“Fight Like a Girl”: Tattoos as Identity Constructions for Women Living with Illness

Veronika Koller 1  and Stella Bullo 2
  • 1 Linguistics and English Language, Lanacster University, Lancaster, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
  • 2 Manchester Metropolitan University, Manchester, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
Veronika Koller
  • Corresponding author
  • Linguistics and English Language, Lanacster University, Lancaster, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
  • Email
  • Search for other articles:
  • degruyter.comGoogle Scholar
and Stella Bullo
  • Manchester Metropolitan University, Manchester, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
  • Further information
  • Stella Bullo is a senior lecturer in Linguistics at Manchester Metropolitan University. Her research is in the area of socio-cognitive discourse analysis. Her current research is in the area of health and clinical communication investigating pain and discourses of gynaecological conditions, and endometriosis in particular, and cross-cultural discourses of health.
  • Search for other articles:
  • degruyter.comGoogle Scholar

Abstract

In this article, we explore the functions that tattoos worn by women with breast cancer or endometriosis have in constructing identities for the wearer and conceptualise the respective illness. Drawing on previous literature on multimodal communication, tattoos and illness, we analyse a sample of 59 different tattoos for their ideational function in constructing identities. A social semiotic analysis shows that lexemes, images, type fonts and intertextuality work together to construct dominant identities for the women wearing the tattoos: as a fighter or warrior, or as a sufferer. The first, metaphoric, identity shows hybrid gendering and constructs the illness as an adversary, while the identity as sufferer often has religious overtones, particularly for breast cancer tattoos. Subversive identities centre on despair or rationality, and as such constitute an alternative to social imperatives of either staying strong and fighting the illness or accepting one’s fate. We close by discussing in how far the tattoos do justice to the complexity of living with an illness and how our research shows the need to include visual stimuli in medical consultations.

  • Al Zidjaly, N. (2011). Multimodal texts as mediated actions: Voice, synchronization and layered simultaneity in images of disability. In: Multimodality in Practice: Investigating Theory in Practice through Methodology, S. Norris (Ed.), 190–205. London: Routledge.

  • Arruda, M. A. Z., Petta, C. A., Abrão, M. S., and Benetti-Pinto, C. L. (2003). Time elapsed from onset of symptoms to diagnosis of endometriosis in a cohort study of Brazilian women. Human Reproduction, 18(4):756–759.

    • Crossref
    • Export Citation
  • Atkinson, M. (2003). Tattooed: The Sociogenesis of Body Art. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

  • Autumn, E. (2012). Fight Like a Girl. The Asylum Emporium.

  • Bell, S. E. (2006). Living with breast cancer in text and image: Making art to make sense. Qualitative Research in Psychology, 3:31–44.

    • Crossref
    • Export Citation
  • Benwell, B., and Stokoe, E. (2006). Discourse and Identity. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

  • The Breast Cancer Fund, The American Cancer Society and The Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation. (1998). Art. Rage. Us: Art and Writing by Women with Breast Cancer. San Francisco: Chronicle Books.

  • Bullo, S. (2014). Evaluation in Advertising Reception: A Socio-Cognitive and Linguistic Perspective. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

  • Bullo, S. (2018). Exploring disempowerment in women’s accounts of endometriosis experiences. Discourse & Communication, 11(6):569–586.

  • Bullo, S. (2019). “I feel like I’m being stabbed by a thousand tiny men”: The challenges of communicating endometriosis pain. Health. .

    • Crossref
    • Export Citation
  • Butler, J. (2004). Precarious Life: The Powers of Mourning and Violence. London: Verso.

  • Cancer Research UK (2017). Breast cancer: Survival. Available at http://www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-cancer/breast-cancer/survival (accessed May 26, 2017).

  • Charity Commission. (n.d.). Find a charity: Advanced search. Available at http://apps.charitycommission.gov.uk/ShowCharity/RegisterOfCharities/AdvancedSearch. aspx (accessed May 26, 2018).

