Feminine Inking: On Women and Tattoos

8 Apr

The recent revelation of Jesse James’s infidelity against his wife, Sandra Bullock, has introduced the world to a tattooed lady named Michelle “Bombshell” McGee. If you have followed this story at all, you would know about the controversy being caused by McGee’s tattoos alone. Many have criticized McGee for her heavily tattooed body, but shouldn’t we be more concerned that she’s the type of woman to fuck your husband and sell the story to tabloids?

Kat Von D, pretty tattooed lady.

Where do conceptions about the “appropriateness” of tattoos on women come from? Notice that a lower back tattoo, once very popular among young women in the late ’90s/early ’00s, is now deemed a tramp stamp. If you get one of those, ladies, you’re just asking for it. And you know what “it” is. The stigma against women possessing large tattoos does not seem to affect men. When a man rolls up his sleeve to show you his tribute to Star Wars in the form of a Darth Vader tattoo, no one even seems to blink. A man with a tattoo is as masculine as the Marlboro man of yesteryear. But if a woman with a full colored sleeve of images that are probably meaningful for her walks into a crowded room, comments could range from, “Why would she ruin her skin like that?” or “She looks so trashy!” You get the idea. Tattoos reveal a double standard among genders, and as tattoos become more commonplace, women still seem to bear the brunt of tattoo criticism.

A recent conversation with the mother of one of my close friends revealed her disdain for tattoos on women. She told me about a woman she saw in 7-11 with a very shocking neck tattoo that read, “All Bitches Lie”. Okay, I’ll admit that getting “All Bitches Lie” tattooed on your neck over steps the boundaries of what might be appropriate to have tattooed on one’s neck, but maybe there’s a cool story behind it. Whenever I see a tattoo that catches my eye, I wonder what it was that prompted that person to get whatever it is permanently stabbed into their skin. I’m the owner of one tattoo – my astrological sign is on my right ankle – and I can assure you that years of thought went into this small tattoo. I’m currently considering another, but I will likely think about it for a while if it ever comes to fruition. I’m always impressed by those who can commit to large pieces on conspicuous areas of their body. I have an odd fascination with Kat Von D, a tattoo artist specializing in portraits and star of the TLC reality show, LA Ink. Kat Von D carries herself with the “Who gives a fuck?” attitude necessary to pull off large pieces of ink, and she’s gorgeous to boot. (Shameless promotion: Kat Von D has an awesome line of makeup at Sephora. You should try it.)

So what do you think about tattoos on women? Are they sexy? Are they inappropriate? What is it that causes someone to criticize what a woman does to her body? Perhaps it’s a conflict between the private and the public lives that women are expected to maintain. A woman is historically expected to appear chaste and respectable while in public, but in private, a man expects her to be a sexual firebomb. As Ludacris said, he wants “a lady in the street but a freak in the bed.” Tattoos are a very small part of this paradox, but relevant, nonetheless.

A woman whose name eludes me declared the following: “The difference between tattooed people and non-tattooed people is tattooed people don’t care if you have tattoos or not.” But if you’re tattooed, you probably don’t care what other people think of you anyway.

10 Responses to “Feminine Inking: On Women and Tattoos”

  1. constantineintokyo April 8, 2010 at 3:47 AM #

    Having a large tattoo myself, I think a lot of the dislike surrounding tattoos (in general) in a generation thing. For the most part, people in their early 20s seem to find tattoos beautiful, even sexy. Even people my age who don’t have tattoos (probably out fear or uncertainty about the commitment) love my tattoo. My parents and their generation, on the other hand, dislike tattoos and seem to associate it with a lack of education and ‘class.’ While this might have been true 20-30 years ago, I personally know several people with PhDs or PhD candidates who have several tattoos.

    As for women being tattooed, I believe that is a different story. I think a lot of the general dislike for heavily tattooed women boils down to the obsession that everyone seems to have with women, physical beauty, and aging. Even if people find that bleached blond 21 year old girl with full sleeves attractive and think her tattoos are beautiful, they can’t help but picture her (and her tattoos) when she is older and her skin is no longer as firm. In addition to the reaction ‘I can’t believe she’d do that to her skin!’ is ‘That’s going to look so bad when she’s 50.’ Please, by the time every woman is 50 people will be critical of her. Even if she’s still fantastically sexy, like Demi Moore, people will inevitably call her a ‘cougar’ or speculate on the amount of plastic surgery she’s had. Let’s not fool ourselves and act like the aging process is any more gentle to women who didn’t ruin their skin.

