Here’s something no one will tell you when you’re a young woman and you start getting visible tattoos: people are going to want to fondle and touch your tattoos, and not only are they going to want to, but they’re gonna DO IT.
If this post were a made-for-TV biopic, it would be called Andrea’s Tattoos: One Woman’s Struggle with Her Personal Space.*
An alternate title would be Andrea Beça: Can’t Touch This. Which would be fitting in more ways than one, but MC Hammer would probably sue me, so…
I got my first tattoos when I turned 18, as a birthday gift to myself. Two small-ish negative space stars on the inside of my wrists. They are neither large, nor highly visible, so they didn’t garner me much attention, but when I got my next tattoo – on the left side of my neck – my whole world changed.
I know, I know – my NECK. It’s not only highly visible, it’s like OMGVISIBLE. Even my amazing and responsible tattoo artist warned me ahead of time: “Okay, so before you do this, you know that it’s a big deal, right? It’s hardcore.” That was fine by me. I knew it would be beautiful and my neck just seemed like the perfect spot for what I wanted. I’ve stood out like a sore thumb for my entire life (I’ve mentioned I was an overweight goth teen, right?) – I wasn’t scared to continue with tradition.
CUT TO: Less than two weeks after getting my tattoo coloured in. It’d been a rough healing process. I bled a lot (turns out this is because I’m vegan and we have naturally thinner blood; good for heart health, not so friendly for tattoos!) and I was thrilled to finally be getting over the scabbing/peeling phase of healing.** I was working at Chapters Bookstore (and they hadn’t fired me for getting the tattoo – success!) and it was just my friend Karly and I closing up at the cash desk after a long day.
Now, as is life in the retail world, one last, creepy guy had stayed in the store after closing time, browsing at books (at 10pm – of course), and we were waiting for him to make his damn selection, pay, and get the hell out. We waited, exchanged annoyed looks, waited some more, and then finally he made his way – very casually – to the tills.
Because Karly was closest, he ended up at her till, but that didn’t stop him from staring at me for the entire transaction. Now, I could be making some of this up for dramatic effect in my memory, but I’m fairly certain that he was in his 40s-50s, and that he was wearing dirty sweatpants, a torn t-shirt, and a trucker hat. I wasn’t paying that much attention, because I had started cashing out for the night, but then I heard it, in a low, grumbly voice:
“Can I touch your neck?”
And Karly froze, staring at me, wide-eyed. I’m not always subtle (are you surprised?), and I’m fairly sure that on this occasion, I straight-up crinkled my nose, put on my best bitchface (the “repulsed” variety – I love you, Tavi), and said:
“I’d really rather you didn’t.”
I was so repulsed, I’m pretty sure it came out sounding more like:
“OH NO YOU DID-ENT!”
Thank god for the very large, very wide cash desk between us, or he probably wouldn’t have asked. He sure as hell didn’t stop staring.
CUT TO: About a year later. I had just gotten a tattoo done on my left calf (the entire outside of it), and it was still healing (not that it even matters for the purposes of this story, but still). I was going to a concert with a friend, and I didn’t want my jeans rubbing on my leg. Plus it was summer. So I put on a skirt and let my leg air out.
I was sitting by myself at a table, waiting for my friend to return from getting drinks, when I felt a hand running up the entirety of my leg – PAST THE TATTOO – and up to my thigh. I instantly freaked out, slapping the hand away, then looked over to see a girl about my age looking shocked that I would stop her.
“What the fuck are you doing?!” (With another bitchface on, I’m sure.)
“It’s a cool tattoo. I just wanted to see if it felt different.” (She clearly didn’t see a problem with it.)
“Well keep your hands to yourself. It’s healing and your hands are dirty.” (That was my super nice response – lucky girl.)
“God…” (She was OFFENDED!)
CUT TO: Random strangers touching my neck from behind when I’m standing in line at stores, shopping for groceries, etc. (FYI, your neck is pretty personal space – all of your body is, but this is special – so if you touch mine without me knowing, I will karate chop you and/or swear. Or both. Because I probably think you’re trying to strangle me.)
CUT TO: A girl grabbing my right arm as I walk by her in a store and holding onto it, causing me to get jerked backward and nearly lose my balance. Her explanation? She just wanted to see my tattoo.
The people who most identify with this story are my girlfriends who have had babies. Because god knows nothing makes a stranger want to touch you like a pregnant belly! It’s like a hand magnet! And the personal questions! What a DRAG. I have no idea why people think this is all right, but they do. I can’t imagine how irritating that would be. (Well, actually I can!)
Perhaps more interesting than that is the fact that NONE (see: NONE) of my tattooed male friends have ever had this happen to them. I tell these stories and they stare at me like I’m crazy. The typical response is, “And they just TOUCH you? Like, without asking?”
I’m sure I could spend hours picking this apart, pointing out that somehow the female body is open to public consumption and the male one isn’t. I’m not going to because I find it both infuriating and exasperating just to think about.
So instead, I’ll say this:
If you’re curious, just ask. I’ll probably let you touch one of my tattoos if you’re nice about it. But while we’re on the subject, don’t ask me if they hurt (because DUH), and don’t ask me for the personal stories behind them, because I don’t know you!
SIDENOTE: If we’re already friends, then you can touch me all you want, ask me whatever questions, etc. – I’m one of those DON’T TOUCH ME if I don’t know you, but HUG ME PLEASE if I do people. So if you’re reading this going, “OMG, I totally did all those things!” chances are you didn’t upset me when you did because I like you. (Unless you think we’re friends and I actually don’t like you at all.)
Lesson learned: I entered a lifelong sociological experiment the day I got my first visible tattoo.
Does this happen to you, fellow inkeds?
*And I looooooove my personal space.
**Healing a tattoo – especially a large one – is pretty gross, y’all. I feel like the only people who understand lymph fluid-soaked clothing and peeling skin are other tattooed folk. We just nod solemnly and say, “Yep. I feel ya.”***
***Maybe not in those exact words. Because other people are cooler than me.