Tattoos have been coming into prominence for a couple of decades now; tattoos for girls, for guys, for the—
Oh, silly me! I forgot there were only two genders and tattoo designs for each of them respectively. Tattoo designs that cannot, under any circumstances, be inked onto the skin of a specific gender.
Women, like me, but not like me
The last time I walked into a tattoo shop—with a friend for once, as opposed to a spontaneous ruling of my own accord—they had the artists portfolios out front. Funnily enough, there was definitely a section that was like, "Here are some girl tattoo ideas for Her and here are some hella manly ideas for Him, too, bra!"
Something to that effect.
One of those artists did those fancy watercolor tattoos that are gorgeous and colorful, turning your skin into a porous Cézanne. Weirdly, this was on me, but I pictured only women getting these designs.
I couldn't have been more wrong, but I'd also done the damage in angering myself with my own assumptions. The tattoo artist's work was beautiful and I, myself, was drawn to the pin-up girls, aimed mostly at men.
I was annoying: I was part of the problem.
Things that aren't very ladylike
When I was a kid, I was pretty close to my grandfather. He'd take me fishing and would humor me when I wanted to dig into the mud to find dinosaurs. He taught me how to make peashooters out of reeds on the riverbank and, disgustingly enough, how to hock a loogie big enough to plop into the water, scaring the fish.
My grandfather also taught me how to throw "like a boy" and how to whistle. Not just any regular old whistle, either. My grandfather taught me how to whistle loudly, with my thumb and middle finger locked at their tips. There's a trick to it: You have to fold your tongue.
One particular adventure we took lasted most of the day. We trekked home to see my nana, covered in mud from the pond we'd been fishing tadpoles out of. (Or tagpoles, as she called them). Excitedly, I showed her what my grandfather had taught me—that I could whistle!—and she said, "Whistling isn't ladylike."
Girls don't whistle would end up becoming a pretty relevant thing to me, growing up. Not because I listened; because nothing I did was girly.
A means of artistic expression
Call me lucky or unlucky, I've always had a specific style of dress. My family had to force me into pretty dresses for events when all I wanted to be was Joan Jett. Back then, they didn't make faux leather pants for 9-year-olds, so I stuck to ski-pants.
Having a sense of individuality like that, particularly in a small town, is a blessing and a curse. It's a blessing because you've carved out your niche early on, deciding what you liked—leather, tattoos, Doc Martens—and then a curse, because it's hard to be different in a place of same.
If I was to have taken a poll back then, the results would've been solid. Was leather for girls? No! Were tattoos for girls? Absolutely not. What about Doc Martens? Do not even.
All of these stood out to me as being means of artistic expression, but none as much as tattoos.
Lessons in permanence in a temporary world
20 years into the future, and I'm marked all over. Some of my scars are inked, some are from mistakes, incisions, and tumbles. I consider all of that art. Tattoos for women or for men kind of isn't a thing anymore, which was why, harking back to earlier, I'd annoyed myself so much on the watercolor thing. Anyone can have tattoos.
Most of my friends have to plan their designs in advance. I mean, it's a huge commitment. You can get them removed but that's hemorrhaging more money for bad decisions than I, as a writer, can afford. It makes a lot of sense to me for others, but given my tendency to be on the outside, it only makes sense that I'm spontaneous about it.
So if tattoos mean permanence, they can explain the well-thought-out meanings behind theirs. But I can, too.
From the desk of the inked
I can tell you that the royal blue star on my hand is to honor a friendship I no longer have anymore. I can say the one that's on my heart is referencing a book that changed my life; the one on my forearm explains how I feel about myself.
I can also tell you that I drew each of them myself on napkins, receipts, candy bar wrappers, and I can tell you there are men and nonbinary individuals out there who have done the exact same thing as me.
We mark our skin to enhance our individuality, to show the world we're more than whatever DNA or genetics gave us. Tattoos can't be permanent if life isn't, right? And you can remove tattoos like I said, but we only have one life.
Why worry about whether tattoos are for girls or for boys or not?
Bad examples of a good message
If you design tattoos for girls, exclusively—they do design ones for guys too, but as a girl myself I can only speak from experience—you might as well design tattoos for kids.
What do you mean, "Kids shouldn't have tattoos!"?
The same as my grandma when she said, "Girls shouldn't whistle."
All right, bad example. Kids shouldn't have tattoos because Peppa Pig would look good on nobody's forehead. (Unless you're a fan of Peppa Pig and want to if you're over 16).
Let's go with goats. Goats shouldn't have tattoos.
I mean, why not? Would it be such a baaa-d decision?