The Vagenda

Getting Inked

tattoo
 
 
Here are some things I was thinking about when I got tattooed:
 
  • how much it would hurt
  • the likelihood of my chosen design becoming the symbol of an extreme right/racist/sexist organisation at some point in the future
  • what would happen if I fainted from the agony whilst getting tattooed (more specifically: if falling from the table would leave me with an unfortunate tattoo-line across my body à la trying-to-put-on-lipstick-while-driving-over-speed-bumps  type mishaps)
Here are some things that were not specifically on my mind at the time of getting tattooed:
  • spaghetti
  • paper clips
  • making a feminist statement
Sure, at the time I had a little collection of personal reasons for paying someone to permanently scar me. But these days I actually have come to see my tattoo as a statement – yep, a feminist one – as a way of saying, ‘This body is mine, actually’. And that’s hella important because, as a woman, it sometimes feels like people don’t totally get that. 
 
It can be hard to remind people that your body is yours in a society where you can’t do ordinary stuff like walking down the street, dancing in a club or carrying a foetus in your womb without people thinking they can comment on/touch/tell you what you should be doing with it. A tattoo is a very personal act of self-expression, which also makes it an expression of independence. And a tattoo is an expression of ownership; it’s a bit like when you finally get a Barbie that doesn’t also belong to your older sister and you immediately cut all its hair off and everyone’s all like, ‘Why did you ruin Barbie?!’ and you’re all like, ‘Because she’s mine! ALL MINE. (And because you wouldn’t let me cut off my sister’s hair)’.
 
Because a lot of people will think you’ve ruined Barbie. You can get a huge amount of stick for ‘spoiling’ your body with a tattoo or four because a) you have ‘disfigured’ something that is actually a public commodity DIDN’TCHA KNOW, and b) the perfect woman is still the pure lookin’ kind. Now, basically, if my Dad decides to trade me for a Bentley or a really good bottle of scotch or something, the lucky guy might spot my tat, realise that I’m not a virgin, and totally bail.
 
Yep, that’s another thing about tattoos – people can tell a lot about your sexual history from your body art. In fact, I recently found out that my empowering (and pretty) declaration of how I-control-my-own-body-and-everyone-can-fuck-off-with-your-touching-and-your-opinions-now is actually a ‘skank flank’ (apparently that’s a thing), the easier and more immediate way of telling everyone that I’m a total slut without them having to so much as glance at my underwear drawer (where my SLUT KNICKERS would do all the talking.) 
 
Aside from the fact that ‘flank’ is a term previously exclusively used for pieces of meat, it’s also exhausting having to continually explain that the way a woman chooses to decorate herself (be it with permanent ink, clothes, shoes, face paint, whatever) is not a coded way of telling The General Public about how much we want to have sex/get raped. Although Urban Dictionary helpfully clarifies that ‘Not all women who have tramp stamps are sluts. Some see it as a form of artwork’ – so modern! So liberal! – there are still a lot of people who aren’t as open-minded as the UD’s forward-thinking contributors. These yokels will tend to read your body art as a veiled message about how ‘easy’ you are. Because they’re perceptive like that, and they know all about the pure virgin/dirty slut dichotomy.
 
Now, there are awesome women with tattoos flying the flag for all of us. Kat von D, for instance, puts a lot of energy into proclaiming that her body is hers and she’s more than happy to challenge the boundaries of conventional feminine beauty. I’d argue that those who oppose her are using nothing more than a shame-based method of social control which should have got old centuries ago: the idea that a woman’s value depends upon how she is viewed by men, and therefore our bodies are best preserved in a generic, inoffensive form. But you know what my tattoo says to that? I won’t tell you, because it’s fucking rude.
 
And yes, maybe I could make that message even clearer by just having this article tattooed on my body – it’s crossed my mind. But this is a lot of words and that would be a whole back piece, PLUS an excuse for guys to try and lift my top off without my consent because, like, why did I get it done if I didn’t want people to see it?
 
But if enough people read this and agree with it, we can perhaps all get one or two words tattooed safely on our faces. Or, y’know, you could just spread the word; whatever floats your boat. It’s your body, after all.
 
-SW

9 thoughts on “Getting Inked

  1. Loved this – had never looked at tattoos from this angle before but I think you’re absolutely right. It always annoys me too when people think they can extract knowledge about your sexual orientation/class/nature/how educated you’ve been, purely from observing things you’ve chosen to do with your body.

  2. “A tattoo is a very personal act of self-expression, which also makes it an expression of independence. And a tattoo is an expression of ownership; it’s a bit like when you finally get a Barbie that doesn’t also belong to your older sister and you immediately cut all its hair off and everyone’s all like, ‘Why did you ruin Barbie?!’ and you’re all like, ‘Because she’s mine! ALL MINE.”

    This nicely sums up why it is that tattoos often come across as symbols of radical immaturity.

    • The point is that people with tattoos do not have to justify themselves or why they’ve got their tattoos to people who don’t. After all, their body is of nobody’s business but their own.

      It’s called personal choice, not ‘radical immaturity’.

  3. Apparently, having 3 stars on my bicep and another 3 on my forearm makes me a lesbian. The more you know. Luckily no one’s told me that women shouldn’t get tatts, my chronic bitch face is enough of a warning. I have read a lot of comments saying that tattoos mean the person is impulsive. Which is stupid, and what’s wrong with being impulsive? My dad’s great though, when I explained to him what a scaffold piercing was he said “go for it girl!” and when I did he loved it.

  4. Love this – I have several large tattoos and my mother despairs that I have “mutilated my body” – I like to emphasize that it is MY body. I love my tattoos – I dislike the fact that people seem to feel that they can judge my character by what I choose to depict on my skin.

  5. I love your archive/about/followers/subscribe bar on the right hand side. It’s EXACTLY in the same place as Chrome’s scroll bar meaning you can’t actually use the scroll bar. I’m, ahem, assuming the coding on this site was done by a woman….?

  6. I am an American man of 43 who was born and raised in Las Vegas, Nevada. I have seen many tattooed people in my time. People that get tattoos remind me of the people who always flip you off in pictures (raise their middle finger) or who constantly stick their tongue out. They feel controlled and repressed and getting ink is their way to regain control or composure. It’s is a trendy version of self-expression that does seem a little impulsive! It also seems to be a way for ordinary people to feel ‘special’ in this anonymous, overwhelming world of 7 billion competitors…it’s a way to stamp your personal claim to fame that so many rock stars and ‘cool’ actors (Johnny Depp) use to define their unique selves. I remember Ozzy Osborne once lamented, “If you want to unique, don’t get any tatoos.”…or something to that effect. I have considered getting my favorite cat of all time tattooed over my heart…but feel that I would only be attracting attention to a very tragic part of my life…I imagine that I would get tired of explaining the story of how she met a tragic, untimely death! But just as Nietzsche once wrote, “A joke is an epitaph of an emotion.” I believe a tattoo is an epitaph of an emotion! I just like to keep my personal feelings private! I think most tattoos are bewildering to average onlookers. A tattoo is like crying in public, or wearing armor. It’s like…look at me, this is who I am…or, don’t fuck with me! I prefer the element of surprise versus wearing my heart on my sleeve…but I have no problems with you showing me who you are, or once were, or want to be!!!!!!

  7. ‘Aside from the fact that ‘flank’ is a term previously exclusively used for pieces of meat,’

    Just plain wrong. The word has always meant the section between hip and rib on a person (as well as an animal) and also ‘the side’ of something in general.

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