Flowers, tribal markings, cultural symbols, and even animals- lower back tattoos became popular in the late 1990s. They continued as a trend through the early 2000s. It was the era of low-rise jeans and crop tops, and the fashion style of these times gave lower back tattoos an erotic appeal. Eventually, these tattoos’ placement turned from a symbol of beauty and sex appeal to a societal stigma known as the tramp stamp.
Where did the tramp stamp name come from? How did something that was once so acceptable suddenly leave thousands of tattooed individuals with a sense of regret? Will the tramp stamp return? Let’s explore the rise, fall, and rebranding of lower back tattoos.
Lower back tattoos were all the rage back in the late 90s and early 2000s. In the early 1990s, the tattoo industry saw a spike in requests for lower back tattoos from women. While the style and vibe of the era started a trend for these tattoos, famous female celebrities heavily influenced the rise of popularity. Britney Spears, Aaliyah, Christina Ricci, Pamela Anderson, Jessica Alba, Angelina Jolie, Eva Longoria, Victoria Beckham- the list goes on of famous female celebrities proudly displaying their lower back tattoos at the time.
Lower back tattoos were soon accredited with a person’s sexuality because they were placed on what is considered one of the most erotic parts of the body. With low-rise jeans and crop tops being the fashion norm, the popularity of these tattoos was also heavily influenced by pop culture. We noticed an increased focus on women’s behind with the release of hit songs like Back That Azz Up, Shake Ya Ass, and The Thong Song. Soon, there was an increased demand for thong-line tattoos. They offered a little tease at what more there was to see below the belt.
Famous clothing lines like Juicy Couture sold millions of jewel-toned velour tracksuits that displayed the word JUICY straight across a women’s behind. For more than a decade, tattooers supplied a growing number of lower back tatts. Tribal designs with thick, swirling black bars in V-shapes or wide bands of interlocking flowers were tattooed on women everywhere who wanted to get a tattoo that resembled a thong sticking out of her jeans. Women flooded tattoo shops looking for cultural symbol tattoos, perfectly centered on their pant line to give viewers a sneak peek at their art while leaving something for the imagination. As quickly as these tattoos rose to fame is as quickly as they became a stigma of promiscuity.
SNL played an integral role in the prejudice and shaming that has come with this choice of tattoo placement. The earliest mention of the term tramp stamp can be credited to a 2004 Saturday Night Live skit that spoofed on guest Lindsay Lohan. This particular SNL skit didn’t simply use the term tramp stamp for the first time. It also fueled the stigma of regret that would soon be tied to lower back tattoos with a parody for “Turlington’s Tramp Stamp Tattoo Remover.” The skit was a tongue-in-cheek satire directed at party girls like Lohan, who went on to become middle-aged women who regretted their lower back tattoo choices in their younger years.
This was when we started to see the fall of the lower back tattoo. In the 2005 hit film Wedding Crashers, Vince Vaughn brought further awareness to the stigma with his line, “the tattoo on her lower back might as well be a bullseye.” Within months, the media onslaught reached from Australia and England to Canada and the United States. What was once considered a symbol of joy and beauty soon became one of shame. Women suddenly felt cursed by their tattoos as tabloids across the world renamed lower back tattoos as the tramp stamp, slag tag, bullseye, target, back bait, approach lights, and more.
Trashy tabloids weren’t the only media outlets adding to this stigma. In 2006, the Washington Post Observer of London ran an entire article on lower back tattoos. They now became solely referred to as tramp stamps. Studies were done all over the world to back up the claims. A Swami and Furnham study placed subjects with temporary lower back tattoos on local beaches to reveal the following observations:
Tyra Bank’s Promiscuous Girls, a panel of five women who talk about their sexual past, further discussed the term tramp stamp in 2007. Male audience members related lower back tattoos to “easy girls.” Banks had never heard of the tramp stamp term, but all five panelists stood up to show their lower back tattoos.
The release of the 2007 St. Petersburg Times article titled “The Curse of the Dreaded Tramp Stamp” was the nail in the coffin for this choice of tattoo placement. Soon eye rolls and society’s typecasting of women with lower back tattoos as “one of those girls” became the social norm.
In the mid-2000s, the tattoo industry began to see buyer’s remorse as women everywhere suddenly regretted what they felt were impulsive decisions of their youth. These above-the-butt tattoos started a backlash that pinned girls without tramp stamps versus girls with them. The good girls vs. bad girls war went so far as labeling women with tramp stamps as the ones you should just date and not plan to marry.
Further media chatter circulated concerns that women with lower back tattoos would face issues in their childbearing years. Concerns about epidural catheters spread across the world as claims suggested tattoo pigments would enter interspinous ligaments and lead to health issues. Some women even went so far as to pay hundreds of dollars for 10-20 excruciatingly painful tattoo removal sessions to put their regrets behind them for good. With such controversy over these tattoos, how could the trend ever reemerge as an acceptable form of art in our society?
Thanks to progressive social justice, we’re starting to see a rebranding of what was once a nasty stigma that left women feeling branded as a piece of meat. Feminists reclaim ownership of the formerly offensive language once tied to lower back tattoos that male chauvinists named the tramp stamp. It’s time to flip the script, and tattooers are all for it! Why?
There are several benefits to lower back tattoos that most people missed, thanks to the media hype. Believe it or not, tattoos on the lower back date back as far as 3200 B.C. when used for medical reasons. Mummified leaders found in burials in Central Asia from 500 B.C. also sported this 90s trend. Guess you can’t argue with history.
As we say goodbye to the tramp stamp stigma, we see all the benefits of lower back tattoos. When done right by a professional tattooer, you have the perfect place for a beautiful piece of art. Now you see it, now you don’t benefit from lower back tattoos allow clients to conceal their art easily. Since there is little fat in the lower back, it’s a perfect option for placement because there is less chance these tattoos will misshape over time. Additionally, lower back tattoos were initially designed to flatter a woman’s curves, making you feel as great as you look.
Today, getting a lower back tattoo doesn’t make you some sex-crazed nymphomaniac. Reclaiming and rebranding the tramp stamp isn’t just great for tattooers. It’s a move in the right direction for the entire tattoo industry and the clients it serves. After all, you now have another open space on your body canvas to tell your story. What will your next tattoo be?
As always, all content has been written by CA Tattoo Supply, based on our 30-year experience in tattooing. If you have read this and feel we have left out any pertinent information, please add your personal experiences to the comment section below.