  • Culley, L., Law, C., Hudson, N., Denny, E., Mitchell, H., Baumgarten, M., and Raine-Fenning, N. (2013). The social and psychological impact of endometriosis on women’s lives: A critical narrative review. Human Reproduction Update, 19(6):625–639.

    • Crossref
    • PubMed
    • Export Citation
  • Dann, C., Callaghan, J., and Fellin, L. (2016). Tattooed female bodies: Considerations from the literature. Psychology of Women Section Review, 18(1):43–51.

  • Darling, R. (2017). Ellie Kammer: Endometriosis in Art. Available at http://www.thisisradelaide.com.au/rad-life/2017/6/26/n28qzxt1pbdcvyxu2gx9hj2np23vqr (accessed May 26, 2018).

  • De Graaff, A. M., D’Hooghe, T. M., Dunselman, G. A. J., Dirksen, C. D., and Hummelshoj, L., WERF EndoCost Consortium, … and Wullschleger, Martin E. (2013). The significant effect of endometriosis on physical, mental and social wellbeing: results from an international cross-sectional survey. Human Reproduction, 28(10):2677–2685.

    • Crossref
    • Export Citation
  • DeMello, M. (2000). Bodies of Inscription: A Cultural History of the Modern Tattoo Community. Durham: Duke University Press.

  • The Economist (2014). Inked in: Has the tattooing frenzy peaked? Available at https://www.economist.com/news/britain/21627663-has-tattooing-frenzy-peaked-inked (accessed May 26, 2017).

  • Edgerton, R. B., and Dingman, H. F. (1963). Tattooing and identity. International Journal of Social Psychiatry, 9(2):143–153.

    • Crossref
    • Export Citation
  • Endometriosis UK (n.d.). Information. Available at https://www.endometriosis-uk.org/information (accessed May 26, 2018).

  • Fairclough, N. (2003). Researching Discourse: Textual Analysis for Social Research. London: Routledge.

  • Flusberg, S. J., Matlock, T., and Thibodeau, P. H. (2018). War metaphors inpublic discourse. Metaphor and Symbol, 33(1):1–18.

    • Crossref
    • Export Citation
  • Forceville, C., and Urios-Aparisi, E. (2009). Multimodal Metaphor. Berlin: de Gruyter.

  • Ford, C. (2016). Fight Like a Girl. London: Oneworld Publications.

  • Fulgenz, K. (2018). Portrait pain scale. Tweet, 6 June. Available at https://twitter.com/KatbeeFulgenz/status/1004572494907359232 (accessed June 10, 2016).

  • Halliday, M. A. K. (1978). Language as Social Semiotic: The Social Interpretation of Language and Meaning. London: Edward Arnold.

  • Hinde, N. (2017). Selfless cosmetic tattoo artist inks 3D nipples onto cancer survivors for free. HuffPost UK. Available at http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/permanent-makeup-by-claire-louise-3d-nipples-for-cancer-survivors-free-of-charge_uk_58e39a22e4b0f4a923b1d213 (accessed May 26, 2018).

  • Kang, M., and Jones, K. (2007). Why do people get tattoos?. Contexts, 6(1):42–47.

  • Kimble, J. J., and Olson, L. C. (2006). Visual rhetoric representing Rosie the Riveter: Myth and misconception in J. Howard Miller’s ‘We Can Do It!’ poster. Rhetoric and Public Affairs, 9(4):533–569.

  • King, S. (2006). Pink Ribbons, Inc.: Breast Cancer and the Politics of Philanthropy. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

  • Klöpping, L. (2012).  Customs, Habits and Symbols of the Protestant Religion. Norderstedt: GRIN Verlag.

  • Kress, G., and van Leeuwen, T. (2006). Reading Images: The Grammar of Visual Design. 2nd Edition. London: Routledge.

  • Kristeva, J., and Moi, T. (1986). The Kristeva Reader. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.

  • Kronfeld, H. (2018). How did endo awareness month begin? Five fast facts. Available at https://www.endofound.org/how-did-endo-awareness-month-begin-five-fast-facts (accessed June 10, 2018).