    Another problem is that women with tattoos are considered whores…or at least a little slutty. Particularly with the immense popularity of websites like SuicideGirls, people (our age) tend to strongly associate tattooed young women with sex, sexuality, and the erotic. Society just loves to tear apart women who are assertive and open with their sexuality…because GOD FORBID that a woman actually ENJOYS having sex. Tattoos are just a very ‘in your face’ way of displaying sexuality – beautiful art on beautiful skin is just plain sexy. Tattooed women are criticized because so many people cling to this prude idea that no decent, well-educated LADY can enjoy having orgasms and not feel the need to hide it away when she’s in public.

    People just love telling other people, particularly women, what they should do with their bodies.

    • Karl September 22, 2011 at 11:52 AM #

      Hello Constantine,
      I am a man and I love to see a woman with beautiful tattoos.
      I don’tv think that they are trashy at all, but find then sexy many times !
      And sexy is trashy to many people.
      I admire the guts those women have ti display their tattoos to the world.
      More power to them!

  2. Adaobi April 9, 2010 at 12:49 AM #

    Some women with tatoos are sexy jus like some men with tatoos are sexy. I always thought tatoos are a way to express yourself and if you can wear it will more power to you 🙂

  3. shoutabyss April 12, 2010 at 10:38 AM #

    I think sexy is as sexy does. If a woman is sexy, she’s sexy. I don’t think tattoos make or break the deal either way. And if she’s not sexy, tattoos certainly won’t get her the rest of the way there. Lastly, I think sexy is something beyond our physical shells, too.

  4. Marianne Erika September 9, 2011 at 11:00 AM #

    I am a young woman in my forties. several years ago I was tattooed under difficult to explain circumstances. I was very depressed and used to drink to excess.

    I still insist that it was done to me against my will, but can not prove it!
    I find it degrading and have heard a lot of negetive comments.

    The tattoos are on my arms from shoulders to wrists and I admit they were professionally done.
    They are nice tattoos if you like tattoos, I guess.

    Removing them is very painful and I can’t pay those exorbitant prices. And it would take years to complete!
    I am stuck with the damn things!!

    • Karl September 22, 2011 at 11:46 AM #

      Come on, Marianne, be honest now.
      Somehow yoy allowed ypurself to be tattooed. Even heavily tattooed, I understand.
      Was it not a sexual/sensuous experience for you to get tattooed?
      If you didn’t want those tattooes, would you not have fought againt it tooth and nail?
      I believe that your feelings are ambivalent?
      I bet your arms are done very well and that you (secretly) enjoy the hell out of it!
      Right or wrong?

  5. Marianne March 19, 2012 at 10:54 PM #

    Karl, that’s not fair! I was not in a stable mind in those days.
    Yes, it was a sensual experiencef or me when I was being tattooed, I admit that. And i sat there patiently for many hours. I thought it was fantastic of me to have the guts for tha. But now, I am very sorry that those bastards did that to me !!
    They knew very well, that I would be sorry !!!

  6. Christine September 6, 2013 at 9:12 PM #

    Marianne, even if your tattoo artist knows you will regret the tattoo later, unless you are drunk at the moment they will not stop you from getting that tattoo (they only stop you if you’re drunk because it can cause healthy risks). It is not their place to tell you if you will regret a tattoo, just like it is not their place for a sales associate to tell you that an outfit will look awful on you. They are professionals being paid to provide a service (in this case, art).

    As for the idea of the double standard of women being stigmatized for tattoos, I think being considered more sexual for having a tattoo (and strangers thinking they have the right to comment and call you sexy, even if they think it is a compliment) is also a double standard women have to deal with. Personally, unsolicited comments about my large tattoo being sexy are just as degrading to me as those about it being trashy. Just because I am a woman with a tattoo does not give people the right to objectify me, period.

    • Erica Latour March 16, 2014 at 11:00 AM #

      Well, baby, when you get a tattoo, you get the consequences too.


  1. Feminine Inking: On Women and Tattoos « Fixed Air | Tattoos For Girls - June 26, 2010

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