Dear Maria,

Ugh! My daughter just got a tattoo. Throughout her teens, she talked about wanting to get a tattoo, and I never gave her permission. Now that she’s of age, she’s gone and done it. I can’t say that I’m happy about it! Tattoos always meant criminal or low class people to me. Does that make my daughter one? I guess I can understand why she wants to have a tattoo now, but what if she changes her mind when she gets older? What if the tattoo keeps her from getting a job that she’d really like to have? I just think she was being impulsive and didn’t think through the consequences.
Signed,
Mama Ain’t into Tats

Dear Mama Ain’t into Tats,

You’re not alone in your opinion of tattoos and their wearers. But, we see them everywhere: professional athletes, performers, military, lots of people in the service industry. Dear Mama, it’s time we accept that a tattoo’s meaning today is more nuanced than our old school way of looking at it.

I did a little research on the subject to help us ponder this question. Psychcentral.com’s article Thinking of Inking? cites research that says 23% of Americans have tattoos, and about half the people in their 20’s have a tattoo or body piercing (other than ears). That’s a lot of tattoos! The article cites a generational divide in tattoo perceptions, one that’s playing out in your family now. The Daily Mail, on the other hand, says tattoos can improve the chances of getting hired if they are “seen as an asset” to convene the company’s personality.  Hopefully, your daughter’s tattoos can be covered up, if she wants to. If not, she may have limited her job prospects. But, she’d probably rather work for an organization that’s flexible/supportive of self-expression through tattoos, anyway.

Tattoos on young women, in particular, are a powerful means of self-expression, and a statement of autonomy. Young women deal with a barrage of scrutiny over their appearance in our culture. The tattoos are, in this way, a feminist statement: “This is my body. I’ll decide what I do with it.”

My husband and I raised two girls, one the age of your daughter, and another in high school. Both lobbied for tattoos during their teen years, and we never said, “Okay.” This decision is best made when they are of age, understand more fully the consequences, and can pay for it themselves. These multiple conversations influenced my perception of tattoos. I don’t think I’d ever want one, but now I understand more fully their meaning and function in a person’s life. Your daughter is of age, and made this decision on her own. Try to understand the meaning of the symbols she has placed on her body, and talk with her about what the whole experience means to her. You may delight in her autonomy, creativity, and reflection. Look at her tats from her perspective, rather as something that undermines or restricts her. In a misogynistic world, she is seeking, and finding, herself. The choices she makes that embolden her personal power are to be celebrated.

Many of my friends and readers have tattoos, and/or their daughters do. Please join this conversation, and share your experience in the comments, below. I hope this helps you smile:

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