By Jourden V. Sander
Growing up, I always knew I would get a tattoo. I openly expressed this interest to my mother several times, and while she was vaguely displeased, she never seemed to worry too much. After all, how unusual is it for a 16 year old to detail “rebellious” intentions such as getting a tattoo? She labeled it a phase and moved on. The problem was, it wasn’t a phase, and I never did move on. Or at least, not away from tattoos.
You’d be surprised to know that this story doesn’t continue with a description of my $20 first tattoo on my 18th birthday; it doesn’t continue with a mediocre quote tattooed in tacky script, or at a shady parlor with my friends holding my hand as I worked through the violent vibrations—I didn’t get my first tattoo until I was 20 years old. (I did, however, get it for $20 though.) I received my second tattoo from the same place today.
After this second tattoo, I am more than happy to call this parlor my own. I love this place not only because of their talent and great pricing, but because I didn’t feel judged by my artist. Prior to getting my first tattoo I was endlessly nervous. I was, of course, a bit nervous about the pain. Despite having received six piercings in varying locations on my ears, I was new to the foreign vibrations of a tattoo needle. But I was nervous about other silly things: I was nervous about what I was wearing, about the tattoo I had chosen, the location I had chosen, about the size; I was nervous about being a young, white, vanilla looking girl walking into a so-called home for bad-asses and tough types.
I also had to consider the social stigma of being a woman with a tattoo. A visible one at that. I strongly rejected the idea that tattoos were somehow more “okay” for men than they were women, and I particularly rejected the pejoratives surrounding women with tattoos: “tramp stamp” and more recently, “skank flank.” I still do reject these ideals, but perhaps with even more gusto.
A “tramp stamp” is a tattoo on a women’s lower back. I have no idea when this terrible phrase came into fashion, but I know that it is ridiculous, sexist, and embodies slut shaming at its finest. When I was younger I had no problem referring to lower back tattoos as tramp stamps—I didn’t really understand how it hurt me and the women around me. Now, as a proud owner of tattoos, I’ve come to realize why the phrase is toxic. Women are being slut shamed into thinking that lower back tattoos are “classless,” “tacky,” “cheap,” ect. Women are taught that a lower back tattoo is a “target,” (as my own father ironically called them) and gotten only for sexual purposes. Women are also taught that if they did get a tattoo for sexual purposes that they immoral, “slutty,” ect. Women are shamed into letting society control their bodies by allowing a negative phrase to deem a body part unsuitable for a tattoo. Let me tell you something: there is no place on my body that is unsuitable for a tattoo. Or any person’s for that matter—I honestly believe that “tramp stamps” are simply lower back tattoos and nothing more. Whether the person got the lower back tattoo for sexual purposes or not is entirely his or her reasoning, which shouldn’t be shamed either. Want a lower back tattoo as a sexy teaser above your jeans? That’s fine. Want a lower back tattoo with meaning completely unrelated to sex? Also fine. Don’t let society police your body and don’t write off a tattoo just because of a negative phrase. I feel the same way about “skank flanks,” which was coined to describe tattoos women get on their ribs. The idea that a tattoo on a hidden, largely unsexualized part of the body can still be judged as “skanky” means that where the tattoo is placed on a body doesn’t matter—people are still going to slut shame women just for having tattoos.
The use of such negative phrases is one example in which language is used to define and control people who identify as women (and all people, really) and what we can do with our bodies. How we address this problem depends on your opinion of language. One way to deal with a phrase such as “tramp stamp” is to expel it from your vocabulary and attempt to inform others to do the same. Another way is own the phrase and make the meaning your own. There is nothing wrong with either solution—I personally prefer the former and don’t refer to lower back tattoos as tramp stamps. But either way, I don’t allow these words to control my actions and how I personally feel about my tattoos.
There are so many other topics surrounding tattoos to be talked about. Such as body shaming and the way that larger women (and all larger people) are shamed into thinking that they aren’t attractive enough to get tattoos or are “too fat.” Or the topic of religion and how people use religion to justify the shaming of tattoos. Or how tattoo shops have been shaming women who ask for certain popular tattoos.
Regarding all these issues: you don’t have to defend your tattoos to anyone, ever. Get as many tattoos, of whatever you want, wherever you want and for whatever reason—and don’t let people slut shame or body shame you into thinking otherwise—the tattoo will be yours and yours alone, so the only person who matters in that situation, is you.
1| I would like to add that as a white, privileged, American, able-bodied, cis-gender woman, my experiences reflect ed here differ from many other tattoo enthusiasts. I do my best to consider other POVs, but please feel free to email me with your thoughts should you think I blatantly missed something. firstname.lastname@example.org. 2| The two photos were taken by Jourden V. Sander while the Third was taken as a re-posted image on Reddit 3| Illustrations by Cody Bubenik