Just as a war hero is decorated with medals, others decorate themselves with tattoos. They both use their decorations to express different aspects of themselves. Often when people overcome an obstacle or show bravery they get a tattoo where a veteran has a medal to show off instead. Historically, tattoos have shown honor and rank. Tattoos can also express interests and personality. Tattoos are not, as many people think, merely contemporary fads designed for shock effect but rather they are adornments often of cultural significance going back into history.
Going back as far as tattoos do in history, let's look at why they got tattooed. First off, rites of passage. The most obvious use of body modification in rites of passage is to mark the body with a permanent reminder of an important event or stage in the individual's life. Because individuals see the decorations on their bodies every day, which commemorates important times in their lives, they will never forget it, and will also probably never forget how those times felt. Some people mark their bodies in a rite of passage because they feel they need to "move on to a higher plane of existence" (Gargulinski, 2). Comparatively, in modern times: By piercing and tattooing their bodies they show they are beginning to establish their own identities and they force their parents to see them as separate entities (Howard, 1). Arnold Van Gennep separates rites of passage into three phases: rites of separation, rites of transition, and rites of incorporation (Van Gennep, 11). He further divides initiation into a dual series of rites based on these three: first there is a rite of separation from the usual environment, then the individual is incorporated into the sacred environment, next is the period of transition, the individual is then separated from the sacred environment, and incorporated into the usual environment, as a new person (Van Gennep, 82).