We need to talk about the fetishization of the tattooed alt-girl
Your body is a souvenir from the emotional circus that we call life — scars peering through sun ravaged skin like a curious eye through the rear window; battered bones mended by time and trouble. We all rage through this world in a one-of-a-kind sack of bones, asking it to hold fast as we collect wrinkles and aches and pains and breaks.
Some choose to commemorate their life and times one tattoo at a time. For me, imprinting a piece on my skin forever makes my body feel like mine — like home — not just a vessel that my consciousness was plopped into. My tattoos symbolize the stories I can’t quite find words for yet; but to the general public, they transform me into Hester Prynne’s rebellious kid sister. A sex object. A vagabond.
Men have lurched at the flowers planted along my forearm as if they're ready to pluck the roots from my bones.
The obdurate stares of passersby weigh heavier than the anchor etched on my foot. Strangers seem to follow the ship ingrained in my leg like a sailor drawn to a lighthouse. While tattoos have become increasingly sanctioned –sometimes, even trendy — in mainstream society, women with body modifications are still fetishized.
When I was 20 years old and contemplating the minutiae of my first tattoo (How big will it be? Left foot or right foot? Traditional or New School?), I was also confronted with the reality that I was shifting my social simulacrum, forfeiting agency over my body.
The catcallers across the street and lurkers down the alley now had a trap door through which they could break and enter my personal space. Just days after my first tattoo, a security guard at a liquor store saddled up next to me, offering to massage lotion into my swollen foot.
I ditched my bottle of whiskey in a bargain basket and ran home, my raw foot pulsing with each frenzied stride. I wish I’d known then that I would never stop running from men like him.
It’s not just city streets and cramped trains where women’s tattoos must double as armor; the workplace isn’t even safe. I once had a boss who considered my tattoos noteworthy enough to warrant a department-wide gabfest about my ink once every new moon. My tattoos represent a whole slew of things: a brutal loss, a zest for art, a pursuit of permanence — notice that none of those relate to how well I can sit in a cubicle or crank out a marketing plan.
This alienation and sexualization is not isolated to myself, or to metropolitan millennials, or even to American women. The anti-alt dogma has loomed like a dark cloud over the globe. German tattoo artist Guen Douglas recently transformed an Instagram post into a public forum of tattooed and persecuted women. A slew of comments pinged from every corner of the world recount assumptions of their sexual preferences, barrages of insults, and downright harassment spurred by the artwork adorning their bodies.
To be a visibly tattooed and/or modified woman is to lead an unapologetic existence, to let the lion out of its cage.
Some men are poachers of body and spirit, backing women with modified bodies into one of two corners: the alternative slut or the illustrated derelict. Women’s bodies are defenseless from objectification; we are considered aesthetic currency in the public domain. Your body becomes a battleground.
Modified women have been relegated to carnal currency in a worldwide meat market, appraised like art in a showroom. Our bodies may be canvases, but they are not commodities.
This fetishization, no matter how good natured or genuine, strays far from idolatry. In a study by Psychology Today, men made judgments about women with and without tattoos. Resoundingly, men perceived tattooed women as “less athletic, less motivated, less honest, less generous, less religious, less intelligent and less artistic” than their untapped counterparts. They were also considered less attractive and more promiscuous. They are sex objects.
Huffington Post also reported that the link between visible tattoos and assumed promiscuity is still strong. Newer studies continue to prove that mindset. In this kind of society, tattoos are not adornments; they’re scarlet letters emblazoned on skin, forever ridiculed by intolerant spectators.
The evolution of female agency and equality has further emboldened women to carve themselves in their own image. Tattoos are feats of fearlessness bound by blood and stitched in skin.
They are mutually assured permanence, a disavowal of the finite. Tattoos should not be hailed. Tattoos should not be condemned. They should just be.