Sunday, 10 June 2012

rant: cultural faux pas regarding tattoos in public

Me and some of my Tattoo Zoo pals one Fancy Friday. Note how covered I am even though it was a lovely sunny day out...that was no accident.

I've begun dreading the first few weeks of summer every year, because I have to re-learn how idiotic and intrusive people will be when I'm wearing shorts or a t-shirt in public. As awesome as it is to be able to get the tattoos I want when and where I want, sometimes being super tattooed can be the world's most annoying thing. And those times are always in public spaces, where some fool can't seem to keep their hands or their words to themselves.

I don't mind the occasional stare or question, I know I have a lot to look at. It doesn't bother me anymore when nobody will sit beside me on the bus, or when old grandmas glare at my shins when I'm trying to smile at them. It's the times when people go too far and really go out of their way to interrupt my day that still get my goat.

I recently read this post by Nicole over at Pussycat Vintage on being a heavily tattooed lady (mom, in her case) and had a few more things to say. If you don't feel like clicking all over the place, I'll give you the super short version of what she said. Basically she just layed out ten situations that she's personally experienced as a tattooed woman in public and why they are inappropriate. 

I have to say that eight of them have happened to me as well. Like, in the past week. So I'd like to reiterate/elaborate upon the points Nicole made. 

Oh yeah, and if you have a problem with my candor, or if you're going to be like "girls are dumb and you obviously want people to look at your arms all day long even though you say you don't" then you are one of the people I'm talking about. Please take your comments elsewhere, or sit down and shut up and listen to what I have to say because I'm not trying to be harsh. I'm speaking from the heart here, trying to give you a glimpse into what really truly happens and how it makes me feel.

If this post is a bit negative, I apologise, I'm just getting so tired of dealing with this crap every summer and feel like saying my piece. Feel free to skip it if you want sunshine and lollipops today.

Obviously, because I work in a tattoo shop, I am asked a lot of questions and I don't mind at all...AT WORK. It's my job to help people make informed decisions, and it's totally fun to do. At work. During business hours. So that being said, this post is soley based on my experiences outside of work and has nothing to do with the awesomeness that is my job. 

Ready? Here we go:

1. Using my tattoos as your "in" to talk or flirt with me doesn't work. It never works. It's not even flattering. It's annoying as hell, actually. You know what? Tattoos are almost exclusively the only thing anybody ever talks to me about, so even if I really wanted to be flirted with, this would not be a good starting point. 

I can't speak for men but I'd like people to keep in mind that being approached when alone can be very intimidating for a woman. And doubly so when the person is trying to look at, talk about and touch your body. And this happens to me on the bus, in the street, at a party, that lady who was at my mom's house for Christmas dinner that one time...I mean every stranger talks about my skin all the time. Feeling physically threatened will instantly make a person defensive. Which will make them less likely to want to talk to you at all. If you're finding that people seem to get aggressive or angry when you feel like you're innocently asking about their tattoo on their back and moving their shirt, keep this in mind. It's probably your fault.

And, just as a side-note for everyone, whether you're at the gym, on the bus, in your church (?) I don't care where, if someone is listening to an iPod and not looking at you, they do not want to talk to anybody. Don't wave your hands in front of their face just because you're curious about something they're doing, wearing, or what they look like. Mind your own business and keep to your own space.

2. Tattooed does not = freaky/likes drugs/bad-ass/stupid/cool. Anybody with money and a couple free hours can buy a tattoo. Ditch the stereotypes please. As Nicole so hilariously put it, "Just because I have tattoos and don’t wear a Winnie the Pooh sweatshirt, pajama pants and flip flops to every event my child has doesn’t make me a bad mom."

Along the same line, she also points out that being heavily tattooed doesn't have any bearing on whether or not a person is a responsible member of society. Some people may assume my (also tattooed) boyfriend and I are trash. Well we have a nice house with a lovely yard, a nice family, good friends, he works with disabled people and is the best dad I've ever met, I work six days a week and have a degree from a respectable university...we're both trying constantly to better ourselves in multiple ways and I think we are pretty good people on the whole. Even though we look "like that".

