Tattooed women are, research shows, perceived as less healthy, less attractive, more promiscuous, and heavier drinkers, while people read tattooed men as more dominant [1, 2] Despite the fact that more and more people have tattoos, folks without body modifications peg those with as radically different from themselves . That's got to a weird experience, no?
Tanya: When did you get your first tattoo, and was the timing impacted by your relationship with your parents?
Olivia: I got my first tattoo from an "old school" artist at 21 — because that was the minimum age, but also because that's when I felt ready. That first tattoo really wasn't great, and I later had it covered up. I had a few more not-so-great tattoos before finding the right artist for me, like, quite a few years later. Interestingly, his mom recommended him to me! My family didn't impact the timing of the first tattoo, since I'd already left home by that time, but I do know my mom was really unimpressed with it. Though I suspect she still doesn't like tattoos all that much, I know she does appreciate the quality most of of the art work I have now. My daughter has expressed an interest in becoming a tattoo artist herself, and my mom has already volunteered her skin should that come to fruition. I think it shows she cares about her granddaughter, not that she is into tattoos.
Tanya: Would you allow your kids to get tattooed now?
Olivia: Now as in right now? Hell no! They're nine and 11 and not ready to get tattooed. I'm totally cool with the idea of them getting inked later on, though.
Tanya: At what age?
Olivia: I don't know. My daughter's already thinking about all the tattoos she wants to get later. She was totally obsessed with Harry Potter for a time, saw other HP fans with Deathly Hallows tattoos, and talked about getting the same. A year on, she's moved onto being obsessed with Stranger Things and as most HP paraphernalia has disappeared off her desk, I'm pretty sure she's not thinking about that particular tattoo anymore. People's interests and preferences change — a LOT — through adolescence and that's reason enough to wait a while before getting inked. I might just be cool with a memorial for a dead relative or something at 16. Something that will stay relevant in her life no matter what, as long as the art work is good. No pop culture stuff for sure, though, and I'm strongly in favor of waiting until you can afford a great tattoo.
Tanya: Have you ever seen a good tattoo artist without tattoos?
Olivia: Nope, and I wouldn't get tattooed by someone without tattoos. It would make me wonder why they want to be a tattoo artist if they don't love the art enough to have tattoos themselves.
Tanya: Do you think you have to consider employment before being tattooed?
Olivia: Yes, for sure. Though I know that I'm not going to work in professions where ink is totally taboo at this stage in my life, not because of the tattoos but because I know where I stand professionally, I'm still able to hide all my ink at this point — there are advantages to being able to put on a pant suit without ink sticking out. I'm not done being inked, but I'm not planning on any facial tattoos or anything like that.
Tanya: Were there any tattoos you regretted?
Olivia: Yes and no. My tattoos tell the story of my life in a way, and the not-so-nice ones are part of that story. I don't have any tattoos that depict or represent things I despise or anything, but I do wish some of my tattoos were of better quality. As I get more tattoos, they blend in rather than standing out, so I'm OK with that.
What about you? What do you think when you see heavily tattooed folks?
Tanya: I think they're brave and they don't give a sh*t what people think. I think they surely don't work in a bank. I do wonder what people's tattoos mean. Like the leaves you have, what's that about? Is it because of a love of nature? Do you think tattoos have to have deep meanings?
Olivia: Oh, that's interesting! When I see people with nature-themed tattoos, I have to admit I usually assume they work at a smoothie bar or an organic food shop or something. It's true that I grew up around nature and I might be subconsciously drawn to that, bringing more nature into a now urban life. The withered leaf is about something completely different, though — about overcoming PTSD and giving myself permission to let go of past trauma, reminding myself that it's in the past and though it will always be part of me, it doesn't define me. I've drawn strength from looking at that tattoo many times during hard moments. I'm no longer the little girl who experienced that trauma; I've literally turned over a new leaf, as the tattoo shows.
Some of my other tattoos also represent personal growth. Like the phoenix — that pretty much speaks for itself, I think. Unlike some people, I don't think that all tattoos have to have deep meanings, though. Some of my ink is there for no other reason than because I like it and it makes me smile. What's interesting is that even ink that didn't start out as having a deeper meaning evolves to have one over time; seeing it evokes memories of the period of life during which I got it.
Tanya: Yes, I think it says a lot about people when there's an entire story on the body, but I also think they're not about broadcasting that story to the world.
Olivia: Exactly! My tattoos are about the skin I choose to have rather than the skin I was born with. Not genetics, but my life. Just because they tell a story, though, doesn't necessarily mean I think randos on the street get to ask about their meanings. You don't go up to people and ask why they choose to have a mustache, why they're in a wheelchair, why they choose to wear the clothes they do, either. That kind of thing is for more intimate conversations. Admittedly, I sometimes itch to ask people about their ink, but I don't actually do it.
Tanya: What about old people with tattoos? Do you ever wonder what you'll look like when you're really wrinkly?
Olivia: If we're lucky, we all get old and wrinkly. Some of us will be old and wrinkly with tattoos, and some without. I'm assuming that my tattoos will still make me smile when I get to that stage, that they will remind me of the time when I was young and raising kids, a happy time of my life.
Tanya: What feeling do you get when you're tattooed?
Olivia: An adrenaline or endorphin rush or something, for sure. I find the process of being tattooed therapeutic and cathartic.
Tanya: People say you get addicted... any truth to that?
Olivia: Yes, definitely.
Tanya: Did you ever feel you or your kids were judged or even treated negatively by other kids on the playground or elsewhere?
Olivia: Not really. I am not discounting the fact that this does happen, though — there are people out there who have clear pictures in their minds about what mothers should be like and look like, and someone with lots of tattoos doesn't live up to it. I remember one occasion on which a friend's three-year-old marched up to my arm, declared my artwork ugly, and says she can draw better than that. I think she said something about princesses and sparkles being better than my scary dragon. That was cute. On another occasion, another mom at one of my kids' extracurricular activities went on and on about how she supports people's right to get tattoos but really dislikes them herself. After listening for about 10 minutes, I told her I wasn't too thrilled about her haircut either.