in which I write letters: tattoos aren't body vandalism

Dear Ms. Khoury,

A friend of mine brought your opinion piece, "Why Put a Bumper Sticker on a Ferrari" (The Spectrum 2/2/2012), to my attention yesterday. I appreciate that you are trying to encourage women to celebrate their bodies as they are, without need for adornment. However, I'm troubled by the way you target women specifically, by your argument that tattoos are "vandalism" of the body, and by your assertion that "nothing [productive] comes out of getting a tattoo."

As a thirty-one-year old woman who made the decision to have my first ink done about a year ago, I'd like to share a very different perspective on body modification and meaning with you. While I don't believe that being a person with tattoos is in any way superior to being a person without them, I also don't believe that people (of any gender!) usually choose ink out of body insecurity or in a vacuum of meaning. On the contrary, you only have to follow the Tumblr blog Fuck Yeah, Tattoos! for a few days to witness the incredible breadth and depth of the individual stories behind peoples' tats. I'd encourage you to check some of those stories out. And while you're at it, I highly recommend the indie romantic comedy Tattoo: A Love Story (2002). It's cheesy, yes, but the best part about it are the sequences in which real people tell the stories behind their own tattoos. The person who recommended the film to me was a lesbian in a long-term relationship who got her first tattoo done in honor of her sixty-fifth birthday -- hardly someone performing for hetero male attention.

While we're talking about hetero male attention, I'd like to take a moment to note that I'm very troubled by your framing of body art as a particularly troublesome trend among "ladies." If the body is, as you write, "the temple [we've] been blessed with," doesn't that go for male-identified folks as much as it goes for female-identified ones? I would argue that your emphasis on women's beautiful form, specifically, while ignoring male bodies reinforces our cultural obsession with gender difference -- imagining that women's bodies are somehow public property (expected to be pleasing in the eyes of others) while men's bodies aren't a subject of social debate -- at least not where decoration is concerned.

As for myself, I tell the story behind my own tattoo on my blog. In the past year, I've also written a post about the evolution of my views on body modification. I share your concern over the fact that some peoples' body modification seems to come from a sense of self-hatred, insecurity, and the desire for conformity or performance for others, rather than self-knowledge, body acceptance, and self-expression. However, as I've grown older I've come to believe that we are only really in a position to understand the motivations of one person -- ourselves. Unless someone tells you the story behind their own physical appearance, you can't tell by looking at them whether their tattoo is the result of thoughtless whimsy or the manifestation of months -- or years -- deliberation.

for example go read the story behind this tattoo

I would argue that even those tats acquired in haste -- ill-considered, possibly regretted, maybe images or placements their owners feel are a little tacky now -- are part of a life story. I know a number of people who have tattoos they commissioned in their teen years which they are now re-working ten, fifteen, twenty years later to invest the ink with new and different meanings.

I'd encourage you to spend some time exploring the myriad reasons why people across time and space have found body modification meaningful. I certainly support your right to celebrate your body as it is, and to choose not to alter it with piercings, tattoos, or any other form of more permanent decoration. I believe that every human being is forever and always beautiful, regardless of how closely they adhere to any one culture's normative standards of beauty. I believe all human beings have worth, even when they feel (or are deemed by others to be) "ugly." And that includes people who've chosen tats to help them express, to themselves as well as others, who they are in this world we share.

Thanks for taking the time to hear another person's viewpoint.


1 comment: