I finally got my hands on Beverly Yuen Thompson’s wonderful documentary about heavily tattooed women, “Covered” and I was so excited. It’s a fantastic film and it had special resonance for me because it featured quite a few asian women talking about their experiences and especially focused on their parents reactions.

My parents have been preparing for my tattoos since I was 12 years old, when my father’s employees suggested that he allow me to get tattooed because then I might make some friends. That has always stuck with me. get tattooed, get friends and this has been the truest thing, because many of my friends are tattoo artists and heavily tattooed people. it was the right crowd for me.

My family is both very accepting of my artwork and wary of it at the same time. They know it is something that is true and important to me, but they miss me like I was. They know they can’t control me, and they wish they could. I don’t blame them. I wish I could control me too.

I love tattooed women, maybe because they are uncontrollable, they are themselves to the point of drawing symbols of their power on their skin. Talk about owning your own body, being in your body, claiming yourself. I love it. When the world is in an uproar over whether women should have a choice or not when it comes to their bodies, being tattooed is one of the most visible choices of all.

I find that I get the most harassment where people feel proprietary over women’s bodies. In the South of France, there is a great love for women that is undeniable, but that love comes with a price. When you don’t conform to the stereotype of what makes women beloved there, you are privy to the scorn and complaint, or in a lighter vein, the curiosity and bemused admiration of others, which no matter what it comes out as, you are being judged and often touched and always, always hassled.

In much of the world, women are viewed as public space, to varying degrees, and the more you decide that space is your own, most visibly by being tattooed, it sends out an alarm that tacit agreement is being violated and you are subject to the opinions and sometimes violent reactions of those who consider themselves the guardians of said public space.

It’s something that I have learned to deal with, but often its also why I cover up, because I don’t always want to talk about my decision to be tattooed. I don’t need to answer to my skin. my skin is my own soul’s house, and I shall decorate it as I please. I don’t need to share it with anyone, as this place was built just for me. Having to answer for it or explain it especially to strangers is unpleasant, not in every circumstance, as people can be nice and complimentary as well, but I don’t appreciate being assessed, which is probably unrealistic as I cut quite a bella figura no matter where I go and what I do, my flamboyance in evidence whether I have my tattoos on display or not.

Beverly’s film spoke to me deeply not just because of the frustration I feel but also for the deep love I have for female tattoo artists – who I feel akin to as women who are working and thriving in what has traditionally been considered a man’s occupation. It is just the same in comedy, so we are sisters for sure. I have long loved Vyvyn Lazonga too so it’s great to see her here.

I hope that I see more tattooed women talking about what its like to be who they are. I hope that we can get together and rejoice in our love for art and ourselves and revel in the rebellion. It’s just so fucking great.

7 thoughts on “Covered

  1. I think one of the interesting things that people often take for granted is the parallel paths people’s lives and interests take, particularly if you’re tattooed. Like being tattooed often leads to having friends with tattoos or being in a creative field/profession.

    Sometimes I find that pretty limiting. Admittedly, at one point in my life, I thought I wanted to be a tattoo artists. But then I realized that I had worked hard enough on my education that I should see what I could do and where I could go with that. Plus I thought that, by restricting yourself to those kinds of friend/social/interest circles, life is too limiting.

    Not to say that I don’t have plenty of tattooed friends and acquaintances. And I do love me a tattooed woman. But there’s something to be said about diversity. Not only in terms of gender/orientation/sexuality and expression with tattoos and whatnot, but in embracing all of life’s experiences. It’s not always easy, though. As the scientific content mastermind for a cardiovascular drug for a large US pharmaceutical company, I find I am the only heavily tattooed female scientific person I have ever encountered in the med ed agency world. I actually wish there were more heavily tattooed women in my field. There’s nothing wrong with being a nerd and we need more representation outside the creative field!

  2. Thanks for the recommendation — The movie is available on Amazon instant viewing.

    I became very interested in tattooes several years ago, but never took the plunge. I respect the artform and skill associated with it though very much.

    Being Gemini, My mind and interests are too transitory to want to permanently ink something into my body.

    I can see how people can become addicted to the needle whether it’s a piercing or tattoo and it’s just another addiction like shopping or food for people to reckon with.

  3. I was struck by what you said about women’s bodies being public property. The general reaction often being “how could they do that to their bodies?” But men are not immune from that kind of discrimination as well. Generally a man who is tattooed is regarded as an ex-convict or a biker, or maybe a rock musician. It is better here in San Francisco, but in the Midwest where I grew up a tattoo means you are a criminal for sure. The prejudice extends to any kind of body adornment. I saw the clip where you mention that Playboy doesn’t accept tattooed women. Screw Playboy, that magazine used to be good, back in the fifties, sixties and seventies, but not any more. I would rather see a new magazine that celebrates all forms of sexuality, and isn’t afraid to point us all in a new direction, which honors all bodies and what we choose to do with our bodies. You are not a mainstream artist, you are at the cutting edge, so why be in a mainstream magazine? Create your own magazine!

  4. Happy to be in the film and to be a friend and tattoo artist of Beverly Yuen Thompson. This woman was bound and determined to make a film that recognized women in the tattoo industry. I am not sure what her motivation was at the time, or if is was just a subject matter for college, but this film has turned out to be one of the greatest documentaries of the times. Being a 30+ year veteran of tattoo, I find it heart warming and entertaining and enlightening. The list of women in the tattoo industry, whether tattoo artists, or collectors, is evolutional. Thank you Beverly for acknowledging us as a a collective.

  5. Dear Margaret,
    I love you and have been a huge fan for many years. I saw your show in Pgh back in 2002 and it was then that I deemed you one of my heroes. I was about 21 and struggling with accepting my body and had just began to identify as a feminist. You said everything I was feeling but didn’t have the words for yet and you made me feel like I was important and attractive in a world that didn’t.
    Many years later I have become heavily tattooed and learned to tattoo. I have gained such acceptance for my own body through the process and what you’ve said here in your blog has once again put into eloquent and ever true words the empowerment and strength that comes from tattooing your body. As I was reading I became so emotional because I feel like that girl again that saw your show all of those years ago and heard my own truths spoken by someone that I greatly admire. Thank you.

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