Sticks, Stones, And No “Ragrets”: A Guide To End Self-Expression Shaming

I’m an 18 year old girl. I have seven piercings, two tattoos, and my hair is not entirely its natural color at the moment.

That description might have made me sound a little bit more “edgy” than I actually am, so for the record…

Piercings: two cartilage on my right ear, doubles on both right and left earlobes, and nose.

Tattoos: butterfly on my left wrist and triangle on my right shoulder. Both pretty small. See pics for reference.

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Hair: a few blonde-ish highlights

With that said, I don’t get any strange looks on the street or any disapproving looks from parents in the frozen food aisle. I look like a pretty normal person, and I would hope that those who do know me would agree (lol).

However, there have been times when I’ve been a victim of self-expression shaming. I don’t know if the phrase “self-expression shaming” is a real thing, but it describes what I’ll be ranting about so I think it should be a real thing if it isn’t already.

When I got my first tattoo, just a week after my 18th birthday, I was very excited. Ever since I was little I’ve wanted to get one. I thought they were cool and I really liked the idea of permanently putting something meaningful on my body. I had given it lots of thought and by the time my birthday came around, I knew exactly what I wanted and I was determined to get it.

So I did. And I couldn’t be happier.

But I’ll admit I had moments of doubt, and they all came signed, sealed, delivered by other people.

Here are some of the more frequent reactions my tattoo provoked:

  • “Aren’t you worried about what a future employer might think?”
  • “I like it a lot but I don’t think I could never risk my chances of getting a job by getting a tattoo in plain sight like that.”
  • “I thought about getting a butterfly tattoo too! But then I changed my mind because everyone gets those and it’s pretty basic…. Oh, but yours looks really good!”
  • “Do you regret it?”
  • “Maybe I’d get one, but not until like, later in life, when I’m not so young.”

I’m sure it’s pretty obvious why hearing those things would make me uncomfortable.

So,

I covered it while I was work. (My boss never even noticed.)

I covered it around some of my teachers at school.

I covered it around my grandparents, family friends, friends’ parents.

I mean, I wasn’t ashamed of it. I really liked it. I was super happy with it. I thought it looked great and I didn’t regret it at all. But I was scared of being judged by people who I looked up to and valued. I didn’t want them to see it and think I was dumb or basic or too young and impulsive like those other people voiced. I didn’t want their opinion of me to change.

Eventually I got over that insecurity though. I realized that the person they saw me as was the same person who wanted and got the tattoo. Getting the tattoo was characteristic of me. I was being myself. They might not like it, but they would deal with  it and they wouldn’t disregard all the good qualities they had seen in me before. And mostly, gosh darn it, if I wanted to wear a short sleeves T-shirt, I was gonna do it! If they saw my wrist tattoo, so be it. They’re fault.

You could say I adopted the “f*ck everything” attitude to deal with the criticism, but the truth is that I’m completely comfortable with my decision to have body ink and I don’t agree with anyone who wants to make me insecure about it. It’s inappropriate, unnecessary, and extremely offensive.

Both my tattoos are meaningful to me and I chose to have them for a reason. They don’t affect anyone else, they’re not profane, and saying I shouldn’t have gotten them is taking a jab at my morals, my judgement, my experiences, and my emotions. It’s personal.

Some may argue, “If you can’t stand the heat, stay out the kitchen.” I agree with that statement in some cases, but I don’t think it applies here. What I’m frustrated with is the fact that the heat isn’t respecting the kitchen. Or rather, society doesn’t respect body art. Instead, it wrongly associates it with recklessness, crime, drugs, and other nasty things.

Tattoos, piercings, dyed hair, crazy outfits, etc., are all forms of self-expression, and I believe that they should be able to be displayed the same way mainstream or conservative styles are (given they aren’t offensive or suggestive, of course). Unfortunately, society has a habit of rejecting “new” and “unnatural” things. We’ve been conditioned to fear change, especially when it comes to social norms. Just look at racism, women’s rights, gay marriage, technology, mental health, etc. The list goes on and on!

Change is not always a bad thing. There are a lot more people with tattoos and piercings these days, and there are some very famous and successful ones. But that doesn’t mean these forms of self-expression do not create barriers in the work force or in social settings. If we weren’t scared of people with gauges or if we trusted someone with blue hair just as much as someone with brown hair, then I’m sure these people would be hired and accepted without the traditional discrimination against their appearance.

Maybe you can relate to this post because you have some sort of self-expression on your body and somebody tried to shame you for it, or maybe you’re reading this and shaking your head because I’m still dumb and basic and young and impulsive. Either way, though, you read this post and you read my thoughts. So, HAH. Made you think.

I’m not a bad person for decorating my body. I still say “please,” I still say “thank you,” I still say “no, thank you.” I say “bless you,” even when I’m pretty sure it was a cough, just in case. I get good grades, I’m good with kids, I can hold a conversation. And those traits and skills are completely compatible with my self-expression. I hope that one day the rest of the world can see that.

Until next time,

Madi

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