When Tattoos Were Taboo

When Tattoos Were Taboo
Courtesy Photo

Courtesy Photo

To tattoo or not to tattoo, that is the question. For me, the answer was the former. Twice, even.

Back when I got my first tattoo, they weren’t as accepted as they are now. They weren’t trendy. There weren’t 20-somethings getting what they thought were words like love, life, or dance in Chinese letters only to later find out that they’d just gotten the word “numbnuts” tattooed on their back side.

There weren’t tramp stamps or tribal tattoos, at least they weren’t called that. There were just people who wanted to get tattoos getting tattoos. At the time, as a general rule, tattoo-free people looked down on their tattooed neighbors. Tattoos signified a person who didn’t respect their own body; someone whose self-esteem had to be low, because why else would they permanently mark their body?

The tattooed among us were rumored to be a nefarious lot who probably didn’t bathe on a regular basis, had scary names like Chainsaw, and ate food that had been dropped on the floor longer than five seconds. We were basically stinky, ne’er-do-wells who had the manners of poop-flinging spider monkeys. We were very nicely inked poop-flingers, though.

The short answer on why I chose to permanently mark my body is because it takes a lot less time and effort to have a tattoo than it does to draw art on my body every day. The longer answer is because the two tattoos I have mean something to me. They weren’t random images that I decided to get because I was drunk. They weren’t a declaration of love to anyone, and weren’t significant to anyone but me. They meant, and still mean, something to me. The butterfly tattoo is because of a story I heard about the struggle a butterfly goes through in the cocoon in order to build up the strength of its wings so it can fly. The crescent moon and star is symbolic of all that is out there that we still have yet to know and discover.

See? Nothing exactly evil about either one, unless you’re particularly terrified of butterflies. If you are, don’t ever make eye contact with the one on my left ankle, because it will pretty much eat your face right off your head.

Even after all these years and even though tattoos are more accepted now, there are still small-minded people who look down on those of us with ink. Can you imagine the pearl clutching if they found out their doctor had a tramp stamp the size of Dallas? And maybe not even a particularly nice, Dallas-sized tramp stamp, but rather a suggestive, tacky, trashy, badly done, hideous and all around awful Dallas-sized tramp stamp? Oh, the horror!

The fact is, what she has on her lower back doesn’t change who she is. She can still be an awesome doctor/person. What she chooses to do or not to with her own body isn’t anyone’s business except for hers. So, for those of you still judging people by the ink on our skin — until you’re okay with other people making judgments about you based on your lack of tattoos, maybe you shouldn’t judge those of us who have them. Deal?

Rachel Birdsell is a freelance writer and graphic artist. You can reach her at rabirdsell@gmail.com

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