the illustrated lady (will break your legs if you insist on groping said illustrations)

Ah, spring. I’ve started wearing short sleeves in public again! This, of course, means that the world can view my tattoos. Oh, dear.

If you’ve never seen me in person, I am fairly heavily tattooed. I have a full chest piece, full sleeve on my left arm, a couple of smaller pieces on my right arm, both shins, behind my ears (not too visible, generally, since I usually have my hair down), and my toes (which you can see on my “who is this clod?” page).

Ever since I started getting visible tattoos, I’ve been continually blown away by the people who evidently think that having a tattoo means you don’t get to have any personal rules about people touching you and asking you highly invasive questions. I mean, I don’t mind people looking. I know my tattoos are visually interesting, that’s why I got them. Outright staring is a little weird, but whatever. I also don’t mind offhand “nice tattoo” comments, because I’m not expected to respond beyond “thanks.”

But…just the other day, I was sitting in my coffee shop of choice, sipping my beverage, reading Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell (on loan from Ubergenius Guitarist Pal – I actually just finished it, and it’s totally awesome). Some dude saw the plague doctor on my left forearm, sidled up to me and started asking me about it – “so, where’s that image from? Why is he dressed like that? Is that from an engraving or a painting? What’s all that stuff on your other arm?” Which, OK, those are all questions I might have if I saw that image. But dude, I am just trying to enjoy my coffee and read my dorky book about magicians. I am not always wanting to get into a lengthy conversation about my work, especially considering how many times I’ve usually had it before.

Then, of course, there are the people who are just fucking rude. Just for the record, I can hear you when you’re saying to your yuppie friends that you don’t know how I can do that to myself, and making all kinds of delightful pronouncements about my intelligence and level of sexual morality. Also, I don’t mind answering questions about the cost of my tattoos if they’re asked out of actual curiosity. However, I have noticed that this sometimes becomes an opportunity to lecture me about mismanaging my budget. Yeah, thanks.

There are also the people with a weird sense of entitlement, who are shocked and offended when I tell them that I don’t really feel like going into the backstory of all my work, who get indignant when I won’t roll up my sleeve or pull down my shirt for a better look. A fellow in college was like this. I refused to translate the Latin on my arm for him (because doing so almost always leads to a tedious discussion about my religious beliefs) and every time he saw me afterwards he would angrily say something along the lines of “you have GOT to tell me, it is REALLY RUDE that you’re not telling me.” Hassling me repeatedly about a subject I clearly have no interest in discussing? Not rude, evidently.

Sometimes this crosses over into the fun idea that tattooed women are “trashy” and therefore our bodies are, by default, publicly available. One time I yelled at a fellow who wordlessly came up to me and started lifting up my sleeve for a peek at my arm – his response was along the lines of “you shouldn’t have gotten that done if you don’t want people touching you.” Um, wow, what the fuck? Yes, obviously having images on my skin is an invitation for strangers to put their hands on me. Also, yes, I will ignore you if you shout at me from across the street that you want to see my “angel tattoo.” Those are Furies, not angels, and I know you’re asking because it’s on my chest and you want a peek at my tits. Actually, on second thought, you can look. That’ll be $120, plus a bottle of fine bourbon.

The only idiot question I don’t mind, because it’s hilarious: “Are those real?” No. No, they aren’t. I spend several hours per morning painstakingly drawing on myself with a ballpoint pen. Got to keep up appearances, you know.

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~ by Smellen on March 24, 2010.

9 Responses to “the illustrated lady (will break your legs if you insist on groping said illustrations)”

  1. Your experience sounds pretty similar to what mine has been over the last four or five years as my tattoos have become increasingly visible. I was certainly more gracious or “pleasant” about it at the beginning, but I’m much less likely to answer questions about them now, and it’s amazing how personally people do take that. I don’t know where the sense of entitlement or view of tattoos as public art stems from, but yuck. My worst experience was lifting weights at the gym last winter. A man came up, leaned on a machine beside me, commented that one tattoo on the inside of my arm was on a very “tender area,” then when I noncommittally grunted some kind of response, he winked at me and said, “Do you like pain?” Yup.

    • Oh yeah, I’ve gotten the “you like pain?” thing before. Mostly when I was younger and had more piercings, but I still get it every now and then these days. Do people not realize just how gross and inappropriate that is? If you’re gonna ask me that kind of shit I expect dinner and drinks first.

  2. What Latin inscription do you bear, out of curiosity? I’ve often thought “non serviam” would be cool, although as an official supporter of the Other Side I’m a bit conflicted about it…likewise “ni dieu ni maitre”, although of course that’s French…

    • It’s the opening lines from Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal, which are from Revelations: “And when the lamb opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for the space of half an hour. And the seven angels with the seven trumpets prepared themselves to sound.” It goes with the Black Death theme on that arm, which also has Heinrich Knoblochzer’s “Death and the Young Lady” and a plague doctor.

  3. This is so me! It’s so incredibly frustrating to have strangers trying to touch me all the time, and asking the same questions over and over and over again.

    “you shouldn’t have gotten that done if you don’t want people touching you.”

    That line annoys me to no end. As if I got all these tattoos to impress anyone besides myself.

  4. I’m glad I stick to “wow, nice ink” and sometimes “is the artist local?” Saves ever so much annoyance on everybody’s part. But asking about the significance or what it means seems uncomfortably intimate if I don’t even know the person’s name.

    Back when I was participating on the rec.arts.bodyart newsgroup (back when it was Usenet, and nobody’d even heard of Google Groups), the discussion turned to this kind of thing. Two things I still remember:

    “The biggest difference between people with tattoos and people without tattoos is that people with tattoos DON’T CARE whether you have tattoos or not.”

    And a snappy comeback: “Did I go out of my way to tell you your shirt is ugly?

  5. So ummm, I randomly stumbled on your website and I have absolutely no tattoos and don’t ever plan on getting them, but this post just reminded me so much of being pregnant that I found it very funny. People you’ve never met say all sorts of weird things when you’re pregnant and ask you strange questions and for some reason there are way too many people who think it’s okay to touch your belly, even if you don’t know them. Wonder what happens if you’re heavily tattooed and pregnant?

  6. I have some ink on both arms, my chest, my neck my, legs etc etc and yeah weird ass people come up to me all the time and want to know~ why i have so many tattoos?~did they hurt~ what do they mean?~ and one person straight up grabbed my arm and pulled up my sleeve! That pissed me off i was like first of all dont ever put your hands on me again and yanked my arm out of the persons hand. whats up with these people or the old perverts who stare at my chest claiming theyre admiring my work (yeah f off) or the what are u going to tell your kids one day? Or how are u going to find a husband? Or what are u going to do when your old? F*n annoying… “-“

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