Sunday, November 4, 2007

The Body as Ecotone - Part 6 - Kate Sweeney

The Tattooed Lady Speaks
- Kate Sweeney

My first tattoo isn’t small. I live in a southern town, which means that any season other than the dead of winter, you’ll see it. The other one is pretty readily visible, too. Because now there are two. Somehow this happened, and intrinsically, it pleases me. But still, I don’t want to be identified as “The Tattooed Girl.”

Did this ever get to the Lion Tamer? Did he long for the world to know he could also play the kazoo so sweetly it could lull a babe to slumber? I heard no one bought it when Snake Woman mentioned she’d taken up photography. And the Fat Lady. Well. She’s still battling it out.

Except of course, the difference is that every ounce of unwanted attention in this matter is my fault. No one else forced me into first one tattoo studio and then another, a few years and hundreds of miles later. Oh, and nobody forced my hand in deciding Tattoo Number One would be a primitive explosion of vivid red-orange rose blossoms just beneath my shoulder blades. It’s this that introduced me to the phenomenon of people I didn’t know well identifying me as The Girl With That Tattoo. All my doing.

I did this. And not just because I thought the design was pretty, but because of how I imagined it identified me. The obvious problem, however, is that I don’t get to control the significance other people place on my tattoos. Other people do not see this ink and think, “Ah. Bookish and creative.” The men at the truck stops see it and send up wise smirks. My grandmother saw them only recently—not my idea. (Thanks, sis’!) To her, the tattoos amounted to disappointment; marked me as “common.” To some guys at bars, they signify “promiscuous but scary.” In reality, I am both shy in a number of matters and neurotic, but not psychotic. Then there’s the typical “Ah, trendy!” reaction, followed in the same breath, with “Foolhardy.” As in, “She’ll regret that in five years.” When I told a colleague once that I got those roses done in my mid-twenties, she said, “Oh! I’d assumed it was like, one of those regretful things you did back when you were eighteen.”
Um, no.

The worst though, is people who assume because I have a couple, that I am a fan of tattoos in general. That I’ll
1. like
2. want to talk about
that dolphin on your belly/the Celtic band across your arm/your future plans to map that scene from Gladiator across your back.
Listen: I’m not a conventioneer. I just don’t want to talk about tattoos, yours or mine.

It’s unsettling to be reminded of one's physical appearance by people you’ve just met. I feel for the pregnant woman whose fate it is to have strangers in grocery stores reach out to brush their fingers across her swollen belly, as if her body somehow no longer belonged to her.

What makes it especially irritating is that in large part, the reason I got these tattoos has everything to do with claiming my body as my own. If there’s anything I want people to get when they see me, it’s that I’m someone who tries not to buy into fashion norms or conventional consumerist hoo-ha, thank you. The word “fashion” makes me squirm. Like malls, like thong underpants. I’ll say so with my body. I’ll say so right up front.

The agonizing, hilarious irony is that of course, in fashion’s predictable arc, tattoos, like Chuck Taylor shoes and so many things before them, long ago went from being anti-fashion statements to being signs of hipness. Where was I when this happened? Maybe at this bar, wearing a variant of the same outfit I’ve worn since I was 17: Converses and some $2 thrift store dress. And hey, look: everyone around me here now looks like this too, although that's no sign that they share my politics or passions. And yet maybe tonight I’ll make some sort of connection. Because listen: there’s this guy trying to get my attention over the music; wait, what? He leans over. Shouts into my ear.
“My ex-girlfriend had a tattoo sort of like that!”
Oh, really?
“She was a real bitch!”
All right.

1 comment:

JaySlacks said...

I feel the same way about my tattoos. No one but the most intimate of people have seen them, and when they do it is like I've morphed into a person very "non" like what they thought. And then they want to discuss it. The best is when the tattoos become apart of the body, like a good scar or joint that never stops hurting...