We love tattoos! It’s a huge trend these days and it’s seen as a form of self-expression in Western society. However, there exists a stereotype in South Asian communities which portray inked women as uncultured and/or over-sexualized.

Most South Asian women who have or plan on getting tattoos, often wonder: “Will the tattoo show if I wear a saree?” or “Will I be judged by relatives at functions?”  These fears of facing judgement from the South Asian community often hinders the choices of  where they get tattoos, and consequently how comfortable they are when wearing cultural clothes afterwards. Our inspiration for this project comes from these same fears that we’ve faced before, during and after getting our tattoos.

This year’s edition of Culture Shock aims to redefine these stereotypes and empower South Asian women to overcome these fears and live their truth.



The art of tattooing is a beautiful and cultural practice with roots in South Asian culture. It is an ancient custom dating to as far back as 1000 B.C in South Asia. Many South Asian cultures have long regarded tattoos as essential aids in life and as gateways into the afterlife.

People used tattoos for many purposes such as protection from evil, to mark their tribes/castes, to perform spiritual ceremonies, and for medicinal purposes to name a few. The skin was their canvas, and sticks and other pointy objects were their paintbrushes.

In the early 20th century, women were the predominant gender to get tattoos in South Asia. Popular tattoo designs included: a black dot on the forehead or chin to cast away the evil eye, a lotus for the goddess of wealth, and designs derived from “kolam” patterns.


Tattoos may have evolved into a popular trend in today’s Western society, but it has deep roots in not only South Asian cultures, but many native cultures and communities all over the world. Let’s reclaim our roots and redefine the way we perceive inked women rocking cultural clothes!

Wardrobe: Your Saristas
Jewellery: Swasam
Makeup and hair: Makeup By Raman

2 Comments on “Culture Shock: Tattoo Edition

  1. Reblogged this on Nila Sivatheesan and commented:
    It’s an amazing feeling when ideas come to life! One lazy afternoon in October, sitting under the fan trying to keep cool from the Chennai heat in India, it suddenly occurred to me that it was so hard to find pictures of women rocking both tattoos and cultural clothes. Now, this project has turned into the first of an annual series called Culture Shock, which aims to redefine common cultural stereotypes. Check out the first edition on Tattooed South Asian women.


  2. Pingback: Musings: Goals for 2017 – NILA SIVATHEESAN

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