Tattoo culture is something that I’ve always been interested in, and I knew from a fairly young age that I wanted to be tattooed. However, the desire to get tattoos didn’t stem from me wanting to portray something meaningful, and it definitely wasn’t for anyone to interpret. To me, the act of getting tattooed as a woman was a political one.
Tattooed women vs. society
For decades, tattooed women have been the subject of either taboo or overt sexualization. In the early 20th century, many women did not possess the right to modify their bodies as they wished. Tattoo parlors were a boys club, and women were merely pin-up portraits.
The 1970s eventually saw a rise in the number of women getting tattoos, but only those deemed “feminine” enough were socially acceptable. These tattoos usually consisted of cute, dainty pieces, like small flowers and butterflies, that could be easily hidden. Getting tattooed in this way allowed women to be a part of the culture without being gender transgressive.
Women who did choose to become more heavily tattooed, or get pieces that were considered too large or too “public” would experience backlash from family members, partners, and society as a whole. The prevailing thought was that having so many visible tattoos makes a woman less feminine, and therefore, less desirable. As expected, the value of a woman was directly based on how conventionally attractive she was.
Even as tattoos among women became increasingly popular, society’s tendency to sexualize them persisted. We see this within online communities like Suicide Girls, which developed into its own neo-porn genre. Like almost every other subculture, the tattooed alternative girl had become a fetish.
Breaking the gender norm
In recent years, heavily tattooed women have been all over social media. They are women of color. They are gay and trans women. They are highly feminine and gender non-conforming. The tattoos they wear are large, bold, and even considered “ugly.” They represent a new demographic of women who choose to wear their body art in a way that does not necessarily adhere to traditional gender roles.
Regardless of the reason for getting a tattoo, simply being a tattooed woman is a radical act of bodily autonomy. The choice to get a tattoo is always a personal one, but in a larger sense, it becomes a political one. In a society that desperately tries to control women’s bodies, tattooed women are a symbol of resistance.