tattoo you

I’ve been noticing a disturbing and deeply tacky trend online of people being really insulting to those of us who are inked. I hit my limit of tolerating such bigotry the other day when the owner of a shop who follows me on twitter tweeted about how “disgusting” tattoos are. Well, you just lost ANY chance of having my business, and your attitude is a lot uglier than any tattoo could be.

It’s no secret that I’d erase some of my tattoos if I could – some because I got them really young & I’ve changed, and some because I do feel like they limit the way I dress. Others I can’t see ever getting sick of – in fact, my biggest tattoo is my favorite. I struggle a fair amount coming to terms with the permanence of some of my ink – I can adore it on other people, but get frustrated at some of my own choices.  I feel like I do internalize other people’s nasty views of tattoos, even when I consciously try not to. It’s really damaging to my self esteem and self worth – and I only feel this way because it’s a prevalent message in society. Having tattoos doesn’t make me a bad person, or a lesser person. It seems insane to me that otherwise seemingly decent people can be so bilious over someone’s skin. For all they know, the person they’re trashing has a better job, a better education, and most assuredly a better attitude about their fellow humans than they do.

Some of my favorite ladies with tattoos include the girls of catbird, who all just seem to ooze effortless cool, Gala Darling, who’s sleeves set off her style in a perfect way, and pretty much everything on Enhabiten’s Pinterest board.



  1. Aw! Thanks! I clicked on this link as soon as I saw it in your Twitter feed because it’s always an interesting topic, I think. My husband is tattooed from neck to foot, & used to wear long-sleeved shirts even in the middle of summer because of the looks & comments he got from people… Even in NYC, which you would think would be such an open-minded place! Some old guy was shaking his head at him in disgust for almost the duration of a subway ride the other day… Needless to say, my husband had some choice words for him ;D But yes. Sometimes I wish I didn’t have any tattoos at all, which people are surprised to hear. But, well, they’re not going anywhere…

  2. I conceal my good-sized tattoo for work, which makes me privy to the occasional conversation about tattoos that assume I’m part of a secret club of the Elegant Un-inked. Most discussion of tattoos seem to be coded speech for classism and it embarrasses me for them.

  3. i don’t have any tattoos myself, and really love the stories peoples tattoos can tell. but often i wonder, even if i weren’t an admirer of tattoos if i could really be alright with making knee-jerk assumptions about complete strangers based on their choice to tattoo they bodies. i don’t understand why this is such a difficult concept for people to understand.

    also, amber of fight boredom has written more than a few posts on what it’s like to be a young, heavily tattooed woman. the good and the bad sides, of course.

    1. So much of what I get is ALSO based on the fact that society thinks they “own” women – “But you’re so pretty, why would you DO that to yourself?”

      A whole other conversation…

  4. I know people do, but I usually can avoid making snap judgments based on tattoos vs. clear skin. I think it’s because I’ve known people from so many different backgrounds who’ve gotten them, so I know folks have all kinds of reasons. And they’re so prevalent now that it’s surprising to me that so many people still hate on them. I do have to admit that I will still judge someone (a little) if their tattoo is patently stupid (Yosemite Sam? Please.), but all those you linked to are simply gorgeous.

    1. I feel like I have to amend this to add: Somehow the ubiquity of comment fields has eroded the common decency to keep one’s own opinions to one’s self. “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all,” still applies, and we have all sorts of tenets of etiquette to guide behavior when our opinions and personal judginess threaten to get the best of our good intentions. So, in the instance where I might not like someone’s choice of tattoo, I still don’t get to say anything about it, or treat them poorly. In sum, Opinions: we all have ’em. Manners: we should use them.

  5. I have totally judged tattoos in the past. Mainly because people I know who have gotten them hadn’t really considered them (like ahem…my sister). But as I’ve gotten older, people I know have chosen tattoos that are really meaningful to them and it makes a lot more sense to me. In a lot of ways, I’m jealous that people have a strong enough sense of style or something they know they’ll care about long enough to have it permanently put onto their bodies.

    1. It doesn’t matter, though. Even if your sister didn’t take the time to consider the perfect tattoo, having it doesn’t make her slutty or trashy or any of the hateful nonsense people spout.

