The ancient Greeks had their Sirens, whose haunting songs lured many a seafarer to his death. And the fifteenth and sixteenth century explorers returned to Europe with tales of sea creatures who had the heads and upper torsos of a woman and fishes’ tails instead of legs. They claimed that these mysterious and beautiful creatures were as deadly as the Sirens of old, and would lure men into the water by pretending they were drowning, only to squeeze their unsuspecting victims to death.
Sailors were the first to wear mermaid tattoos, possibly because they had no other way of capturing the mermaids’ beauty. For generations mermaid tattoos were seen exclusively on men who made their living at sea; but as tattoos became more widely accepted as appropriate for everyone, the exotic and glamorous mermaid began to show up on all sorts of arms and torsos. She appeared not only in her traditional forms, but also as water nymphs; fairies; and even characters from mainstream culture, like the cartoon character Ariel from Disney’s The Little Mermaid.
The mermaids in mermaid tattoos are invariably inked with long flowing hair which appears to be waving seductively in the water. The ancient often depicted Aphrodite, their goddess of love and fertility, with long hair; and the comb which is an element in both portrayals of Aphrodite and in mermaid tattoos had significant sexual meaning for the Greeks.
But mermaid tattoos, somewhat surprisingly, have become as popular among women as they have been for centuries among men. There is no denying that mermaid tattoos simply glow with mystery, femininity, and the hint of primal creative forces, and they are now decorating the shoulders and backs of as many females as males.