Sexy kick-ass ladies: urban fantasy heroines and their tattoos + a funny video

Abstract tattoo (aka tramp stamp) on lower back.

Image via Wikipedia

A cruise through the fantasy and horror section at a Borders bookstore reveals a smorgasbord of supernatural heroines. Strong, sexy, weapon-toting women pose on the covers, beckoning the reader to explore the action, violence, and hot sex sure to be inside. A closer look at the covers shows another similarity. Most heroines sport a tattoo. And not just any tattoo, but a “tramp stamp,” a lower-back parade of ink that peeks just above over their hip-hugger pants, which Germans call Arschgeweih, or ass antlers.

According to vanishingtattoo.com, the world’s largest online tattoo museum, “60 percent of all North Americans aged 18 to 30 years old have at least one tattoo.” In 2006, only 36 percent of people aged 18 to 25 had tattoos, according to the Pew Research Center. The supernatural has also seen a rise in popularity, from television shows like The Vampire Diaries and True Blood, blockbuster films like I Am Legend and Underworld, to books like Twilight and Frostbitten.

“Women’s bodies are supposed to be decorative,” says Robin Riley, a Women’s and Gender Studies professor at Syracuse University. “Tattoos make them more appealing, like styling their hair a certain way or wearing makeup.” And most of these heroines, like Mercy Thompson, Damali Richards, and Morgan Kingsley, wear their tattoos like an accessory. Some offer personal meaning to the characters (Mercy sports a paw print tattoo to represent her coyote shape; Damali wears a sankofa, an African symbol that signifies using history’s lesson to influence the present; Morgan got her sword tattoo at 15, just to make her parents angry), but they add nothing to the plot.

Other characters, however, possess tattoos that add to their magical ability, show that they belong to a certain class, or act as protection. Eugenie Markham sports four tattoos: a vine of violets on her lower back; a snake that represents the Greek goddess Hectate wrapped around her arm, which helps her cross between the human world and the Otherworld; a butterfly that represents the Greek goddess Persephone wrapped around her other arm, which helps her cross into Persephone’s domain of the Underworld; a moon which represents Selene, Greek goddess of the full moon, on her upper back, and gives her a connection to the human world. Cassandra Palmer, the protagonist in Karen Chance’s Touch the Dark, is a clairvoyant who grew up with vampires and became the Pythia, or the world’s most important seer. She possesses a tattoo of a pentagram inside a circle that acts as a ward, or protection from magical harm. And Maxine Kiss’s full-body tattoo unwinds from her body and acts as armor, a barrier between her and her enemies.

Whether these tattoos represent a part in the plot or a sexy decoration, they all make it to the cover, and all for the same reason. As urban fantasy writer Carrie Vaughn puts it, “they don’t really mean anything anymore, except to tell readers, “Hey! Sexy kick-ass lady here!”

Follow me on twitter for more fantasy media stories!

Check out this video, uploaded to youtube.com by scifiguy55, that pokes fun about the covers of a number of urban fantasy novels.

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