(reflections on) a personal tattoo anecdote.
In 2005, I got my first tattoo as a present for my 18th birthday. It was something I had planned for months, and had designed myself, and it felt good being a bit rebellious by having it done. I find it fascinating, reflecting on this now, how important it was at the time for my tattoo to have been designed by me. It made it personal, unique - not available to others, non-conformist.
I was told frequently by friends, family and also strangers, that I was not the ‘type’ of woman who gets tattoos. The notion of a ‘type’ was produced as something negative, bound in societal expectations around the ‘typical’ life trajectory: career, heterosexual Western weddings, mothering, and associated ideals of ‘good’ femininity. Hilarious, how most of these typicalities are the kinds of things I actively resist. Not to be all cool and resistant, I am just explicitly aware of what these stereotypical things do and mean societally, and I have no desire to take part. The 'type' thing no longer happens. I've clearly become this 'tattooed woman', and clearly the 'type' of person who does now get tattooed. I'm okay with that.
Initially, I did not quite make full sense of these constructions, and how they functioned to regulate women’s bodies: the tattoos that followed the first one remained on hidden locations of my body, only visible when I chose to make them so. It was not until 2011 when I got my first bigger, visible tattoo on my forearm that I noticed a significant shift in how people spoke to me and what they expected of me. This tattoo meant so much to me. I was working in New York, and at this point alone, and new I was going to come home a different person. It was literally that cheesy.
A woman I sat next to on a train to Paris was visibly shocked that I could be working as a lecturer at a University, exclaiming to her husband how shocked she was that a University would allow ‘that’. I felt myself located in this expression of surprise as a ‘that’, an object, an instance of the ‘type’ of person who is tattooed. This was not an isolated incident. I remember this journey so clearly. Literally for the two hours on the Eurostar the couple told me about their clearly middle-class lifestyles, and their distain towards the one of their children who had tattoos. It was joyful.
I know that I am not alone in these experiences of how my body is ‘read’ by others. These kinds of experiences led me to want to understand better how other women make sense of their tattooed body, and of being tattooed. This still very much continues today. In every conversation, sideways glance, and movement through public spaces, I'm wholly aware of the space that my body occupies, and the impact of my tattoos (and facial piercing) has on this.