‘Tatt-calling’: Why my tattoos are not a call for attention

It’s not unusual to see heavily tattooed people anymore, especially in a city like Bristol. But for tattooed women, it’s also not unusual to be subject to “tatt-calling” on a regular basis.  “Tatt-calling” is the unwanted attention from strangers, especially men, in the form of vulgar comments, whistles and general interference of your day, directed at your tattoos.

Outside of the tattoo community, women with tattoos are often still negatively perceived as promiscuous, overconfident or ‘alternative’.  The fact that a tattoo on a woman’s lower back is still referred to as a ‘Tramp Stamp’ proves that they are still associated with negative sexualisation.

Photo: Jodie Sutton

In the colder months, I am able to easily hide all of my tattoos under long sleeves and trousers or thick tights. Here I can walk along the street unnoticed and blend into a crowd. However, when my arms and legs are more on show and I can be seen as visibly tattooed, my experience changes. This summer, I noticed that I was getting more comments than ever. I counted that I would get at least 3 comments a day on my tattoos. “Nice ink”, “tattooed girl, sick” “did those all hurt?”, “wow, look at your legs”, “where else have you got them?” Quite often, men would just shout “TATTS!” at me from across the street.

This can even be a problem in situations where my tattoos are clearly not “on show”. At an old waitressing job, a customer pointed out my wrist tattoo poking out of my cuff and insisted I show it to the table. When reluctantly I did, he spent the whole interaction saying how ugly he thought tattoos were and that he didn’t understand why people got them.

Some people may be thinking, “well she shouldn’t have gotten tattoos if she didn’t want the attention,” which is part of the problem. When you shout unsolicited comments at a woman, it can seem as though you’re asserting your dominance over her with the reminder that her purpose is to be visually appealing, even if you just think you’re paying her a compliment. Of course, tattoos can be a visual expression of aesthetic appeals or individualism, but they don’t exist for the pleasure of an outside viewer.

Not every single comment on tattoos is negative. I love it when people approach me to ask for artist recommendations or advice on where to start with getting tattooed. I’ve also had people recognise my specific tattoos from Instagram which is always strange! I can just tell when someone is genuinely interested in the artwork on my skin, and when they’re just seeing me as a ‘tattooed girl’; an object to be looked at. 

I don’t regret getting any of my tattoos, but having tattoos isn’t an invitation for unwanted attention. I just want to live my life as a visibly tattooed woman without having to second-guess what I’m wearing one day, worrying about the types of comments I might get.

Featured image: Jodie Sutton.

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