22 January 2007

Bad Girl!


On Sunday I went under the needle for another two hours. I've known the Jeremy, the tattoo artist, for almost 6 years. We first met in an Anatomy and Physiology class that I was taking for nursing school and he was taking to get licensed to practice tattooing in Massachusetts legally. He's still the only legally working tattoo artist in Franklin County, MA, as far as he can tell. Anyway, I adore Jeremy outside of his tattooing skills. He's funny, gregarious, generous, a good confidante, and an all-around decent fellow who is fun to hang out with (and always good for a boost of positive body image!). Unfortunately we don't get to hang out very often, so a regularly scheduled tattooing appointment has the added bonus of catching up with a dear friend, and talking about stuff that we may not generally feel comfortable talking about with other people. We talked a whole lot about sex and relationships. It's like going to a hair salon!

While he worked and we chatted, I flipped through a tattoo book called 1000 Tattoos. Occasionally we even talked about tattoos and piercing. Both of us are not into facial piercings except nose piercings, and to some degree piercings in general. Admittedly, I've had both nostrils and my septum pierced at various times (and would do it again), my tongue was pierced for about 9 years, I got my ears pierced when I was 5, and I had my navel pierced when I was 20 and took it out 6 years later. They're still not my thing, but I appreciate them on other people to a degree. And it's not something tattoo aficionados admit very often. It's like not liking someone who should be your best friend, who probably is your best friend or close cousin. You see each other at the same places all the time, people think you look alike, have similar tastes in art, etc, but for some inexplicable reason, you don't care for that person. You appreciate their finer qualities and that there are things you share in common, but you're just not into them. Jeremy's not into facial tattoos, while I find them incredibly fascinating, unnerving, attractive, and often beautiful. We talked about how I'd like to have my arm tattoo extended to my forearm, and mostly finished in the next 18 months (Koi, a peony on my elbow, more waves, cherry blossoms, skulls...)

While Jeremy worked on a particularly painful spot, I focused on the book in my lap. I just happened to have it opened to a pictured of a beautiful and beautifully tattooed woman ca. 1920. I love photographs of early twentieth century heavily tattooed people, circus folk, Asian, Polynesian and other "ethnographically" tattooed (facial tattoos!), military, and most especially women. I can only imagine what it must have been like for a woman in the 1920's who just liked tattoos on her even if she was the painted lady in the circus. What compelled her to get tattooed? I'm sure the reasons are pretty much what they'd be nowadays, which is why the unnamed woman's face made for a good focusing image.

Even nowadays, but perhaps less so in our Happy Uber-liberal Valley, women with big tattoos are viewed as biker chicks, loose women, or otherwise ladies of some ill repute. On a personal level, I've experienced this. When I lived in Memphis about 15 years ago, a total stranger in a shoe store, who at first asked me on a date (I said no), told me that if I was his girlfriend, and he discovered I had a big dragon tattoo on my back, he'd dump me then and there. He then went on to tell me that it would probably be hard for me to find a nice man who wasn't a gangsta or biker dude. I told him that I I've had no problems finding nice men (I just didn't pick them at the time), that I'm better off without someone who would be so shallow as to dump me for having a tattoo, as it was my body, after all, and that clearly he and I were not going to be going on a date and I wasn't going to buy any shoes from him. Lastly, I told him I didn't judge him for not having any tattoos, so God bless him, sad little man. The fact that a total stranger felt he had some right of ownership over me is silly enough not to go there. But if I got that feedback from one person, I'm sure there are at least 10 or more people out there who are thinking it, (even if I didn't refuse to go on a date with them). Like my parents. Or my boss, who once said she "hated" tattoos. I don't think she had noticed mine yet, and I don't keep them all covered up at work. She can hate them if she wants. They didn't come up in my horrible performance review.

So this morning I asked Primo if he thought I looked like a biker chick, or a loose woman, or a bad-ass woman, or any other tattooed woman stereotype. "No" he said. "You smile too much." He's mentioned I have more of a hippie librarian look. He then went on to admit that he didn't believe those tattooed women stereotypes, and never did. Oh well. Primo again proved himself to be the most wonderful and princely husband I know he is, even though we were mad at each other all weekend. Peacemaking is so fun...But I digress. The shoe salesman was wrong on so many levels.

