Fifty to three thousand pricks per minute. That is the rate of the needle that penetrates the skin in order to achieve art, self-expression, lasting friendship, self-pride, a message, a reminder—a tattoo.
Tattooed women are all around us. Similar to the way people respond to jewelry or articles of clothing, some may express their interest in a tattoo or they may not say anything at all. But unlike jewelry or an article of clothing, tattoos are extremely permanent and premeditated.
Our physical existence, as women, is beautiful. For others to be in the presence of our flesh is a chance to see and hear a story. Our story is whatever we chose to disclose, and our interpretation is empowerment. As young girls and growing adolescents, we are taught to look and act a certain way, which often continues into adulthood. Our ability to achieve self-pride and independence from those expectations is our self-discovery. We’re the women who own and value our bodies, and understand that self-worth is what sincerely matters. In that process, some of us choose to get tattoos.
To ink or not to ink is truly under a woman’s domain and control—even as we are judged more harshly for it than our male counterparts by those who don’t understand the decision.
Historically and often unknown, tattoos were overwhelmingly feminine. More recently they’ve held a connection to masculine sailors and miners, and society often rejects the acceptance of women and their tattoos. However, some of the earliest tattoo findings were, in fact, from Egyptian female mummies. There was a purpose and a sense of practicality attached to their body art, and they believed it would promote maternal fortunes. Tattoos were also interpreted as displays of high status and viewed positively on both genders. Somehow, in the thousands of years in which tattoos have evolved, interpretation and stigma have changed too.
Now tattoos can be divisive. “Bad boys” who have them are still celebrated sex objects, but sullied women are fetishized or condemned. At the extremes, television shows like Spike TV’s “Inked” pit celebrated tattoo artists against each other much like the clothing designers on “Project Runway,” while a few times a year we see the media lose its mind over a young girl who has permanently etched her boyfriend’s name on her face. More commonly, we see people simply struggling with how proudly or clandestinely their acts of self-expression should be worn. Some elect to relegate their tattoos to discretionary places where they are less likely to “offend” colleagues who may think they are unprofessional. For others who work and live in more creative contexts, they are an asset, conveying a willingness to challenge cultural norms and a penchant for making a statement. (Hello, Justin Bieber and Ruby Rose!)
Like the Egyptian goddesses before them, however, some women in today’s world just seem like their tattoos naturally grew comfortably out of their skin. Tattoos are a work of art. Using your body as a spiritual canvas. They are a form of expression.
In fact, several of us are inked and we are proud of it.
“I’m super happy that I have them,” says The Fullest member, Meredith Baird. She has four tattoos, each providing a glimpse of her inner self and the relationships that make her who she is in this world. She adds, though, that while at first her ink felt rebellious, it’s not uncommon in a progressive city like Los Angeles, where she lives, and that negative perspectives about tattooed women everywhere seem to be loosening up.
“I have to say there is for sure a certain thrill with getting one, but I do feel like it’s kind of lost its novelty.”
Is the novelty of inked women fading? Are we re-aligning with ancient beliefs? Are we recognizing that if art is the right of an artist just as much as it is a privilege for the audience to witness, then tattoos are no different?
It comes down to recognizing that it’s not just aesthetics, but the story behind a tattoo that matters. There is always a particular story that has influenced the ink, and it’s the same story that might not completely come out in casual explanation. There’s a disconnect between what an individual discloses and what onlookers inquire. At the intersection of what is kept private and what is inevitably shared—that is where the power of a tattoo commands respect.
“If someone asks me that I feel wants to hear the story, and actually cares to listen, then I will tell them,” Meredith says. “It really just depends on the person.”
If we’re not going to inquire about the meaning and invest interest, then what gives us the license to judge another person’s tattoos in the first place?
A tattooed woman’s body is her own temple, a beautiful wrapping of life’s inner importance. It is the shell that disguises true beauty as a tangible, strong being. Our bodies feel the physical pains and pleasures that, in turn, seep through the skin as internal antidotes: personality, wit, intelligence, humor, emotions.