Tattoo Etiquette: A Public Service Announcement

Yup, those are two of mine.

Yup, those are two of mine.

Thankfully, this post wasn’t spurred by comments towards me - not recent ones, anyways. I got my fair share living in small-town Missouri, but tattooed people are much more common in Austin and less likely to be regarded as circus freaks. No, these comments were read on the bastion of rudeness: the Internet. Sigh. And really, the following applies to anything from funky colored hair to piercings, and a multitude of others. But the comments I’ve seen were about tattoos, and about tattoos this post shall be!

My dearest readers, I’m sure that you would never commit any of the following offenses. At least, I hope not. Obviously, being on this blog means that you have exquisite taste and you are, in fact, probably a very cultured individual. (Riiiight? *wink wink nudge nudge*) Joking aside, I seriously doubt this is necessary for regular readers, but I’ve been seeing a lot of rudeness on the subject of tattoos lately and feel like some education is called for.

Non tattooed individuals:

  • It is not, under any circumstances, okay to grab, poke, pinch, prod, slap, grope, or otherwise touch a tattooed person without their express permission. Having public art available to view on their body does not make any of these okay, and if you do so, be prepared for any consequences that may come your way - whether that’s a verbal lashing or a physical one. And oddly enough, tattooed skin feels just like regular skin. I promise. Sometimes it’s a little raised, and that’s it.
  • Asking polite questions is a-okay. Some tattooed folk find this tiresome, I personally don’t mind it at all. I love talking about my tattoos! Examples of questions that are okay to ask: “Where did you get that done?” “How long did it take?” “Did it hurt?” Although, in fairness, that might warrant a sarcastic answer. Yes, tattoos hurt. Generally they’re not agonizingly painful.
  • Questions that are iffy but might be all right if you know the person you’re speaking to: “How much did that cost?” “What does it mean?” Some people get tattoos simply because they find them beautiful. Some people get them because they have some deep meaning to them - and often times, that meaning is something very personal that they don’t want to share with anyone else. If someone politely declines to share the meaning of the tattoo with you, please do not get offended. If you think the meaning of their tattoo is stupid, it’s not polite to say so.

Statements that are never, ever okay:

  • “That looks cute now, but it’s going to look terrible when you’re 80.” And if you do say this out loud, in public, please do not be surprised when you get a snarky response of “Duh. Everything looks terrible when you’re eighty.”
  • “You’ll never get a husband like that!”
  • “Only bikers, sailors, and trashy people get tattoos, you know.” Variations include: “What are you, a biker? Hurr hurr hurr.”
  • “How do you expect to find a job?” (Note: this is something that should definitely be thought about before getting highly visible tattoos. But to say this to a stranger is extremely insulting.)
  • “Why would you do that to yourself? You’re such a pretty girl!”

That last one, in particular, makes me want to projectile vomit every time I hear it. There’s this disturbing trend in our society to treat womens’ bodies as public property. They are, in fact, emphatically not. Let’s deconstruct that comment: what this person is saying is “Hey. Because you’re pretty, I think you shouldn’t do anything to your body that will ruin that, in my or others’ eyes. Nevermind the fact that it’s your body!”. F’n creepy much?

As usual, the old standby of “if you can’t say anything nice, keep your mouth shut” will do you well here. Unfortunately, a lot of people don’t realize the above statements are, in fact, rude, and instead think they’re paying the receiver some sort of twisted compliment. After all, everyone loves to hear things like: “If my daughter came home with hair like that, I’d beat her with a belt!”. (no shit - 100% true story. not tattoos, but you know, still applicable here.)

I had an addenendum about etiquette when going to get a tattoo, but it became so long I’m going to do a separate post. And like I said - I don’t really think any of this should be groundbreaking. I’m not saying everyone has to love tattoos, I’m just saying - treat your fellow human beings with respect. And really, isn’t that something we should do anyways?

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6 Responses to “Tattoo Etiquette: A Public Service Announcement”

  • truculentandunreliable says:

    Thanks for this! I’m from Columbia, MO, so we have a fair number of tattooed individuals, but it’s still a fairly conservative place, and I think it’s still unusual to see women with large tattoos.

    My favorite that I got was “Does your dad know about that?” I was like a) I am 28 years old, dude, I don’t give a shit if he did, and b) I haven’t spoken to my dad in a year. Thanks for re-opening that wound! :)

    I, personally, don’t like questions, especially when they come from creepy guys who are obviously trying to hit on me, but I still expect them and don’t blame people for asking them. Just don’t ask them if I’m obviously reading and/or listening to my iPod.

  • Ooo they’re lovely! I’d noticed the tatts in a couple of your photos but hadn’t been able to see what they were actually of.

    The comment “Why would you do that to yourself? You’re such a pretty girl!” doesn’t just apply to people hating on tattoos, it applies to anyone, at any time. If I hear those words come out of your mouth I will think less of you. It’s like all those people that ask why I would possibly want to get married because I’m still sooooo young. Hello, I’ve been with my partner for 7 years, I’m not going to go have a few affairs just because I’m young!

    Also (in regards to the leg tattoos anyway) when you’re 80 you’re not going to be able to bend your legs around to see them for yourself. lol!

    As a yet to be tattooed lady (through lack of finding a design I think I’ll want forever) I’m always really interested to hear advice and experiences from those already tattooed. :]
    Ms Constantine´s last blog ..There Are No Original Ideas My ComLuv Profile

  • Retro Chick says:

    Oh, how true.

    I never understand why people feel that there are certain things that suddenly break down all the normal rules of social interaction. Like having a piercing/tattoo/coloured hair/wearing unusual jewellery gives you the right to walk up and grab someone and make personal comments you would never even consider otherwise!
    Retro Chick´s last blog ..Retro Chick Style Icon – Zooey Deschanel My ComLuv Profile

  • birdie says:

    Oh… that hair comment… yeah I’ve heard similar and it makes me vomit in my mouth a little. I get a lot of the “Why would you DO that to yourself?” and generally if they’re talking about my hair, my reply is “Because it’s the easiest to change if I get bored”. When it’s about my tats though, it’s a different story. They mark my personal growth or important things in my life.

    I always want to reciprocate the action, though I’m not sure how well it would work. Like when old ladies grab my hair, I want to grab theirs. When people ask why I’d ever want a tattoo, I want to ask why they’re so square. I guess I’m a little less uncouth than they are, eh?
    birdie´s last blog ..Fringe Benefits My ComLuv Profile

  • birdie says:

    I also get the “what color is your hair going to be tomorrow!?” comment a lot. I’ve not found a good response for that one…
    birdie´s last blog ..Fringe Benefits My ComLuv Profile

  • Michelle says:

    @Truculent - I feel the same way! I expect questions, so they don’t so much bother me, unless the person is interrupting me doing something else. I’ve had people try to ask me questions while I was on the phone and then walk off in a huff when I don’t immediately answer!

    @Ms Constantine - Definitely true! That comment is creepy no matter WHAT it’s applied to - but here I was talking about tattoos, so that’s what I tied it to :)

    @Retro Chick - that’s what I kept thinking while typing it up - like, these are *so* common sense you wouldn’t think it’d be necessary to point them out as rude, but I’ve heard them several times and I have tattooed friends who also have…so apparently someone doesn’t know that!

    @Birdie - I used to get a lot of clown comments and I was actually a little nervous about wearing red lipstick because of them! Then I realized that was just silly. I’ve never had anyone grab my tattoos, but people would walk up behind me and tug on my mohawk…I hated that!

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