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