Inked but not too inked, or at least invisibly inked

How do you see intersections of sexism and cultural stigmas against body modification play out with tattooed women?  Are there differences in how these impact women of color, lesbian and transwomen, or disabled women?

Women are suppose to enact femininity with their bodies, to do otherwise is to transgress social norms. So while getting “chick tattoos” is fine, becoming heavily tattooed has been stigmatized. Different women are differently impacted. Women of color face even more social sanctions, their tattoos intertwine with racism already experienced, so they become more stereotypical images of their ethnicity. Many communities of color have even stronger stigmas against women and tattooing than does the mainstream US culture, and so their families view their tattooing as extremely deviant, and perhaps as the worst outcomes of Americanization. For transwomen, tattooing provides an opportunity to further the embodied/engendered project, and they can utilize tattoos to represent more femininity or masculinity. For lesbians, being heavily tattooed often marks their sexuality as a question, and they may be more or less comfortable with that outcome. For lesbians who are not trying to achieve the feminine norm, they may be open to expressing themselves through heavy tattooing more comfortably than those who are trying to be more feminine. About 20-25% of my participants in Covered were lesbian or bisexual. For disabled women, tattooing can provide a way to reclaim the body and express their own desires and to respond creatively to their embodied experiences. While they may have felt out of control of their body experience in the past, through tattooing, they can re-signify their bodies.

via California National Organization for Women, interview with Beverly Yuen Thompson, the woman behind the documentary movie Covered, which examines heavily tattooed women, and women in the world of tattooing.

I would love to see this film, really. I lost count on how many strangers felt it was their right to touch me, without even asking, just because my tattoos are visible. There is an interesting intersection between a woman being labeled “a slut” and her body becoming a sort of public property for both the male gaze and male “use” and the bodies of women who are considered heavily tattooed (which I am not, I would say I am very visibly tattooed, but not to the extent of someone who’s totally covered). In both cases, there is a kind of assumption that those bodies are both to be looked at and to be touched/ used and that there is no issue of consent at play. While I am not trying to draw an exact parallel between my experience of being touched by strangers and those of women who are sexually violated, there seems to be a common set of assumptions.

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