When I took to Twitter last summer to request a picture from Lena Dunham on which to base my newest tattoo, I hadn’t the vaguest hope that she would actually reply. Of course, she’s an amazing woman and always seems more than gracious with her fans, but she has over one million followers and, let’s face it, things like this don’t just happen every day. But, against all odds, it happened and within days, the tattoo was etched onto my foot and my saga was complete…or so I thought.
In the four days from when I had received my response from Dunham to the completion of the ink, the internet had become inexplicably involved in my decision to immortalize my favorite line (“All adventurous women do”) from my favorite show. Sites like Perez Hilton, Jezebel and even HuffPost Women posted articles outlining my story. I was, of course, slightly flattered and a bit overwhelmed, as I had done close to nothing to receive that much attention. However, as the days progressed, the internet did what it does best and I found myself face to computer screen with my very first haters. I wasn’t offended or upset when I started to read all the negative comments. In fact, I laughed a lot. I laughed until I realized how many of these negative, judgmental, and sometimes even hateful comments were coming at me from other women; then I stopped laughing.
I am disappointed in the reactions of my fellow women. When news of my tattoo first spread throughout the Twitterverse, there was an explosion of tweets berating me for my “irresponsible” decision. However, the alleged irresponsibility was never in reference to the permanence of the tattoo, as one would expect. This hate spawned from the context of the quote: a scene in which Dunham’s character discovers she has HPV and is told that “all adventurous women do.” Of course, the quote means much more than that and is a celebration of a woman’s ability to accept and understand her flaws and mistakes. This, however, was lost on most of the fine people of the Internet.
Comments such as “Does this girl really want everyone to know she has HPV?” and “She’s proud of her STDs?” were abundant. And to those commenters, I say: So what if I am? I do not have HPV but if I had, this tattoo could have been my way of accepting and dealing with it. The amount of negative comments from other women condemning me for my (hypothetical) acceptance of this affliction appalled me. We constantly berate men for slut-shaming us, and yet, at the very mention of a quote that carries the slightest implication of HPV, we openly and enthusiastically shame each other. If I had had HPV, would those comments have made me think twice about getting the tattoo or (more likely) would they have filled me with shame and melancholy over the stigma of my unfortunate diagnosis?
I think we can all agree that it’s never cool for a man to tell a woman what to do with her body, but when women do it to other women, we seem to jump on board. Of the many negative comments I received, only a handful were accompanied by responses in my defense. The rest, unfortunately, devolved into page-long threads made up of back and forth negativity directed at me and my choices. To these women, and to all the women who pass judgment on the personal decisions of others, I ask: Shouldn’t we know better? Aren’t we in this together? And, perhaps most importantly, if it’s okay for a woman to speak this way about another woman regarding something as banal as a tattoo, how can we possibly criticize men for doing the same thing? In “Mean Girls,” the infinitely wise Tina Fey puts it like this: “You all have got to stop calling each other sluts and whores. It just makes it okay for guys to call you sluts and whores.”
Maybe if we were to step back and assess the damage we’re causing to our own kind when we perpetuate cattiness, we’ll see how messed up our behavior truly is. We should accept and celebrate the differences among us. We should stop the slut-shaming, body-shaming, tattoo-shaming, and shaming altogether. We should begin to set an example for men; for boys; for young ladies; for each other. We should work to create a world where women feel confident in their choices and comfortable in their own skin. Perhaps, that is what we “adventurous women” should do.