Huffington Post blogger Irene Rubaum-Keller is having a mid-life crisis. She’s even thinking about doing something really crazy, like getting a tattoo (!). Clearly, she has some misgivings, because she posted a Facebook poll, where she “found that people have very strong feelings about tattoos in general, and tattoos on women in particular. The responses I got were: ‘Pure Trash.’ ‘Do It!!!!’ ‘Reminds me of the concentration camps.’ ‘I guess it’s OK as long as it has meaning for you.’ etc…” [Huffington Post]
Now, besides the fact that you probably shouldn’t make the decision to get a tattoo or not based on what randoms on Facebook have to say about the matter, the first response she listed gave me pause. Does the whole “women who get tattoos are ‘trashy’ stigma” actually still exist? Do females tend to feel more shame when it comes to their ink? While I hate the idea that any of this might be true, I also have to confess that I do have a tattoo that I feel pretty bad about from time to time.See, my ink is your basic “tramp stamp,” i.e. the term for women who get a tattoo squarely on their lower backs. While I guess I can acknowledge the humor in recognizing that this stereotype kind of does exist, it’s infuriating that there’s no similar term out there for men who get tattoos. So I got a tattoo on my back? Does that instantly make me a slut? White trash? No, of course not, but it doesn’t keep me from feeling somewhat self-conscious in a bathing suit ever since I learned the term existed. Will people think I got this inked during a drunken spring break in Cancun with my sorority sisters, or that I got it because lower back tattoos are supposedly “trendy”? I know I shouldn’t feel insecure about it, but I am. And I’ve certainly been placed in situations where I’ve felt the need to make fun of its placement, such as the time I engaged in a super awkward conversation with the boyfriend’s family after someone brought up the term “tramp stamp” without knowing that I was a card carrying member of the club, (but that’s another story … ). Let’s just say I was able to laugh it off, but the whole situation was a bit brutal. Instead of making fun of it, why didn’t I simply defend my right to place permanent ink anywhere on my body I goddamned please?
Still, it seems easy (and deserved somehow!?) to laugh at women with dolphins and Celtic bracelets on their ankles, but men don’t get nearly as much flack for their dumb tats. Steve O. is “hilarious” for wearing an image of his own face on his back, and guys with hearts that say “mom” on them are typically cast as bad-ass rebels or at worst, ironically hip. A guy with a tattoo on his chest isn’t judged for being sexually loose, nor do we instantly make the assumption that he grew up in a trailer park.
And, of course, there is the notion of the “classy” lady tattoo. Angelina Jolie springs to mind, as does a friend’s mother who has a very elegant, meaningful name on the inside of her wrist. While it’s relatively recent that the idea of the woman proudly wearing ink is acceptable in our society, it seems that the notion itself is tolerable provided it’s either subtle or worn on a famous woman who is such a sex bomb that she could make a dowdy pantsuit sing.
I guess my advice to the seemingly ambivalent Rubaum-Keller would be, eh, stick with a temporary tattoo, and I only say that because if you’re not sure about getting a tattoo you probably shouldn’t since removal is a real bitch. (And for the record, I would rather end up building on my own than get rid of it altogether.) But when it comes to people who make women feel shameful about their tattoos, my advice would be to please stop being such a d-bag, thanks.