11 Tattooed Women On The Double Standards They Face For Being Inked

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In 2016, it’s not uncommon for women to have tattoos. All you need to do is take a good look around and you’ll find that a lot of female friends, colleagues and family members are inked. 

While tattoos are empowering for many women, providing a way for them to take ownership of their bodies, they can also be a hinderance in the real world. And it’s all because of society’s rather outdated – and, quite frankly, sexist – perceptions of how women ‘should’ be. 

A photo series shot by Tahira Mirza for The Huffington Post UK explores the important reasons women choose to get tattooed and unveils the double standards they are faced with on a daily basis for having tattoos.

One subject, Poorna Bell, executive editor for HuffPost UK, explains: “With guys, it’s a hipster thing – you’re seen as cool and edgy. With women, a lot of people assume you must be compensating for something or you’re somehow looser with your morals.

“It’s ridiculous as it’s 2016, not 1916.”

From scuppered job opportunities and double standards at work, to the importance of taking control of their bodies and keeping fond memories alive – here, 11 women talk about their experiences of being inked in 2016.

  • Rosy Cherrington
    Tahira Mirza/ The Huffington Post UK
    “Already obsessed with tattoos, and fake ID in hand, I was 17 when I got my first one. It was a way, at last, to take ownership of my body – one that no one could take away, unlike the piercings I was forced to remove at work and at school.

    I saw them as a form of rebellion – as much as self decoration – and over the years into adulthood, my collection grew; a baptism of needles into self awareness and acceptance.

    I think tattoos can be beautiful, meaningful – each one for me symbolises a part of my life, a story, an experience, a person I’ll never forget. There are ones I want to remove, but I still look down at them with fondness for the memory they represent.

    Reactions have mostly been positive, aside from the tatt-calling, but I still think we live in a time when tattooed folks face discrimination – especially in the workplace.”

  • Reka Vincze
  • Tahira Mirza/Huffington Post UK
    “I got into punk and hardcore music in my early teens. Most of my ‘punk rocker’ friends were into piercings and tattoos so it came naturally.

    I have so many tattoos so they all come with stories – sometimes good and funny, sometimes not. Nothing super special or memorable though.

    I do feel that society has double standards when it comes to females and tattoos, but more abroad than in the UK (or maybe in smaller towns). I’m from Hungary and there you can really feel that people are fine with a man having a lot of tattoos but not so much for a woman. They immediately ask you bluntly ‘what do your parents think of that?’, ‘how will you find work?’ etc… If I have any issues in London it’s often from a tourist, not a local.

    I don’t think tattoos make you strong and in control of your body, you just have to have a strong personality – especially when you have more visible tattoos/lots of piercings as they draw attention, which is not always very pleasant or kind-hearted.

    You kind of have to defend yourself, grow a thick skin.”

  • Gio Anna
    Tahira Mirza/Huffington Post UK
    “I think anybody should be free to do whatever he/she wants with their body.

    I got my tattoos because they mean and remind me of something special. I did not ask myself any questions about what people would think when I had them done, I did it for myself.

    I wanted something printed on me forever. It’s like a visual memory, you have it on you even if you’re not thinking about it.”

  • Poorna Bell
    “I got my first tattoo when I was 17, from a dodgy place called Kev’s Tattoo Parlour. Kev was not great with precision and the end result was a wobbly Celtic triangle, but I didn’t care. For me, this was my first step of doing whatever I wanted to with my body (sorry Mum). It felt rebellious but it also felt empowering. Since the sound of that first needle buzzing in my universe, I have got around seven tattoos, including the cover-ups.

    I kept most of these hidden from my parents, but when I got the tats on my inner arms, I had to come clean. They were shocked and my mum was worried that I wouldn’t get a good job, but look at me now, yo. The bigger tattoo on my right arm is more significant because I knew if I got it, I would be stepping from the realm of dabbling into a Woman With Tattoos.

    I do think there is a gender disparity in how men with tats are treated to women with tats. With guys, it’s a hipster thing – you’re seen as cool and edgy. With women, a lot of people assume you must be compensating for something or you’re somehow looser with your morals and it’s ridiculous as it’s 2016, not 1916.”