How much of the stereotype do I internalize? Well, I have a whole wardrobe devoted to tattoo concealing, even in summer. I'd be willing to not wear a bathing suit ever again if I had a really beautiful, but maybe disturbing tattoo because I wouldn't want to be judged, especially around my children. If anything I suppose I struggle with the idea of tattoos being symbols of rebellion, of wanting to be different. There are many other things about me that make me different. Being an ethnic minority in an ethnically homogeneous area of the country makes one stand out even in a business suit. Looking different is par for the course. As far as being rebellious, if not being a sheeple makes me a rebel, then so be it. I don't cover out of shame. I cover because sometimes communication is easier when people aren't distracted by how long your hair is, or all the color on your arms. And I am happier not covering them up.

So I'm not a bad girl after all. Well, I feel much better now that I've confirmed that.

There are lots of women out there with big tattoos. Yay. There are very few African American women with big tattoos (which makes me feel a little special, a little different in a nice way), and very very few African American women tattoo artists. The most prominent one is Jacci Gresham. The one time I was unable to recover from being starstruck, and thus couldn't even talk was when I stopped by Jacci's booth at a tattoo convention in Memphis. Sigh.

Revolting Bodies: The Monster Beauty of Tattooed Women
An All-African American Owned and Operated Tattoo Shop Pinz-n-Needlez has a female tattoo artist who's a Sister!
And another one
And another one
A really intense facial tattoo. It's not beautiful, but I can't look away.

Oooh! Almost forgot. The Klezmatics album Wonder Wheel is the best records I've heard all year. It's a collection of never recorded Woody Guthrie lyrics set to some incredible music. Bea and Ingrid both love it, and there are no songs that I have to skip over because of the language or content. Bea and I had an interesting and difficult conversation about war, why I hate the President, and how innocent people (like babies) die in wars--all prompted by listening to "Come When I Call You".

2 comments:

joshua said...

Tatooed women are loose? Why didn't anyone tell me this before!

My only objection to tatooing is when people get shitty ones. I get mad if people wear ugly and stupid T-shirts for the same reason.

My sister and I were in a tattoo parlor in Newport (there are a lot of them. Sailors, you know) and were looking through the books of tattoo ideas. And we laughed and laughed at the idea that someone would come into a tattoo parlor, not know what they wanted, go to this book, and choose the "DICK NOSE" tattoo.

It's like the "PROPERTY OF THE GAP" T-shirts that freak me out and make me want to punch.

So, content. If someone says something to me I don't like, I don't like it. The medium may say how much they believe it, but I can't really condemn someone for wearing a T-shirt or having a tattoo.

... oh, man. a "PROPERTY OF THE GAP" tattoo. That would be some freaky shit.

Parthenia said...

Parthenia said...

Okay, so tattooed women may not be loose, but I can assure you, they don't date shoe salesmen who insult them.

Everyone makes mistakes. Some are more permanent than others.

Jeremy drew this really terrible (content wise) picture of Barney the Dinosaur bent over a trash can, biting his nails, with a tear of joy in his eye, while Oscar the Grouch does him from behind. Yes, he managed to find someone to get that tattoo.
Here's a pic of it: http://www.pygmalionstattoo.com/images/portfolio/fantasy_scifi/f_s-064.jpg
I believe it's actually finished now. The tattoo is well done. Not something I would pick, but I have a different style.


On my 21st birthday, I walked into a tattoo shop and picked a very simple tribalesque dragon design off the wall. Before I walked in the shop, I knew I wanted a tattoo, and that I wanted that particular artist to do it, but I didn't know what or where. Luckily I didn't pick something really stupid (or maybe you and I wouldn't be friends!). 15 years later, it's still one of my favorite tattoos, even though it's small and doesn't fit with my master plan of maximum tattoo coverage.
So why were you were in the tattoo shop anyway?