Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The Colors Of My Skin

When I originally had the idea for this post, I wanted to muse more on the topic of body modification and the workplace. My boss informed me about a month ago that the business is not doing well lately and I may be unemployed soon. Which means interviews. Which means covering up my body art for the sake of gainful employment.

I’m fully aware that tattoos, especially on women, still carry quite a bit of social stigma. For the most part, older generations still associate tattoos and other body modifications as a sign of ignorance and the uneducated. Or worse, criminality. Up until recently, there was a valid basis for this kind of judgment. It would be safe to say that, 20 or 30 years ago, most of the people you saw with visible tattoos were degenerates with a criminal history or a member of the armed forces. Now that we’ve reached the 21st century, however, more and more people of all backgrounds are choosing to permanently modify their bodies in some way.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been fascinated by body art. I couldn’t wait to turn 18 so I could get my first tattoo (a tasteful grouping of small butterflies on the outside of my left ankle). I still recall the rush of excitement I felt when that needle first hit my skin and being so proud of my new ink. My mom cried when she saw it. She was so upset and wondered loudly why I would do something so horrific and permanent to my body. But, even she has slowly come around to understand that it’s a very personal experience and choice and now even brags about my art to friends and co-workers (especially my traditional “MOM” tattoo). She’s even talked about getting one herself from time to time, although I doubt she’ll ever actually go through with it.

A woman I know, a very successful real estate agent, just got her first tattoo at the age of 60 and is already planning her next one. My older sister, a stay-at-home-mom who was a marketing professional in her previous life, recently had her first tattoo experience at 31 and can’t wait to get more. I watched a show a few months ago on one of those “educational” channels regarding the history of tattoos and one segment focused on a particularly accomplished heart surgeon who was working with a renowned artist on a massive back piece of an anatomically correct heart and circulatory system. I saw an older check-out woman at Target last week with the tail of a tiny dragon poking out of the sleeve of her red t-shirt.

So, if people of all walks of life are making the choice to beautify their skin with ink at such an exponentially increasing rate, why is it that society is so slow to shed the archaic ideology regarding tattoos? Mr. Shoes and I aren’t what I would call heavily tattooed, but we both have a couple of visible tats. I notice the gawking stares we get while out and about and definitely noticed an increase in the judgmental looks since having Littleshoes. I often wonder why they don’t just wag their finger in shame at me!

Women with body art are definitely more apt to be looked at as more of a side-show freak than men. Mr. Shoes received a lot of his tats while overseas in the Navy and, when given the chance to explain his art, he receives nods of understanding and acceptance. I, on the other hand, do not have the luxury of a military career to justify my ink (and, now that I think about it, I doubt that would even be justification for some people for a woman to have tattoos). I’m sure I could go on and on about the double standards between men and women, but it is true that those of us of the fairer sex are looked at more negatively than our masculine counter parts when it comes to body art. We are perceived to be trashy, promiscuous, and of questionable morals.

I’m not saying, by any means, that all women with tattoos are the most upstanding, intelligent, pillars of society. I’ve seen firsthand the reason for the stereotype. I’ve also known a lot of classy, smart, successful women with tattoos. One might be prompted to argue that these are just the exceptions to the rule. I say, there is no exception and there is no rule. Just as with any other stereotype, it’s hurtful and prejudiced.

Maybe it’s wishful thinking to hope that views on tattoos are changing, but I believe they are. Slowly but surely. Maybe one day I’ll be judged by my resume rather than the ink on my flesh.