      1. Nah. The tattoos don’t make her trashy or such. I think it’s more that I judge a LOT of her unconsidered choices, not just the ink type.

      2. It’s foreign to me, I guess is what I’m getting at. It was just unheard of EVERYWHERE when I was growing up and in college. It was judged really harshly and I guess I internalized a lot more of that than I thought.

    2. I totally judge people’s tattoos also. What’s more difficult is to keep from judging people BECAUSE of my judgement of their tattoos. Flawed and opinionated as I may be, at least I know to keep those petty judgements to myself.

      1. Ok, BUT. “That tattoo looks stupid” (which is what I’m assuming you mean) is VASTLY, VASTLY different than “that person is clearly a lower form of human than i am” or “tattoos are disgusting and anyone with one is trash” – which is more what I’m seeing online (hell, the judgment room that is Pinterest alone…)

  6. Last year, a very popular design blogger wrote about her plans to get a tattoo, and the commentary that followed shocked me. So many people took the time to say that tattoos are tacky, dated, that they make you look cheap and not “classy,” and so on. I kind of couldn’t believe it, because I kind of think of myself as being an anomaly for NOT having any tattoos.

    I dunno. I feel pretty strongly about people having the right to do whatever they want with their appearance, whether it’s a tattoo or plastic surgery or a piercing or a haircut or whatever. Of course those things will shape how the rest of the world views us (and that’s often part of the reason why we might choose to mark ourselves in a certain way), but the negative judgement you’re talking about really bothers me. It seems to come from a place that’s very angry and self-important.

    Honestly, though? It always makes me feel sad when you speak with regret about your own tattoos. I hope you make peace with them at some point and maybe even start to love them again…especially if some of your own negativity about them comes from, like you said, internalizing other people’s nastiness.

    1. The irony is that the word “classy” makes me shudder and the use of it often describes a complete lack of taste. Go figure.

      It would be amazing if we somehow got to a place of body autonomy and weren’t judged by self important people intent on defining themselves by creating an imaginary divide based on the way other people look. Beyond the obvious judgment of racism, we use weight, hair texture, clothing, makeup colors, etc – so many ways to define “other.”

      I would say the #1 reason I don’t like my tattoos is that it CLEARLY changes the way people think about me and treat me. It really makes you a second class citizen in the eyes of many people.

  7. I hadn’t noticed this trend on the web, but most certainly have in real life. I have my entire back tattooed and for the most part, and because I can easily, I hide my tattoos. Finding a wedding dress with a back was nearly impossible. Even very nice people will look at you through the lens of being a tattooed person and whatever stigma they’ve attached to it. It’s a thought I try to avoid generally, that and thinking about whether I’m happy with my tattoos. Some I most certainly am, others I am not. One on my lower back I particularly dislike and am really hurt whenever I hear people refer to tattoos in this area as “tramp stamps.” I am not a tramp, nor was I at 15 when I was first tattooed there. Even though I don’t like the tattoo it makes me so upset to have my experience defined by something so derogatory.

    1. Even though I don’t like the tattoo it makes me so upset to have my experience defined by something so derogatory. This sentence stands out so much to me, and just really hammers home the idea that no matter WHAT the tattoo is, it is NOT ANYONE ELSES RIGHT TO JUDGE IT.

  8. Ugh! I hate the word “classy” too– talk about a word that defines itself. Gross.

    I have some really unique tattoos that don’t show most of the time, but when they do, strangers always seem to feel entitled to comment negatively about them. In which case I always feel entitled myself to tell them how rude they are being.

  9. I hate that! I don’t have any tattoos so I haven’t experienced it personally (I sometimes get those kinds of comments on my pink hair but for the most part the comments are complimentary), but it pisses me off when people stick their noses into others’ business and rudely judge their appearance for any reason. It seems like in general the trend online is to be super rude just because you’re not face to face with someone, it’s horrible. I can’t understand why people waste so much time and energy being mean and hateful.

