Always wonderful to welcome back a VBU! alumni and Rachel, author or Rachel in Veganland is certainly one. Her first post on VBU! titled Not Skinny was incredibly popular and poignant. You can see her second post Tahini Chickpeas here. And her third post Breakfast Polenta here. Please welcome Rachel for a fourth time with another thought provoking article! You can follow Rachel’s posts through email, and find her on Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest. Welcome back Rachel!
Recently, I got tattooed again. There are few photographs of my body here on the blog but if you follow my Instagram feed, I’m pretty open about any time I’m back in the chair and under the needle. I love tattoos and tattooing–I’ve wanted to be heavily tattooed for my entire life. My love of body ink recently culminated with the completion of my Alice in Wonderland half sleeve–a project that my tattooer and I have been working on for nearly 3 years. Suddenly, I realized the other day that I’ve become the person (at least visually) that I’ve always hoped I would be. I guess I am finally at the point in which I can say with confidence that I am heavily tattooed. (Finally!)
I often find myself thinking about tattoos. Mine, my friends’, the tattoos I see via social media, the ones my tattooer is making for his other clients, you get the picture. I’ve always been fascinated by the way in which people physically and visually engage my tattoos and by default my tattooed body. At my last place of work, I was always asked about my tattoos, while my male counterparts were not. I’m nearly always approached in public by strangers who ask about my tattoos, regardless of who I am with, and I’ve never seen any of my tattooed male friends approached by people we don’t know for inquiries about their ink.
Coming from a gender studies background, I’ve put my sociological goggles on and watched with interest the changes in how people engage me as I’ve become more and more heavily tattooed. Then, back in December, a friend of mine posted this article to Facebook. If you haven’t read it yet, you should.
(As in stop reading this, and read the Guardian piece. Right. Now.)
Suddenly, everything I’d been thinking and feeling as a tattooed lady began to fall into place.
Because I’m becoming more and more engrossed in and have always been enamored with tattoo culture, I’m becoming more and more aware of heavily tattooed ladies in the public eye: we have starlets like Angelina Jolie and Lady Gaga who are visibly tattooed, one of my all time favorite fictional characters Lisbeth Salander from The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series, and then models like my major celeb crush Ellegy Ellem who have made their careers from being badass tattooed curvy ladies. That all being said, the world of tattooing is still largely male dominated. There are several female tattooers (Heather Bailey and Marina Inoue are two of my favorites that my tattooer introduced me to.) who are gaining popularity, and celebrity tattooing brought along by TV shows like Miami and LA Ink and Ink Master have also begun to normalize women’s place as both the tattooers and the tattooed.
“Did it hurt?!” (Of course it did. Some more than others, no I don’t mind the pain.)
“How many do you have?!” (11, and I count my half sleeve as one now.)
“Aren’t you worried about getting a ‘real job’ with those?” (Absolutely not.)
And, the cherry on top: sitting at, oh my favorite watering hole for example, and having some random person walk up and grab my sleeved arm, and start touching my tattoos.
Now, here’s where intersectionality comes into play.
I’ve thought a lot lately about the potential overlaps between vegans, veganism, and tattooing. A lot of vegans that I know personally and that I see on the interwebs happen to be tattooed. Several of my veg-lebrity crushes: Isa Chandra Moskowitz, Jasmin Singer, and Melisser Elliott are all heavily tattooed ladies. (Also aside–ever find it interesting that the blogosphere in general not to mention the vegan blogosphere is dominated primarily by women?! That’s a whole other cup of tea, but couldn’t write this post without a mention.)
So: we have the tattooed body. We have the vegan body. The female body. Now, how about the tattooed vegan female body? As a vegan, as a woman, and as a curvy tattooed lady, there’s a lot of scrutiny placed upon my body by friends, family members, strangers. As soon as someone knows I’m vegan, they see me differently. They see my body differently. The begin to read my physicality by the preprogrammed stereotype of vegans that so many outside of the vegan world are presented with. (Specifically I’m thinking of the: toothpick/malnourished/deprived trinity of prejudgement.) I’m not a toothpick by any means. I’m proud to say, hell yeah, I’ve got some curves. I hope that I successfully break those stereotypes and welcome people to the idea that vegans come in all shapes and sizes.
The same goes for my tattoos–as soon as someone sees that I’m heavily tattooed the way that they engage my body visually, from physical contact to staring at my larger or more noticeable ink, changes. I hope that I can break those stereotypes too. That tattooed women are “cheap,” and don’t care about their bodies, that tattooed women’s bodies are for male consumption and because they lack tangible “feminine” value should be placed within male control. In fact I feel the opposite. Just like the food choices I make, each and every one of my tattoos has been a deliberate, conscious decision that brings me joy and makes me feel at once feminine, powerful, and sexy. By taking control of what my own skin looks like, every waking moment only shows that this body and skin are MINE and that they hold real value to me as truly personal sources of both beauty and pride.
To paraphrase my favorite section of that brilliant Guardian article (and adding my own food/vegan philosophy to the mix): by choosing what I put on and in my body I’m saying that MY standards as a queer, vegan, tatted lady are more important than those society might try and place on me. My very skin is an act of defiance.