A rather inexplicable fashion trend has taken the world of body art by storm over the last decade — leopard-print tattoos. It's next to impossible to pin down the reason behind this spotted sensation, but the sheer number of leopard-print tattoos out there makes it difficult to turn a blind eye to the phenomenon. We decided to get to the bottom of why so many people get these exotic cats’ pelts permanently inscribed on their skin. Though it doesn’t definitively answer the question, here is the most convincing theory: brain parasites.
Our hypothesis begins with clothing. People have been wearing leopard skin since the dawn of man, but it wasn’t until the 20th century that leopard print appeared in high fashion. Because the price of furs skyrocketed during the 1900s, designers were forced to come up with an alternative. The pattern started showing up in clothing as early as the ‘20s and spread like wildfire; there are even photos of fashionistas like Ava Gardner and Elizabeth Taylor wearing it. Soon afterward, it moved into the mainstream, riding on the coattails of the off-the-rack revolution. By the ‘80s, it could be found bobbing up and down on spandex in aerobics classes and hair metal shows everywhere. Then in the ‘90s, it became body art.
While the history of fashion accounts for the rise of the leopard-print and how it migrated into tattoos through pop cultural osmosis, we think that the underlying cause could actually be scientific in nature. It turns out that people are drawn to felines because of a disease called toxoplasmosis that experts think is behind their “natural” affinity for cats. The condition comes from a parasite in cat feces that disables the innate fear of predators in its hosts by interfering with the synapses responsible for flight or fight. Some scientists estimate that it infects nearly one-third of the world’s population and is at the root of why we’ve domesticated felines over the course of several millennia.
Humans’ relationship with cats have grown so intimate that some people even believe they are cats or desire to be more feline in nature and appearance. There’s even a disorder known as “clinical lycanthropy,” in which individuals believe that they have transformed into members of other species, leopards included. This is a bit of a leap (and founded on nothing empirical whatsoever), but just entertain us for a moment. What if the entire history of leopard-print is actually the result of a disease that we contracted over thousands of years breeding cats down from their primal ancestors? It could be possible that the uncontrollable impulse to get a leopard-print tattoo is actually toxoplasmosis mitigating our thoughts and actions. We’re not saying it’s brain parasites, but it could brain parasites.
If you have any evidence, information, or data backing up these claims, please share it with us and hopefully your leopard-print tattoo, too, with #toxoplasmosis on the app and make sure to follow all of these artists on Instagram while you’re at it.