  10. i’ve always loved your tattoos, especially the ones on your arms, which i just think are so, so beautiful. living in austin, where tattoos are as common has having your ears pierced, i don’t see/experience much of the tattoo-bashing, thankfully. i don’t have any, but i do want to get one or two — one being for my dad. i can’t think of anything more meaningful than being willing to permanently mark ones self in remembrance of something very personal and that couldn’t and shouldn’t be understood by someone, or anyone else. it’s become such a *fashion* thing here, that i think i will get it somewhere not visible/private, but that’s not because i would be worried about judgement or ashamed, but more that i want to keep it personal.

    i hate people’s ability and desire to judge anyone for anything online these days, it makes me sick. she’s too skinny! she’s too fat! its so easy for everyone to just spout this vitriolic bullshit, and i hate it so, so much. i would be ashamed of myself, if i were them.

  11. I find it irritating that people make value judgements of tattoos based on whether or not they’re “meaningful” . I got my first tattoos recently, two dots on each of my fingers below my nails. I get the question of what they mean pretty often and it tends to confuse people when I say that they’re purely decorative. I’ve even had one or two people question whether or not I’d regret them (for that reason).

  12. When I was 21 I got a giant naked lady tattooed on my back, & regretted it the next week. It’s a nice tattoo, I just wish it weren’t tattooed on me. Some days I toy with the idea of turning her into a mermaid, or getting her a dress. Also in Scotland tattoos are way less prevalent- so I do feel like a giant freak here.

  13. I think it’s sad to read/hear about people regretting their tattoos because of the way other peoples opinion impact them. I really like tattoos on people that “wear” them. Awhile ago I came across a picture of the most amazing/sexy tattoo I’ve ever seen. A Joy Division tattoo by Thomas Hooper.
    I don’t have any tattoos, and don’t think I ever will get any. Mostly because I’d never decide on what and where. But if I’d ever get one – it’s my body, and nobodys business but mine.

  14. It’s funny. Since moving to New England, I’ve only had one negative experience relating to something intentional I’ve done to my body (an old woman on a historic house tour I was leading couldn’t get over my nose ring. Her comments embarrassed the whole group who immediately apologized for her behavior.*)

    Otherwise, I mostly get questions from teenagers (does it hurt?) or compliments from middle aged moms (oh! I love em! So creative and colorful!) or dudes who want to show me their old Slayer tattoo or whatever. And, while all of those, taken over the last 10 years or so, are annoying, I’ve never encountered a personal affront and I’m certainly no less visibly tattooed than you, Tamera.

    In that sense, it’s like I’m waiting for the piano to fall on me. I’m going on a cross-country trip in a few weeks. Maybe I’ll get called the devil and run out of a small town.

    *This is in great contrast to the time my 95 year-old, very Catholic grandmother saw my nose ring, smiled, and asked, “Did a nice man put that ring in your nose?” She was always kind of a player.

    1. Ha, I love your grandma.

      Take a trip to Stowe or Woodstock VT & see how people react! I think it’s just old snobbery, here. But really it’s that I’ve been noticing things online – constant comments about how disgusting or trashy tattoos are, more than people in New England in general.

      1. Well, I have gotten some very concerned looks while in Connecticut! I just feel like I can offer so many more reasons for people to dislike me other than my tattoos. :)

  15. REALLY? I love women with tattoos more than anything.

    The only reason I don’t have one, is growing up in artist hippy land, everyone had them and I decided to never get one to rebel, so I’ve stuck to it. Plus, if I was going to do it, I’d have to go all the way, like sleeves, which seems like so much work. But I’m so ADMIRING of them on other women.

    I didn’t not realize there was a backlash. And it makes me angry and sad. I think you’re dead right about society thinking that they own women, etc.

  16. Well, internet seems to be full of entitlement in all areas that concerns… other people, everyone but oneself. There’s a big focus on other people… which I don’t get. Are people unable to focus on themselves, or see themselves, or realize that other people are people just like themselves. Maybe the problem is that TV became popular before the web, and people think commenting on others is like talking crap about a sitcom with the friend next to them? I don’t know, but it’s rude and sad.

    I have one tattoo myself, the classic anchor on my lower arm, and will definitely get at least one more, a pair of scissors on the other arm. I’ve been fortunate enough to not get a single bad comment (well, maybe from my mother who thinks it’s strange and bad, but she’s a mother and in particular my mother, so…).

    The sweetest reaction I got was when I was in Kyoto on a temple flee market (oh how I’d like to go back!), and one of the sellers, a Japanese man maybe 50 years old, kinda waved at me from afar and motioned at my tattoo. When I caught his eye he gave me a big thumbs up. Hey!

