Sunday, January 5, 2014

The Stigma Of Ink

For many years, I had the same attitude about tattoos that a lot of society does: that only "certain people" have them. What would a nice white girl like want with a tattoo? Weren't tattoos for people who were in gangs or who had  been in prison? Or bikers? Or biker chicks? Weren't tattooers (I had no idea they were called artists until pretty recently) just people who didn't want to have a regular job and punch a time clock like the rest of us? That kind of attitude prevailed in most of society for a very long time. Then, somehow, something happened. Tattoos became more acceptable. I'm not sure if it was the proliference of ink on professional athletes, extreme sports figures or movie stars changed our collective thinking, but something happened. The "darkness" and menace of tattoos was replaced by something approaching mainstream acceptance. Nowadays it seems everyone is sporting ink. Gone are the days when people with tattoos lived on the fringes of society. We had a preponderance of "reality" shows about tattoo artists and their places of business. Maybe this helped people get over their negative feelings about tattoos? I'm not sure.

Tattoos were so rare when I was a child growing up that I can remember the first person I ever saw with a tattoo. It was my Uncle Carroll. He was my grandmother's older brother and he and his wife, Helen, lived just a few blocks from us when I was growing up back in the 60's. He had been in the Navy in WWII and he sported an anchor with a heart on his shoulder. I was intrigued by it. I'd never seen something like that before. I asked him where he got that and he told me that someone had put it there with a needle. Ouch. Pass. Uncle Carroll's older son, my cousin Lee, had a tattoo as well. But his was no anchor or even a heart. His was a naked woman, also gotten in the service before he shipped off to Viet Nam. There was an aura in those days surrounding men who had tattoos. I didn't know any women with them so I assumed that they were a "guy thing". Back then, you knew who the bad women were. They didn't have to have ink. All they had to do was have their ears pierced or wear lipstick. In fact, so strong was my father's distaste for women with pierced ears that he forbade my sisters and me to get ours pierced until we were sixteen. But Carol and I disobeyed him and snuck off to the mall to get initiated into the mysteries of pierced ears when were just a few weeks shy of our 14th birthday. Since it was the 70's and we had long hair, we were able to hide it from our dad until  we were sixteen. He was chagrined to put it mildly but what could be do about it after the fact?

Even though I had my ears triple pierced by 1979 (back when not everyone was doing that either), I had no desire to get a tattoo. Tattoos seemed to indicate a sense of belonging to a certain group-- gang members, bikers, soldiers, ex-cons, etc. No one who was a law abiding citizen and who valued himself would deface his body with a tattoo. Slowly, attitudes began to shift. I started to see ink on professional athletes. Then on actors and even some actresses. Suddenly, it was OK to have a tribal band around your arm or a "tramp stamp" even if you weren't a jailbird or a biker. I suppose as the demand for tattoos grew, so did the demand for artists to apply them. You didn't have to go to some guy's basement who was a friend of a friend and get it done. I'm not sure where I heard this, but it's my understanding that tattooing was illegal in some states and so had to be done in secret. You could walk into a tattoo parlor in broad daylight and walk out proudly sporting your new ink. You could have your tattoo done by a real artists; someone who may have actually studied art as opposed to a "scratcher". Tattoo parlors themselves changed, too from seedy backrooms to bright, clean shiny establishments.

This is Freedom Ink Tattoos in Peoria, Illinois where I get my ink done. It's a nice, super clean establishment with work stations, very nearly like the place where I get my hair done or my nails manicured. I would never in a million years go to a place that was dirty or irreputable. In the pre-AIDS days, tattooists didn't wear gloves and I always cringe a little when I see old photos of someone getting a tattoo because the tattooist is working bare handed. I don't want to have to worry about catching something or getting an infection. This shop uses sterile needles and tubing for every client. So not only do I not have to worry about catching something, no one has to worry about catching something from me. I caught hepatitis A years ago which was sexually transmitted and because of that, I can't give blood. Also, the vast majority of artists (at least the ones who work in professional shops like the one pictured) are usually trained in sterile fields (something only doctors and nurses used to be trained in), cross contamination and blood and air borne pathogens. They also probably have to take a Hazmat test every year.

So now, because it's more socially acceptable for people to have tattoos, I don't feel so squeamish about them. I wish that my spanking fetish was as accepted as tattoos are. In fact, getting active in the spanking scene helped fuel my desire to get inked. I saw a lot of people, both tops and bottoms, with ink. I probably won't ever have the courage to get something spanking-related tattooed on me. I'm not brave enough for that. My ink (three tattoos) is discreet, easily covered by clothing. But when I undress for a scene or pull my panties down, it's there. A lot of people will see and have seen the work of the artists who have inked me. I have 1400+ photos on my Fetlife profile and a lot of them show my tattoos. In fact, my Beethoven tattoo (the first one I got) is easily recognizable by people who have played with me. As much as I love my current ink and getting inked, I doubt I'll ever have tattoos that are visible outside of my clothes. After all, people still make value judgments based on appearance. They're liable to think that I'm going through some kind of midlife crisis and I just want people to think I'm younger than I am (which most do anyway, even without ink). Which brings me to another point. Once I realized that ladies could get tattoos, I thought the only ones who got them were young, thin pretty women like Angelina Jolie. Not the case. I had this vision in my head of artists only wanting to tattoo hot women, not old, fat women like me. Also not true. I remember the night before I got the dragonfly tattoo I had a nightmare. I dreamed that Jeremy, the guy who did my tattoo, said "No way! I'll puke if I see that!" when I told him I wanted the tattoo on my ass. Not only did that not happen, but he didn't bat an eye at it. This was reassuring to me that I didn't have to be self-conscious around these guys. I mean, they're all young men, Even Tim, the owner of the shop, is way younger than I am. They're red-blooded American men who I'm  sure would jump at the chance to ink a really hot chick. But they're also professionals and expensive ones at that. They're going to give their paying customer what they want, within reason. My money is just as green as some babe's.  Besides, I have seen some incredible ink on heavier women than me. Getting ink has also made me a more comfortable in my own skin.

So I hope that my entries about tattoos and the tattooing process (as limited as my experience is) has shed some light for people who might be reading this thinking "if only." There's no reason in this day and  age why a person who wants a tattoo shouldn't have one. The only reason I could see is the cost. Good work by a good artist is very expensive. This is why my pieces are pretty small. Sure, I could go to some scratcher and get a $20 tattoo, but that's what it would look like: something I'd want to hide. I don't want anyone to look at my  tattoos and say "Those are pieces of shit. Who ripped you off?" I want people to look at my tattoos and think "Yeah, those belong on her."

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