Art, For My Sake: the Cons of Tattoos

As I watched the colour draining from my mum’s face when I told her I had booked my first tattoo appointment, I was more than prepared for her to joke about disowning me. A few weeks later, when she was the one helping me rinse the blood off my new open wound for art’s sake, I was surprised to get her seal of approval. However, not everyone is so understanding. Although society appears to have reached the mainstream acceptance of tattoos, there’s still some challenges to being tattooed in 2017.

One thing I didn’t realise about tattoos until I got a visible one myself was how easily the addition of some ink on your arm could turn you into a public spectacle. One of the main things people with visible tattoos are often met with is an inquisition on the meaning behind their pieces. Personally, I’m not someone who advocates that tattoos need to have a deeply personal meaning to be valid, but for some people a meaning is a necessary condition to justify having one. Someone’s reasons for permanently inking their body are entirely their own, but even if someone’s tattoo does carry a deeply personal attachment it seems strange to think you’d be entitled to ask intruding questions. After all, is there any other reason anyone would ever ask about such private matters in any other scenario? Some people seem to perceive curiosity about tattoos as granted access to ask nosey questions and make intrusive comments about your body and sometimes your life, too. I didn’t sit confined in a chair having needles pressed in and out of me at a rapid pace without thinking about it prior, and you’re patronising, sanctimonious concern over how I’ve altered my body is a much less tolerable thing to stomach, in all honesty.  Nevertheless, this is something that tattooed people have to endure whenever their art is on display. It’s almost a given that if someone’s modified their body in such an obvious way that they must be gagging for the attention; so your invasive questions surely aren’t intruding on any social norms, because it’s different. They’re asking for it.  

That brings me onto the touching. Ah yes, the stranger’s compulsive need to physically grab your body and examine your tattoo in close proximity without consent, or even prior warning, is one you’ll be familiar with in no time. There’s a strange cognitive dissonance that seems to occur with people wherein it’s suddenly totally acceptable to just grab someone’s arm and indicate to their tattoo, as if they’d forgotten it was there. (Which, sometimes I do; but that’s not the point.) This shouldn’t be said, but because I’ve witnessed that some people obviously need to relearn this fundamental life lesson: just don’t go around touching someone without their consent, okay? Not even if you’re just trying to admire their tattoo close-up. I can guarantee that if you compliment someone’s work, and then ask to see it in more detail, you’ll both have a much more pleasant interaction.

But, I’m willing to forgive the above instances in light of a one-on-one encounter I had last year, merely a few months after getting my first tattoo. This horror story began on a first date, and initially this guy complimented my tattoo (polite compliments are always welcome) but an hour or two later things took a strange turn. He went on to make the general claim that women with tattoos had ‘more testosterone’ than “regular” girls (whoever that description applies to) and that, because of this, we were more likely to have higher than the average number of sexual partners, and engage in more risk-taking behaviour. Y’know, because we’re delicate girls who’ve tainted our puritanical image forever. He also claimed that we’d be less likely to commit, because nothing says fear of commitment like getting something permanently inked into your skin for the rest of your life, right?

This rampantly misogynistic attitude regarding tattoos on women specifically is particularly concerning; the previous instances were annoying, and irritating, but symptomatic of a general misunderstanding and ignorance, not a targeted maliciousness seeking to undermine the choices of women. This highlighted to me that stereotypes about tattoos, specifically regarding women, continue to thrive in the same way they always have.  

[Stacey Anderson – @staceyanders0n]


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