  17. “So much of what I get is ALSO based on the fact that society thinks they ‘own’ women – ‘But you’re so pretty, why would you DO that to yourself?'”

    YES. I knew a guy who went on a long internet-based rant about how women were beautiful without tattoos, and how they shouldn’t get them because he wanted to appreciate their “natural” beauty (cringe). I really wanted to ask him how, if he was so great at decision making that he should be allowed to make decisions for ALL WOMEN EVER, he was still a 27 year old unemployed college dropout living in his parent’s basement. The NERVE of some people, seriously.

  18. Great post – I am pretty covered in ink – but when I am dressed, I don’t look like I have any. I also think I shock people when they see the extent of my ink (99.9% of which I adore) is that I don’t fit their idea of what some one with tattoos should be. I been sneered at, at a running club. Had run in with friends relatives at weddings, had stranges come up and touch my arms to see if they are real – all down to what I call my bit of colour (nearly 2 full sleeves, various bits on my legs etc).

    I might have opinions on what I do and don’t like but I would NEVER go up to some one on the street and be horrible about their hair, their outfit, their shoes. But the minute ink is shown folk seem to think they have the right to comment and judge you. It took me a while to accept this and be ok with this, because this is their opinion – not mine – and finally I can rise above it – life too short! This is me – my tatts, I wanted them, I got them & I love them!

  19. As a “tattooed woman” I used to feel it was my personal mission to challenge that stereo type. Purposefully speaking articulately, being overly friendly and approachable as well as finding any way to mentioning my bachelors degree during casual conversation. While I am still conscious of my public behavior I’ve realized people will think what they will irregardless of my intentions. I have hope that our future generations will be more open minded considering we will be their parents and grand parents.

  20. You. I like. A lot. I have a friend who has also modeled for me that I picked specifically because she has some of the most beautiful tattoos I’ve ever seen. I love every one of them – and she has so many. It added such mood to a shoot. And it’s totally her. I can’t imagine her without them. And I adore how they inform and add depth to her style. I’m putting the link here – she’s the lady with dark hair. I don’t think there’s a picture of her that doesn’t show off one of her tats. Perfect don’t you agree?

  21. I have 3 tattoos–the one I don’t regret is the one I designed with Serena in Chicago.

    She is a really great person, super experienced and lovely to work with. The 2 I don’t have nice feelings are about are the 2 small ones I have. I have bad feelings because the tattoo artists treated me like shit, like my choices were stupid to begin with. I allowed myself to be talked into variations what I asked for and therein lies the regret.

    If a tattoo artist can’t politely tell you simply that they are limited in what they can do for you (ie a polite way of rejecting your idea) and make you feel like a giant idiot…don’t let them near you.

    I also HATE the cavalier way others speak ill of others appearances. Period!!

  22. I have one tattoo that’s usually partially visible when I’m not at work, and while I like the tattoo and don’t regret getting it at all, I just get bored of other people commenting on it. It’s usually positive, but I just don’t think about it myself, and don’t want to think about a part of my body that often. To me it’s just like my nose or left knee, always there and doesn’t need discussion.

    It’s also used as a chat-up line way too often.

  23. I have two tattoos, one on each foot. Even though I always wear open shoes or sandals, they rarely get noticed, so I don’t have too much problem with people (although I do have BRIGHT red hair, but most people seem to react positively towards it, haha). The first time my dad saw my first tattoo though, he didn’t speak to me the whole day. I had been hiding it from him and my stepmom because I know my dad hates them for some reason and my stepmom came to my place to pick me up and I forgot to put socks on. She questioned me about it and her tone was very stern-parent about it, but didn’t really say anything one way or the other. When we got to their house, I saw her whisper to my dad and he gave me this awful look and just didn’t talk to me at all. It was so stupid. and by the way, I was 24 at the time.
    they know I have plans to get more and any time I talk about that , my whole family gives me the “think about how the choices you make are going to affect your future” speech and I thin it’s ridiculous. I’m an adult working on a career in the arts. I’m not going for an office job. And even if I was, how does a visible tattoo make me any less capable to do my job? People are allowed to not like the idea of tattoos on their own body, but when it comes to things that are on my body, they have no say in it and no right to judge.

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