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Tattoos and personal freedom: Should inked bodies be shamed?

By Zoe StricklandAugust 14, 2015

butterfly tattoo lulubelle hostein
Circa 1955: A tattoo artist tattooing a butterfly onto Lulubelle Hostein's back. Sherman/Three Lions/Getty Images

Every time I get a new tattoo, I mentally go over every anti-tattoo comment that has been made to me. 

I have three tattoos: All are located in perfectly respectable places, and all of them are less than a year old. During the last 11 months, since I began getting ink permanently put onto my body, I have received a surprising amount of negative comments regarding what I have chosen to put on my body. 

My tattoos aren't offensive. One is a quotation from my favorite writer. Another is a black-and-gray owl. I also have the word 'family' written in Hebrew. Still, the tattoos elicit strong reactions from people who are opposed to them. These reactions come from people I know personally and even from a few strangers.

Growing up, we were taught the popular phrase: If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all. As we mature into adulthood, many people also learn not to voice their opinions about other people's choices, whether it is in regards to their body or anything else. Despite this, many people — online and in person — feel they have the right to negatively comment on someone else’s tattoos. Though I have not been personally attacked online for my tattoo choices, I know people who have. 
 

Growing up, we were taught the popular phrase: If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all. As we mature into adulthood, many people also learn not to voice their opinions about other people's choices


I understand why people have negative feelings towards tattoos. They are permanent alternations to a body, and, in that case, they are unnatural. I have been told that by getting a tattoo, I am “harming and covering up [my] beautiful skin.” Technically, my religion says I am not allowed to have tattoos — but ultimately, whether or not I have them is my choice. 

People with tattoos are frequently reminded of their tattoos’ permanence. Anyone who has a tattoo knows the permanence of it is not something that is easily forgotten. After all, to get a tattoo you sit for an extended period of time, while someone puts a needle (or multiple needles) in your skin. Though tattoos are permanent, which can be scary, they are also art. For some, they symbolize memories and hold a meaning that only the person who is inked will every truly know the extent of. When I am old, I want to look at my body and remember the meaning behind my quotation. I want to remember sitting with both of my parents as I got my first tattoo, an owl on my thigh. Though you can look at my tattoos and either like them or hate them, ultimately, I get them for myself.

On the other hand, I do not condone tattoos that are offensive or degrading toward a specific group of people. Similarly, I can't imagine having a tattoo somewhere as public as my face. What matters is that the person with the tattoo is pleased with what they have, and that they can live with that tattoo for the rest of their life. What matters is that the person with the tattoo is happy, not the people who have seen the tattoo. You can be against what I put on my body. But please, if you don't have something nice to say, don't say anything at all.