I recently got another tattoo, and as such decided to dig up this old post and share it here. It was interesting and strange reading back over this after a couple of years and a couple more tattoos, not because I necessarily disagree with anything past me said (essentially I still hold it all to be true) but because how I view myself and my own identity has changed quite a lot. It’s pretty cool to look back and what I thought and said then and consider the ways in which my ideas and feelings have changed through only a few short years.
I’m planning on writing something of a follow-up to this piece discussing the significance of my latest tattoo, among other things, and I’ll delve into it a little more there. But for now, I wanted to share this old reflection on tattoos and social conditioning.
All three times I’ve gone to get a tattoo I’ve been as nervous about having some new ink jammed into my skin as I imagine most brides must be on their wedding day. I mean, I can’t divorce this shit (without some really awful laser removal nonsense that I will probably never be able to afford, anyway, and even then the scar will stick around). The pain of it doesn’t so much worry me – I find that after a certain amount of time the pain stops being bothersome, though it’s definitely still there. It’s mostly the idea that this thing is permanent – for reals permanent. But it’s also related to the way certain people might view me as a woman with tattoos as opposed to a woman without tattoos.
I didn’t actually ever think about this before I got my first tattoo, and I’m not entirely sure when I thought of it after getting said tattoo. Nonetheless it did occur to me at some point that by getting some ink I may have barred myself from the kind of romantic interests of certain people – a hypothetical interest on the part of a hypothetical person that I hypothetically might enjoy.
It’s quite silly to think about, really, but it’s a thing that occurred to me nonetheless (it’s a very mammoth-driven thing, if you know what I mean). Nonetheless, it is something that I thought then, and something that I thought about again a month ago when I got my third tattoo. This tattoo is not only more visible than my first tattoo (behind my ear and partially obscured by hair) it is also larger and significantly more noticeable than my second tattoo (a tiny Latvian symbol on the inside of my left wrist). This one is the ouroboros, placed on my upper left arm. While it invokes that sense of toughness that I spoke about in regards to my lip ring, it also invokes this weird sense of “Hey wait…that’s a sailor tat, right? Don’t only sailors get tats on their arms that aren’t, like, epic fucking sleeves?”
Well, no Naysaying Inner Voice, but nice try.
What Naysaying Inner Voice is trying very hard to convince me of is the fact that I have made myself less feminine and therefore less appealing by getting this tattoo – or really, any of the tattoos. Tattoos are a turn off for some people, which is fine (though I really don’t get it – I think a good tattoo is fucking hot). More Reasonable Inner Voice reminds me that people who are turned off by tattoos probably aren’t exactly my variety of people anyway, so why worry about it?
Because, in addition to the mammoth issue, I (and pretty much everyone in every culture everywhere – not just women and not just in my own culture) have been conditioned to appeal to and attract as many people as possible. Specifically in my culture and specifically in regards to women there is a definite sense of failure which accompanies not attracting a line of handsome suitors: it is the expectation that we do so, and that we find fulfillment in finding a partner to settle down with.
Getting a tattoo potentially cuts that hypothetical line of hypothetical suitors down by some degree, so sayeth Naysaying Inner Voice. And, unfortunately, Naysaying Inner Voice is propped up and supported by body-policing douche-canoes that show up everywhere in media, be it social or not. What comes to mind most readily is a list of traits which the ideal woman would not have compiled by a particularly ass-ish asshat which I stumbled across maybe two years ago (I’m really not going to bother digging it up – it was stupid and I don’t want to look at it again/give the guy more attention than he deserves). He would not, he said, date a woman who had, among other things, piercings or tattoos.
Why? Who knows. I would argue there’s a difference between something being a turn off and making a claim, like this man with his list of “flaws” did, that some characteristic (whatever it is) inherently lessens someone’s worth as a partner and by extension as a person. It’s messed up, really, to make that claim, but there are people making these claims everywhere all the time (and they’re not just men – women do it, too, to other women, to men, to trans or gender non-binary folk. Many people do it and they should really just stop and play nice now, m’kay?).
Encountering these folks with their sneering-down-their-nose-at-you judgments and critiques doesn’t only prop up my Naysaying Inner Voice while smothering my More Reasonable Inner Voice, they prop up everyone’s Naysaying Inner Voice and smother everyone’s More Reasonable Inner Voice. Furthermore, it’s a self-perpetuating problem because when we fall prey to the criticism that is projected onto us, we so often take that criticism and project onto someone else, who in turn may very well take that criticism and project it onto another person, and so on and so forth (this is the WORST game of telephone, guys).
Tattoos do not make a person inherently less feminine – or inherently less or more anything. They’re an expression of something which already exists inside of the person, and that’s it. Despite seeing so many beautiful women with beautiful tattoos that compliment their bodies and their minds and souls, my culture has been quite successful at teaching me that tattoos make a woman less feminine – and, as I’ve discussed before, it’s done an even better job of teaching me that there’s nothing more fail-tastic that a woman who isn’t feminine.
The thing is, none of that is true. It’s stuff made up by people like the aforementioned asshat with his list of flaws – people who police our bodies and manipulate our mammoth-brains into a twisted knot of self-conscious despair so they can trick us into partaking of certain social roles and whatever unnecessary product they’re selling. Nothing makes a person more or less feminine – unless they choose to identify and express as such, and even that doesn’t make a person more or less beautiful or more or less worthwhile. It makes them perfectly them – and that’s the thing that should be the most valuable in a beloved partner, not the number of tattoos they’ve collected over the years.