3. Nobody but you, and I mean nobody*, cares why you got a tattoo, what tattoo you want to get when you save up some money, what tattoo your friend did on you for ten dollars in his house that probably gave you hepC, etcetera. I don't want to see your shitty homemade kitchen wizard bullshit. Not impressive, not interesting. Leave me alone. We're not in the same "club".

Also, it's inappropriate to ask what others' mean. I read one comment on a blog post about a woman who got a tattoo in memory of her deceased daughter. Every time someone asks her what it's about she grieves all over again! Try and remember that people are very complicated, tattoos don't always commemorate something a person wants to talk about over and over again.

4. I've been reading a lot of people saying "you got these colorful images on your body to get attention" and the like. That is not the case and it is ignorant to believe this. There's a thousand reasons people could do things, don't assume you know what something means to them. I agree with Nicole, I'd also be thrilled if nobody ever noticed my tattoos again in my entire life.  Because they're none of their business.

5. Touching. You do not ever ever have permission to come up to a stranger and touch them. Even if you just want them to roll up their sleeve so you can see their elephant tattoo. (this happened to me yesterday) You do not. Touch. A. Stranger. And if they get angry or just say no you can't see their tattoo, then know that it's you who crossed a personal-space line. It's not the other person's fault for not wanting to lift up their clothing every time someone wants to see more of their body. Right? Think about it that way. It's their body. Their BODY that you are asking about.

6. Don't pretend you care about my future as a way to get in a back-door dig on my choices. "Oh, what about when you're 80?", "What does your mom say about how you look?" "Will those colors fade over time?" "Oh, can you still get a job in __ field?"... like I can't see through that crap. Why should I have to answer to these questions? I've started just laughing at people who ask me these types of things. The "80" one is so rote, it's like people hold it on their tongues at the ready until the opportunity arises where they can spit it out. If you are just genuinely curious, ask real questions, not the questions you think you have to ask.

7. Don't take pictures of me without asking. I don't know what you're using them for, but I doubt it's for my benefit. If you absolutely must show your family back home what a freaky culture Canada has, ask. I'll say yes if you're respectful and it's just for your personal use. But if you're sneakily photographing me with your iPhone on the bus I'm going to assume you're either making fun of me or putting me on the internet for some reason and I'm not okay with that. And yes, this happens enough to warrant a mention.

8. Nothing you say about tattoos is anything I haven't heard 50 times before. Asking me if it hurt is not novel. Asking if you can see "the rest" of my chest tattoo is not funny (it's sexual harrassment, actually!). Telling me my my little pony sleeve is colorful is redundant...of course it is! I know it is! I planned the thing. It's such a bore hearing the same things over and over every day.

I have actually begun avoiding social occasions where I may meet new people like house parties and going to the bar because it's always the same story. Nobody wants to hear about anything other than how long __ tattoo took and omg my arm is so colorful and then they tell me what tattoos they want. They never say "Hey, what are you reading?" or "What's your life like?" or "Do you have any hobbies?". They just go "SICK TATS" and grab my arm and then the conversation is over. I promise I'm more than a one-trick pony.

9. Take my words with a grain of salt. I am writing from the standpoint of a very private and shy person who has a bit of a problem with talking to strangers in the first place. I'm sure there are people out there who just love talking at length about every detail of their life with complete strangers but I am not one of them. And I find those people to be really weird too.

I guess what I'd like to leave you with is this: If you don't like how someone looks, don't look. If you do, then look, I guess. But please give me and others who look like me as much space and respect as you'd give anyone else you don't know.


Here's what a couple other awesome ladies wrote on the same topic: Danielle, Kaelah, and Jamie.

Yup. I'm even literate.

*okay maybe somebody does, but it's not me!