By: Kim Katrin Milan

I was recently featured as part of a list on Cosmopolitan by Raqeul Reichard of ‘23 Inspiring Tattoos Every Latina Feminist Will Love’ and one of the verticals (the suggested articles on the side of the screen) was an article whose headline read ‘Women with Tattoos Are Seen as Sluttier Than Women Without’.

I have been practicing a kind of mindfulness when I read about bigoted perspectives that people have. But no matter how many terms I have heard these kinds of misogynist thoughts, I am always surprised.

There is a fine line between between dispelling the act of stereotyping and discrimination and distancing ourselves from women who are ‘slutty’ in appearance on a full or part time basis.

I grew up with a best friend whose mother was a dancer, and eventually grew into circles of community where women were strippers or sex workers or bartenders. These women were bad ass and already seasoned at negotiating the judgmental ways that people regarded them. They have and do wear tattoos well and I have much respect for them.

Tattoos & Piercings originally were an African & Indigenous practice that we were shamed for.  Face tattoos and stretching ears that were celebrated rights of passages as well as aesthetic choices in many communities were among the many reasons that we were stigmatized as ‘barbaric, uncivilized and savages’ by incoming colonial settlers.

African Scarification tattoo sista ink magazine

As enslaved people, we no longer had the choice to mark our bodies and were often punished for practicing our own culture. Plantations evolved into corporations and they ended up in positions of holding employment & access to resources.  Our aesthetic choices are in many cases determined by our ability to participate most successfully in capitalism- to make money. As people who are already marginalized economically, there is an additional weight to the stigma of tattoos that is intrinsically tied to respectability politics. In the French colonies, it was called ‘assimile’ and in others ‘assimilado’ and today some call it respectable. The promise is that if you look like a ‘good person’ then good things will happen to you. There is a standard that we are meant to assimilate into created and imposed by people whose privilege insulates them from being accountable for all the white collar criminal activity that continues to widen the gap between the cash rich & poor. And despite how many times we are shot in suits, racially profiled in hijabs, or sexually assaulted as children in our own homes, this idea persists.

My biggest problem with this parable is that it teaches abusers to violate women who look like ‘sluts namely because they have been told that they will get away with it as no one believes them already. That it is this kind of justification and victim blaming that trains us all to disrespect the sexuality and autonomy of women.

The way that I work to challenge this in my own life is by affirming women to create themselves in their own image. When I see a woman old, young, Trans*, cis who are feeling themselves I celebrate them, whether it be with a compliment or a smile. When I observe laws that are trying to limit a woman’s right to be covered or expose themselves I object to both stridently.

We have a choice to discriminate against each other. We all are prejudiced about people and are often crueler than we think. My attitude in regard to someone’s choice of adornment is ‘If you like it, then I love it.’

I love being an inked women. I always thought they were glamorous, regal and powerful. I like looking Queer, cunty, wild and free. I am not looking to benefit from this exclusive idea of what respectable looks like, I am hoping to open it up so we are all able to extend more respect to all people on the basis of their character.

No saints, no sluts, just women with bad ass ink.

Take pictures, look at yourself in the mirror. Explore the range of motion in your body. Touch yourself everywhere. Give yourself hugs and personal massages. Take big full breaths and watch your belly rise and fall. Do things with your body that you were told were vulgar, frail or inappropriate. In your quiet solitude, give yourself total non-judgmental freedom, and notice how the revolution begins.