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Tattooing is an ancient art form that’s more popular than ever

We explored why tattoos are suddenly everywhere on our new Netflix show, Explained.

Tattooed woman
Image from Vox’s new Netflix show, Explained.

Just 50 years ago, tattoos were incredibly rare — largely reserved for sailors, bikers, or ex-cons. Today, tattoos are everywhere. In 2015, nearly one in three Americans had at least one tattoo. You see ink on athletes, musicians, movie stars and politicians. Tattoo parlors are featured in reality shows, and the industry holds conventions all around the world.

But the practice of marking our skin goes back to ancient civilizations, when tattoos served as a symbol of status, coming of age, or life achievements.

So if humans have always marked themselves, why are so many people suddenly getting tattooed now?

Vox tackled this question on this week’s episode of our Netflix show, Explained. We have new episodes every Wednesday on topics ranging from gene editing to the racial wealth gap to dieting and more. If you like our videos, then you’ll love this show; it’s our most ambitious video project to date.

To watch, search “Explained” on Netflix or go to Click the “My List” button to make sure you don’t miss an episode.

Learn more:

I have a tattoo on my lower back. Stop calling it a “tramp stamp.” (Allison McCarthy, Vox)

The Cultural Heritage of Tattooing (A TED Talk by anthropologist Lars Krutak, who we interviewed for this episode.)

Reviving the art of Filipino tribal tattoos (A profile featuring indigenous tribal tattooist Elle Festin, who we also interviewed.)

Japan’s tattoo master: inside his studio (The Guardian speaks with Horiyoshi III, a Japanese tattoo master interviewed for this episode.)

Tattoo Archive: Where Tattoos Tell The Story Of Time (A profile of C.W. Eldridge’s Tattoo Archive, a tattoo parlor and museum that explores the history of tattooing. We also interviewed Eldridge for this episode.)

The Feminist History of Women and Tattoos (A Time piece featuring Stephanie Tamez, a tattoo artist we also interviewed.)

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