  • Julia Seizure
    Tahira Mirza/Huffington Post UK
    “I first remember seeing and being interested in tattoos through punk band album sleeve photos and music magazines. I grew up in south east Asia and none of my family have tattoos so I wasn’t very immersed in subcultures of any kind until I discovered punk music as a youngun’.

    People can be dicks, people can be nice. My favourite reaction was being called a pirate by a toddler in the bank.

    I think society has double standards when it comes to females and tattoos. A heavily tattooed woman is deemed a lot of things that I don’t like to particularly dwell on. Nonsense really.

    I do feel my tattoos make me a strong person. I feel very proud of the work I have collected and I hope the people that I tattoo feel proud of my work on them. It’s a very gratifying process obtaining a collection… Much like any collection really. There is a great sense of accomplishment every time I get a new tattoo.”

  • Jessie Thompson
    Tahira Mirza/ The Huffington Post UK
    “I had always wanted a tattoo when I was younger, probably from looking at the women I looked up to like The Spice Girls who were always getting them (surely as good a reason as any).

    I thought it was really cool to be able to have a picture on your body. I failed multiple times to find a tattooist who would ink me under-age (thank God) and ended up getting my first one on my 18th birthday. And I got my nipple pierced for a dare.

    I used to pretend they had these really profound meanings like ‘I travel far away but I always come back to my home’ but that’s just total bollocks because I was 18 and didn’t know what I was talking about. I got my hot air balloon tattoo when I was 23 though because I just wanted to give myself something beautiful that always made me happy to look at during a time in my life when things were hard and everything was changing.

    People generally love them and are really complimentary (apart from my mum who thinks that I look like I belong in prison) but the most memorable reactions come from creeps. I have wings on my back and people are always like ‘I KNEW YOU WERE AN ANGEL’ and I have a swallow on my wrist and people are like ‘IS THAT COS YOU SWALLOW?’.

    I definitely do feel society has double standards when it comes to tattoos on females. I think because women are seen as being more ‘pure’ than men and there’s quite a specific beauty standard, marking your skin with a tattoo is seen as quite rebellious or even un-feminine. A lot of people are really shocked when they find out I have tattoos because they don’t expect it – I think they’re shocked that I’m capable of making decisions about my own body and it means I’m really wild and crazy. 

    My tattoos remind me that I can withstand hours of intense pain and also that my body is my own and I can do whatever I want with it.”

  • Cat Owen
    Tahira Mirza/Huffington Post UK
    “It felt really natural to get piercings and tattoos. I’ve always admired people who have the confidence to be themselves – it’s very much that vibe for me.

    The best reaction I ever got was to my Burger Bear tattoo as I now get free burgers for life!

    I definitely agree that there are double standards between men and women with tattoos. I am hardly ever taken seriously, even though I am highly intelligent and a successful entrepreneur, I find that ‘normal’ looking people especially struggle to take me seriously.”

  • Eve Hartley
    Tahira Mirza/Huffington Post UK
    “I have always identified with alternative culture and getting tattoos and piercings made sense to me. On top of that, I have always taken risks, and I wanted to know what the sensation felt like, now it’s a part of who I am.

    Both of my tattoos have strong meanings. On my ribs I have a tiger, which is the favourite animal of a friend who sadly passed away aged 19. It reads ‘no regrets’ which was part of her ethos for living life. It reminds me to take the plunge because life can be devastatingly short.

    My ‘pin-up’ girl on my arm is inspired by Amy Winehouse. I admire her courage and strength and wanted something to remind me of that slope, and how painful addiction can be.

    I have since had another tattoo from a trip to New Zealand. Inspired by the nature and people, it’s a reflection of turbulence amid the city and how I feel at home again after rediscovering a connection with the planet.

    When my mum first saw them she yelped and screamed a little before saying ‘oh fuck’, but she has since given her reluctant blessing.

    I think there is a long way to go for it to be ‘socially acceptable’ for women to do lots of things with their bodies. The more women feel they can express themselves through body art, the more the world will accept it. Arguably tattoos are becoming more mainstream and women can enjoy the acceptance that comes with that. But I think that men have an easier time with tattoos because they are not scrutinised as much as women on their appearance.

