Tattoos aren’t uncommon. Wander through any town centre and you will see hundreds of different tattoos all with different styles, techniques or images on show. Some might be more traditional, while others might be new-age. No matter how you look at it, ink is everywhere. And as someone with a growing amount of tattoos, I quite enjoy seeing all these different styles on show.
But, much like a silent film, sometimes you have to look deep into the imagery to really see what’s behind it all.
What’s the point of it all?
In general, one of the most annoying tattoo-related questions is ‘What does it mean?’ closely followed by ‘how many do you have?’. The reason why this question annoys me the most is because not every tattoo needs a deep, intrinsic meaning. Sometimes just liking the imagery is meaning enough. But for a select few people that answer often isn’t what they want. Some want stories of how you single-handedly travelled barefoot across thousands of miles, through the Himalayas to then get tattooed by a religious being in a mystical dark alley.
As dramatic as stories like these are, for the 1/3 people in the UK with tattoos this simply isn’t true.
Back to your roots
Coming from a village with a predominantly older demographic, going back to my home town (or village in this case) can be a bit of an adventure. Partly because of the age range of the locals and partly because I am a female. Now my gender shouldn’t have anything to do with my tattoos, but remember that the village is full of 80–90-year-olds who have an aged perception of beauty. And being a white, petite and fragile-looking woman often means the locals often don’t expect me to have tattoos at all.
Thus I’m frequently met with questions or statements such as:
Why did you get them?
You have ruined your body
What will you do on your wedding day?
No one will find you attractive now
and so on. Being a woman with tattoos often means people relate my actions or choices back to what they find attractive or what they think I’m trying to tell the rest of the world. Remember: women are meant to be seen not heard (hear the sarcasm?). As annoying as questions about what I’m going to do on my wedding day are, after a while you become dulled to the situation. It’s the statements that knock you back that really make an impact. Ones like:
So, are you into bdsm?
I bet your into kinky shit in the bedroom.
You like pain do you?
The amount of one-off sexually related and explicit questions people ask me is a depressing reminder that we aren’t close to feminism being the cultural norm yet.
As I continued on my tattoo-related journey, I had the chance to be tattooed by an artist who I’ve known for 20 of the 23 years I’ve been on this planet.
Chay is what most will call ‘heavily tattooed’ and was brought up in almost exactly the same circumstances as me. Same school, same village, same age.
Chay’s tattoos and style of tattooing is primarily influenced by Japanese and traditional styles, which contain large amounts of colour and cultural meaning, depending on the imagery chosen. Meaning his tattoos are very predominant and intrinsically beautiful. Out of curiosity, I decided to ask him what questions he is asked as a tattooed man and as a tattoo artist himself.
The main questions were:
Where’s the most painful place to get tattooed?
Does he tattoo himself?
And, does he intend to get face tattoos?
For Chay, his questions are primarily based on curiosity more than perceptions of beauty, expectedly due to his profession. Unlike, me who has to withhold the urge to slap someone in the face when they question what I’m going to do about my tattoos on my wedding day.
Ink on display
The issue with most questions I get asked and what separates Chay and I is that most of my questions are a projection of the other person’s views on what’s attractive or not. My grandfather ignored the fact I had tattoos, my father hated tattoos and my mother even went as far as to cry when I got a tattoo she didn’t like. All this happened because of their preferences on what they thought was pretty or not, didn’t match the tattoos I had gained.
As much as influences like these might prevent someone from getting inked, it doesn’t stop everyone. For me, tattoos are a method of self-creation. As I get more done, I’m accepting different parts of myself and growing in the process. I have tattoos dedicated to my father, to my favourite author and even to my own perception of self. All these influences make up ‘me’ as a whole and I display that through ink.
But it’s not the same for everyone, and sometimes getting a tattoo on a whim is all the meaning it needs.
In the tattooed world and the rest of the world, we don’t always need an intricate meaning behind what we do or how we express ourselves, especially for women. Understanding when to say no or yes to suit our singular behaviours or preferences is what separates us from everyone else and that should be celebrated. Instead of judged or sexualised.