  • Langman, L. (2008). Punk, porn and resistance: Carnivalisation and the body in popular culture. Current Sociology, 56(4):657–677.

    • Crossref
    • Export Citation
  • Martin, C. W. (2013). Tattoos as narratives: Skin and self. The Public Journal of Semiotics, IV(2):2–46.

  • Morley, J. (2013). Fight Like a Girl. Vision Films.

  • Norris, S. (2004). Analyzing multimodal interaction: A methodological framework. London: Routledge.

  • Norris, S., and Makboon, B. (2015). Objects, frozen actions, and identity: A multimodal (inter)action analysis. Multimodal Communication, 4(1):43–59.

  • O’Halloran, K. L. (2008). Systemic functional-multimodal discourse analysis (SF-MDA): Constructing ideational meaning using language and visual imagery. Visual Communication, 7(4):443–475.

    • Crossref
    • Export Citation
  • Office for National Statistics (2018). Cancer registration statistics, England: First release, 2016. Available at https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/healthandsocialcare/conditionsanddiseases/bulletins/ cancerregistrationstatisticsengland/2016 (accessed May 26, 2018).

  • Pitts, V. (2004). Illness and internet empowerment: Writing and reading breast cancer in cyber-space. Health, 8:33–59.

    • Crossref
    • PubMed
    • Export Citation
  • Pragglejaz Group. (2007). MIP: A method for identifying metaphorically used words in discourse. Metaphor and Symbol, 22(1):1–39.

  • Quackenbush, C., and Chen, A. H. (2018). ‘Tasteless, vulgar and obscene’: China just banned hip-hop culture and tattoos from television. Time, 22 January. Available at http://time.com/5112061/china-hip-hop-ban-tattoos-television/(accessed May 15, 2018).

  • Radley, A. (2002). Portrayals of suffering: On looking away, looking at, and the comprehension of illness experience. Body and Society, 8:1–23.

    • Crossref
    • Export Citation
  • Radley, A., and Bell, S. E. (2007). Artworks, collective experience and claims for social justice: The case of women living with breast cancer. Sociology of Health & Illness, 29(3):366–390. doi:.

    • Crossref
    • PubMed
    • Export Citation
  • Radley, A., and Bell, S. E. (2011). Another way of knowing: Art, disease and illness experience. Health, 15(3):219–222.

    • Crossref
    • PubMed
    • Export Citation
  • Schnitzler, M. (2017). Zhenya Zakhar verwandelt Narben häuslicher Gewalt in Kunstwerke. Brigitte, 23:7.

  • Semino, E., Demmen, J., Demjén, Z., Koller, V., Payne, S., Hardie, A., and Rayson, P. (2017a). The online use of Violence and Journey metaphors by cancer patients, as compared with health professionals: A mixed methods study. British Medical Journal: Supportive and Palliative Care, 7:60–66.

  • Semino, E., Zkrzewska, J. M., and Williams, A. (2017b). The art of medicine:Images and the dynamics of pain consultations. The Lancet, 389(10075):1186–1187.

    • Crossref
    • Export Citation
  • Sjoholm, B. (Ed.). (2016). So Much to Be Done: The Writings of Breast Cancer Activist Barbara Brenner. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

  • van Leeuwen, T. (2006). Towards a semiotics of typography. Information Design Journal, 14(2):139–155.

    • Crossref
    • Export Citation
  • Wilkinson, S., and Kitzinger, C. (2000). Thinking differently about thinking positive: A discursive approach to cancer patients’ talk. Social Science & Medicine, 50(6):797–811.

    • Crossref
    • Export Citation
Purchase article
Get instant unlimited access to the article.
$42.00
Log in
Already have access? Please log in.


or
Log in with your institution

Journal + Issues

Multimodal Communication is a venue for researchers in diverse fields of study, who explore varied & multimodal ways to conduct research & illustrate findings. It is open to papers from anthropology to art, math, psychology, science, & beyond. Articles share a commitment to developing multimodality and may use visuals/writing/sound to explore a theme; be highly theoretical or may be based on an empirical study integrating a number of modes.

Search