Sunset makes good points.
    i dont think anyone should place restrictions on others or make them earn their mods. we should only set those goals for ourselves.

    thanks Jon P.

  9. Wow, I’m kind of shocked that no one has pointed out the negative side of facial tattoos. I’ve had my chin and eyebrows done about 10 years ago now, and I think 7 for my jawline. In any sort of business setting you have to carry yourself VERY well, and it’s still a struggle. Even being in an art industry, facial tattoos are still damn near a blacklist.

    For every genuine compliment (I’m not talking AWWWW DOG DAT TIGHT! from the crackhead on the street) I would say I get 2-3 people coming up to tell me I have made myself ugly, I’m trashy because of facial tattoos, anyone who tattoos their face is disgusting, etc. I’ve had damn near every girl’s parents hate me due to facial tattoos. (Well one was my now-dead transdermal horns- she said I was demonic)

    You may as well be a child murderer the way a lot of people react to facial tattoos. Granted, these people are idiots you don’t want to deal with anyways… but still it’s pretty ridiculous. I don’t regret them, by any means, but constantly being told it was a bad decision, I’m ugly, I’m disgusting, etc really get’s old after a while. People really need to know what they’re getting into with facial tattoos. You really exile yourself from most of normal society.

    It also comes with a HUGE responsibility, you have to be a model citizen or it basically gives a bad name to everyone with facial tattoos. For business meetings, the first go around I was almost a joke. After I was serious and well spoken, people remembered “that guy with the facial tattoos” and it helped me out quite a bit. But you REALLY have to be on point in any business atmosphere and keep making a good impression.

    They make life 10 fold harder, but can also make things more interesting and let you see the true side of the world. It takes a strong person to deal with the bullcrap that comes with them… I have a lot of respect for people with facial tattoos… but it’s a MAJOR decision.

  10. Facial tattoo’s are tricky business. My first tattoo at 16 was a star the size of a quarter under my eye.
    I’ve received a fair amount of shit for it, its certainly made finding a job more difficult, but I don’t regret it, yet at the same time I refuse to advocate facial tattooing for anyone. It’s a choice that should be made individually for whatever reasons found meaningful enough.

    I love mine, its my favorite piece and i wouldn’t ever even consider having it removed, its as much as apart of me as my arms.

    Love his design though, the simplicity really appeals to me.

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