Ink-orrect: Society’s attitude towards body modification

Your body is your canvas, decorate it how you choose! Photo by Natalie Goo


As a woman with tattoos, piercings and sometimes colorful hair, I’m no stranger to others’ strong opinions. Most of the time, I receive positive reactions to my decorated skin — there is nothing I love more than to talk about my tattoos! But, there are also the negative remarks that I have to face to defend my decision to mark my body. 

Body modification has had such a negative connotation in society for quite some time — especially when it comes to female-presenting individuals and in the workforce. 

For most, body modifications are a way of expressing themselves. This sentiment is not lost on me — all my tattoos are personal. They are a way of intimately demonstrating myself and decorating my body: wearable art if you will. One of the most impactful ways I have heard the meaning of body modifications is described as a means of exercising control of the perception of yourself. 

First-year arts administration major Oli Barnett explained about how he put his decision to get body modifications into perspective. 

“My parents are against body modifications,” Barnett said. “When I started getting body modifications, the way that I described it to them was when I was born, I was handed a blank room. I’m just choosing to decorate the walls however makes me happy.” 

The idea of body decoration is one that has been celebrated for years. It is deeply ingrained in cultures worldwide: Japanese, Samoan and many African cultures pride themselves on the traditional methods of body art. 

Body decoration has always held significant importance in many cultures across the world, so why do we have such an issue with it in the professional Western world? 

If there’s one thing I know about America, it’s that we love purity culture. The idea that we must be pure and abstain from dirty behaviors rings as true in the dating world as it does in professional landscapes. Body modifications are often seen as “dirty” or “impure,” especially when it comes to tattoos. 

Tatiana Pereda, a senior biochemistry and Spanish double major, addressed the nuances of professionalism and body modifications. 

“[Some people feel like you have to] make it look like you’ve taken care of your body and taken care of yourself,” Pereda said. “I think some people think that tattoos, piercings and dyed hair are a way of showing that you don’t care about yourself, which is so far from the truth.” 

Older generations are often the ones who hold this opinion and preach it to the masses. Since many think that body modifications indicate a lack of self-care and respect, they question that person’s ability to perform a task as well as someone who does not have modifications. 

Another American habit is casual — or explicit — bigotry. Tattoos are heavily associated with gang membership, prison time or lower-class individuals — which is where the idea of body art being unprofessional comes from. 

Close your eyes and picture a professional woman. What does she look like? Odds are she’s a white woman, brunette, wearing a starched pantsuit with her arms crossed. Maybe, if she’s feeling crazy she’s sporting a bold red lip. If you Google “professional woman,” those are generally the results that will come up. 

Oftentimes women with visible tattoos and piercings located outside of the earlobes get the brunt of these complaints. This furthermore feeds into the idea that it is socially acceptable for men to have tattoos but women generally cannot. 

I cannot even count the number of times where I have been having a conversation with a middle-aged man, rolled my sleeves up and had them grimace at my inked arms. The look they give me is as if to say, “Why would you do that to yourself?” It’s disturbing to me, even more than it is to them. 

When men get a tattoo, nobody bats an eye. But the minute a woman gets anything other than a fine line tattoo, everyone loses their minds. 

“It goes back to the purity culture thing where [women are] often considered tainted or damaged goods kind of mentality,” Barnett said. “I think they’re treated as less.” 

Women who get tattoos are considered rebellious and impure — unfeminine. They aren’t “the perfect wife” or “pristine mother” — what an outdated idea. I don’t know about you ladies, but with that in mind, I’m booking my next tattoo appointment right now. 

“It’s that expectation that women are supposed to be docile and not take up attention,” Pereda said. “I think we are as a generation now kind of redefining what it means to be feminine. You don’t have to be a woman to be feminine.” 

The expectation that women are clean, untouched and inconspicuous is so very outdated in principle, but not necessarily in practice. On the other side, the idea that men are always strong, brave and assertive is outdated too. Men can opt to get their ears pierced and wear makeup, but that does not mean they are “effeminate” — this isn’t the 1980s. 

Someone can dye their hair neon yellow, get a tattoo of that one Pikachu meme and pierce their eyebrow, and that won’t affect how well they can perform their job. 

First-year anthropology major Caitlyn Snavely commented on how silly the idea is that a body modification makes you lesser than someone else. 

“So you spent a couple of hours in a tattoo shop, and now you have something pretty on your arm; that doesn’t make you any less of a person,” Snavely said. “I feel like it makes you more of a person because now you’ve committed to something. I think recognizing that committing to something like [a tattoo] is really powerful instead of really stupid would be a great thing.” 

The decision to get a piercing, tattoo or new color of hair dye is not one that is taken lightly by most; it’s expensive. Tattoos can range from $50 for a small, fine-line to $8,000 or more for a full sleeve. Piercings can approach or exceed the $100 marker. A box of good-quality hair dye will run you about $30. I don’t wake up one day and say to myself, “Today, I want to get a new tattoo.” No, I have to make an appointment, design the tattoo, carve out some time and make a pit stop at the ATM. 

I don’t vocalize my criticism of the weird $200 pair of shoes you have on your feet on a frigid January day, so why are you talking about the artwork scattered about my body or the color of my hair? 

Everyone has the right to self-expression, and that should apply to body modifications too. Tattoos aren’t dirty or gang-related, piercings aren’t just for women and queer individuals, and blue hair does not automatically mean you’re a liberal woman with a nose ring. 

Contrary to many Karens’ dismay, the hair dye does not seep into someone’s brain and inhibit their ability to do their job. The man with purple hair and an industrial piercing is able to lead a company, teach a class of fourth graders or do whatever else he d*mn pleases. 

It’s 2024, and people with tattoos are not unprofessional — your negative attitudes are.


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