Tattoos and Women

By Kali Nelson

you are enough in cursive with a blue, green, and purple watercolor background
You are enough with a watercolor background. Photo thanks to Brooke Butters

One of my best friends got her first tattoo at 19. It was on her foot and it said Hakuna Matata. This set something off in me, a desire to do something permeant like that. But I was not brave like my friend, I stuck to poking holes in my ears. Then came the movement when thousands of women, all at once, went out and got, she persisted, tattooed on themselves. My friend was strange, exotic, how could she a young woman who still lived at home get a tattoo. No one else I knew lived life so dangerously. Women, it had always seemed to me, did not get tattoos; it was not only morally wrong but would also lead to regret. These women were not women you wanted to be associated with, they were sluts, they had no sense of foresight, they’re boring, or they’re just mentally ill or selfish.

Women, tattoos, and piercings have always existed in a strange semi-world. Tattooed women are daring, and rebellious and take no shit.  But they are also seen as less womanly because they decided to ink themselves. Women with tattoos are automatically seen as immature or broken because they dared to take control of their bodies and commit to a single piece of art.

A line drawing of the state of Washington with an Evergreen tree inside.
A tattoo of the state of Washington with a evergreen tree inside.

Women with tattoos have always been seen as deviant to societies standards, but what if in the future to be heavily tattooed is a feminist act. Women for years have been telling themselves that the tattoo they get must be small, cute and most of all hidden. Tattoos on women, it seemed, could only be in a place no one would ever see. But now women get heavily tattooed (and by heavily tattooed I mean, big in your face ones, ones that take up their whole arm.) These women are, to me, examples of strong feminists; they dare to stand outside of the norms set by society for women.

Research shows that tattooed women face a greater chance of being sexually harassed than a woman without tattoos and are thought of as more promiscuous; as if a tattoo or two shall dictate your sexual preferences and or frequency. This is blatant slut shaming. Telling a woman that getting tattoos means they are sluts, contributes to slut shaming and to sexism in general because boys will never have to face this problem. Tattoos on men are seen as attractive, it may hurt them to get a skull on their arm, but not in the same way that it could harm a woman.

We think women can’t catch a break without tattoos, try having a lot. Heavily tattooed women are also more likely to be assumed to be in the LGBT community even though these women are not.  This not only wrong but harmful to the LGBT community.  By assuming that every woman with tattoos is a member of the LGBT community hurts them because it is a stereotype. It says that if your tattooed in a way that doesn’t fit societies mold, you must be a lesbian.

Tattoos on women are not inherently feminist, I will admit that, but women who go out and get themselves sleeves of tattoos (usually covering a whole arm) are being a feminist, even if they don’t mean to. These women are stepping outside of social norms, they are breaking the idea that a woman’s tattoo must be small, cute and hidden. These women go for bold, big, and well seen. By going for tattoos that break the social norm then these women are being a feminist whether they know it or not. While there may be some women that are not feminist in any other sense of the word that is not what I’m here to discuss.

A circle with two crescent moons on either side. A line drawing
A stick and poke on one of my friends of a moon flanked by two crescent moons.

Tattoos and women fight on because these women are fighting tooth and nail to earn a place at the table where they are respected. They have been seen as less of a woman for so long. Mothers with unconventional tattoos are judged and thought to not be as fit, women have to worry if their tattoos are covered enough to get a job, and these women have to deal with the input of others. Strangers come up and give these women their two cents about these women’s tattoos as if these women had asked. We as a culture need to stop this. Women with lots of tattoos are not less of a person, it shouldn’t be so wrong to get them either.

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2 thoughts on “Tattoos and Women

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