"Why are these covers featuring tattooed heroines so phenomenally popular that publishers are actually featuring tattooed women even though they’re not integral to the story within? Is it because female readers want to temporarily escape reality and live life vicariously through these edgy heroines and male readers want to enjoy their literary escapism by being these sexy protagonists’ love interests? And what’s so significant about the tattoos? Do they symbolize on some level a fusion of danger, unbridled sexuality and arcane mysticism?"I think the reason goes back to how female characters are portrayed in paranormal romance (as well as modern urban fantasy). Tattoos are another short-cut that are supposed to give the illusion of strength. Although the social acceptance of tattoos has increased over the past few decades, and I'd argue their use in covers is a definite ploy to bridge the generational gap, tattoos are still considered taboo in white, middle to upper class culture. They represent a certain amount of "edginess," an attempt to portray the character as more fringe or "Other" than they really are.
I don't think their use (in cover art or characterization) are as negative as other elements that are frequently included in how women are portrayed in PR and UF, and I can even see how an increase of women with tattoos is empowering. But I do believe it's important to question why and how the use of tattoos represent danger, sexuality, and the paranormal, as well as who they impact. If a female character's otherwise insignificant tattoo is being played up to draw attention to a cover, then to me that says the other traits of the female character and the story itself aren't nearly as important as this one little aspect that's being used, in the span of a glance, to summarize a woman.
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