Tattoos Are Not Public Property, Thank You
Photo via @deandaltirus, tattoo by @ar.bel
“Get down on your knees so I can see your tattoos,” Sophia Nathaniel, 21, a Cinema and Communications student at Dawson College, recalls a man telling her once. With a plethora of pieces adorning her arms, back, legs, and chest, she is visibly inked, her tattoos immediately catching the eye when she passes by. As a woman with quite a few visible tattoos, this anecdote does not surprise me in the least bit. With comments ranging from rude to sexually suggestive to plain degrading, life as a woman with tattoos comes with its own set of expectations.
Samantha Castleman, literary scholar and author of Bodies of Work: The Corporeal Revolt of Tattooed Women, suggests that, as a society still divided into binary gender categories, tattoos partake in how we “perform” our gender. Historically, tattoos in Western cultures have been largely adorned by men as symbols of masculine strength. From gang or prison symbols to sailor tattoos, they served as proof of how manly one had to be to withstand the pain of constant needle stabbing. Women, on the other hand, have long been held to a strict standard of purity, which does not fit in with the concept of tattooing. To tattoo your body is to transform it, taint it. Therefore, for women to be tattooed is to perform outside their gender expectations.
“I feel like a lot of people are underground sadists. They find it hot that I went through the pain of getting tattooed and think of the process itself as something sexy,” Nathaniel remarks.
The fetishization and desire for tattooed women thus partly stems from a patriarchal need for control, the male need, in a male-led society, to tame the defying woman. It also stems from a sense of curiosity and the need to question the unusual, to understand why a woman would do things outside her expected gender performance.
Though she adores each and every piece, Nathaniel explains the downsides of tattoos come with people feeling they have a right to touch you. “It feels like My Body My Choice gets thrown away when you have tattoos,” she says. “People get the feeling that they’re allowed to come up and touch me or grab my arm. It doesn’t matter if I don’t want to be touched or am visibly uncomfortable.”
From the moment our tattoos are visible, Sophia and I become subject to constant observation and intrigue. While those are not inherently negative things, Castleman explains that the problem comes from tattoos being viewed as public property. When one sees one of our tattoos, the ink becomes an entryway to look at the rest of the body. However, instead of being attached to an actual person, the tattoos, and, therefore, the rest of the body, become strictly physical, and the tattooed woman is transformed into an accessible sculpture.
From this objectification of the tattooed woman comes fetishization. As women with tattoos get viewed as sexual objects, one industry is mainly to blame: porn. Historically, Christine Braunberger, literary theorist, explains in her paper, Revolting Bodies: The Monster Beauty of Tattooed Women, that tattoos on women were a sign of prostitution, criminality, or a circus sideshow act. Instead of being women with tattoos, they become the “tattooed women,” dehumanised for the ink on their skin.
With apps like Only Fans and Pornhub offering separate categories for porn with “girls with tattoos,” the ink on a woman’s skin becomes associated with whatever tattooed porn star is involved in the videos consumed. Although the porn star herself is a person worthy of respect and human treatment, porn reduces the woman to a purely sexual entity, her body serving only as a vessel for sex.
As Canada was ranked seventh in the world for daily porn consumption on Pornhub in 2021, the most viewed demographic ranging from 18 to 24 years old, tattooed women, including young tattooed women, become easily linked to the tattooed porn stars on the platform. As these women are subject to incessant objectification, the inked woman’s tattoos are no longer her own pieces holding whatever meaning she intended and become sex symbols instead.
Is there a way to appreciate or even find tattoos hot in a respectable way? Yes! But the key word is respect. Tattoos are not public property. Ever. They are attached to a body, and touching them means touching whatever they are imprinted on. Touching anyone without their consent is unacceptable under any circumstance, and that applies to tattoos. If you like someone’s ink and want to see it up close, simply ask. Many would be thrilled to show off their pieces (I can guarantee we love compliments,) but no one enjoys being treated like a sex doll. If you think someone’s tattoos are sexy or turn you on, keep it to yourself, I beg.