Owning my body

Bethany Carman Rutter blogs about being fat and wearing clothes at archedeyebrow.com, here she examines what it is to be female and have tattoos

Photos by Heather Shuker 

Bethany Rutter arched eyebrow

It seems as if one of the main requirements of being a woman and inhabiting the body of a woman is that we preserve, protect and sanitise it at all costs. Virginity is the most highly prized feminine trait. Body hair is unthinkable. Proof of ageing must be combated decades in advance. Stretch marks are a secret shame. Women’s bodies should be unblemished, unmarked, smooth and pure. Signs that our bodies have deviated from this path, that we do not wrap our bodies in cotton wool, are an assault to the perception of what it means to be a woman, an assault to what we owe those that look at our bodies.

Tattoos, then, are surely the greatest attack on a collective belief in ‘pure’ womanhood. They’re a sign that a woman owns her body, that she’s refusing to accept ‘unmarked’ as a condition of femininity.


One of the most common criticisms of women with tattoos is that they are ‘unladylike’, but I take exception to this. They’re a method of reclaiming what it means to be a ‘lady’, or better, a woman. They’re a choice, they’re a commitment, they’re an expression of the self, and I’m completely sure that women have claims to these. Choosing to have tattoos means I choose to own my body, to see it as a permanent vehicle for my sense of self and that I’m choosing what I say with it.

The most perplexing part of the equation is that no one changes when they get a tattoo. Their behaviour doesn’t change, the way they relate to the world doesn’t change, it’s just, in the words of Joni Mitchell, ‘ink on a pin underneath the skin’. So why we think we can tell a good woman from a bad one by whether or not she has a tattoo is evidence again of the obsession with keeping women ‘pure’ and palatable. Heaven forbid a woman has a tattoo across her lower back, since apparently this is the litmus test for whether or not she is a ‘tramp’. So here two things are combined: desire to control women’s bodies and whether or not they have sex. 

Bethany legs

Tattoos on women offend the collective sensibility because they are bold, unmissable and non-negotiable, and those are traits I’m quite happy to associate myself with. ❦ 

Tweet @myarchedeyebrowBR

This was first published in the launch issue of Things&Ink, order your copy at thingsandink.com.


  1. shelley

    You sum it up perfectly. I never ever thought a tattoo unladylike (what does that even mean these days?) until I got one. I was surprised at all the comments you get from people you have never meet- the majority are positive, I even had one old man say to me my tattoo was lovely, he really liked it- in his day only navy boys got tattoo’s- times have changed. But when a distant relative saw it at a family reunion, she was disgusted “How could you? What will you do on your wedding day?” I couldn’t believe that comment- umm show it off with pride? and who says I’m going to get married anyway? I couldn’t care less what people like her think. I love tattoo’s they display how interesting and diverse everyone is.

  2. The Delicate Place (@misathemeb)

    thank you so so much for this article. i just got my first tattoos (one is a day old and the other is a week)! i’ve waited 12 years to get these pieces and struggled with many of the concepts you touched upon in this article. honestly, i feel the most liberated in my life and am so proud to be in my skin right now. i could write a novel about my experience but i’ll leave you with the latest 2 photos on my instagram of my ink: http://instagram.com/misathemeb

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