    Female ‘masculinity’, or ‘butchness’ is also looked down upon.

    My tattoos paint a story on my body which I take with me around the world and I’m always reminded of their beautiful and individual messages. They give me strength and I am able to own my body and kind of say ‘fuck you and your social norms’ to the world. I aim to be covered in them soon (sorry mum).”

  • Annabelle Brooks
    Tahira Mirza/The Huffington Post UK
    “I remember as a little girl I was obsessed with wanting to get my ears pierced. I used to stick on fake earrings when I was five and spent years convincing my Mum to let me get them done, which she did aged 12. However it was my fascination of alternative culture as a young teenager which led to my love of body art. My piercing collection grew and grew (much to the dismay of my parents) and by the age of 15 I had over 21 piercings.

    By my late teens I had my first tattoo while training to be a piercer and working the reception at a tattoo shop. It was addictive, rebellious and because it was free at my disposal anytime, I got quite a collection of some good and some very bad ink! But above all I think the most important thing is that body art allows you to express your personality and individuality and that’s what truly matters to me.

    Every tattoo tells a story and is a snapshot of your life at that time. My ‘Daddy’ tattoo was done when he first started receiving hospital treatment nine years ago. My dad wasn’t the biggest fan of it (or any tattoo I had) and he used to tease me about how I used his name to have another excuse to get another one! But secretly I think he was quite flattered. Since my dad’s recent passing, I find a lot of comfort wearing this piece and feel that he’s always with me by my side, so I’m very grateful I have it.

    The most frustrating reaction is when people say ‘you’re so beautiful why are you ruining your face with that stuff?’. People with tattoos and piercings see this as beautiful. It’s not just vanity, it’s a lifestyle choice – something that is regularly misunderstood. However in more recent times, I think things have changed and there’s not so much of a taboo anymore so people notice and comment less.

    Society has double standards when it comes to females and tattoos – even in the most relaxed and creative industries this is an issue! Guys with full sleeves can walk into any boardroom and be respected. I doubt very much a women with tattoos would receive the same welcome. I’ve found that since I have taken on more senior sales roles and become increasingly more client facing, I’ve slowly had to take piercings out one by one, change my dress and feel the pressure to not get any more tattoos that are in non-coverable positions. It’s never said, but it’s what society expects me to do.

    I remember the first client meeting I ever had after being in telesales for the last two years. My manager started freaking out not wanting me to go to the meeting even though over the phone I had the best relationship with this client across the whole team. She feared that because of my tattoos and piercings I would lose the account, but I nailed it and signed them on for a year. I took that as a little victory and it reminded me to not change who I am for a job but to push the boundaries in more of a comfortable and compromised way.

    This is my body and I am happy that I live in a society where I have the choice to do what I want with it! We are strong because tattoos and piercings hurt and you have to be a little bit tough to get through them. Some of these tattoos have come into your life during a difficult time, so they become your little badges of honour.”

  • Elizabeth Ramone
    Tahira Mirza/Huffington Post UK
    “Since I was a little girl, no older than five, I remember my fascination for tattoos started there.

    I began to notice them on people and wanted them all.  
    There are many good and bad. Most people want to ask the normal questions. Does it hurt? How much does it cost? How long does it take? Why did you do that to yourself? None of which are that interesting a talking point.

    There are many that would believe that as I have tattoos and am female this would make me morally questionable. This has a knock on effect, it means my personal space is also taken for granted. Some feel it is their right to touch and feel my skin without question or consent. I feel at times I am seen as a show piece in public, to a point, whereas my husband wouldn’t tend to be approached in the same way. 

    I feel that I am able to be my true self by with my tattoos.”

  • Sarita Rodriguez
    Tahira Mirza/Huffington Post UK
  • Tahira Mirza/Huffington Post UK
    “I feel confident in my body and my tattoos are an image of my self expression.

    I do feel men are treated differently to women when it comes to being heavily tattooed, we aren’t seen as feminine or ‘normal’ which I think is ridiculous because when the tables are turned and a man is heavily tattooed he is seen as being ‘hot’ – take David Beckham as an example.”

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