Maria’s Musings & Advice: Mama ain’t into tats

By on May 26, 2017 in Advice, Moms | 6 comments

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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.


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:

Dear Readers: In a quandary? Life got you down? Need some perspective? If you’d like to submit a question, click here. I look forward to hearing from you, or “for a friend.” Please add your thoughts, and suggestions in the comments section, below. 

Disclaimer: The advice offered in this column is intended for informational purposes only. The opinions or views expressed in this column are not intended to treat or diagnose; nor are they meant to replace the treatment and care that you may be receiving from a licensed professional, physician or mental health professional. If you have specific concerns or a situation in which you require professional, psychological or medical help, you should consult with an appropriately trained and qualified specialist.  This column, its author, and the publisher are not responsible for the outcome or results of following any advice in any given situation. You, and only you, are completely responsible for your actions. We reserve the right to edit letters for length and clarity, and all comments are moderated.


  1. Tracey Yokas

    May 26, 2017

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    Oddly, I have a very strong reaction to this post, Maria! Lol…it’s odd only in the sense of how strong it actually is, I guess. I am a 48 year old woman who started getting tattoos…ummm, well, let’s see, 24 or so years ago! I am that sweater set, pearl wearing lady who shocks people when she takes off her jacket and they see tattoos on both arms. If they gaze downward, they’ll also see them on both legs and feet! I guess I understand the perception that only “criminals and low class” persons have tattoos, but I can’t say enough how NOT TRUE this is or was. The articles you selected are awesome! It’s true, of course, that many more people are getting tattoos today than there were 24 years ago. I applaud your advice to this seeker to try and see her daughter’s tattoo from her perspective. My daughter has wanted tattoos for many years. In California, 18 is the minimum age, which I’m very happy about. And when my daughter turned 18, on that very day, I took her to get her first tattoo(s). We discussed everything that goes into the making of a safe and successful experience. She decided to get my and her dad’s initials and birthdates to celebrate how much the two of us have helped her. I’m sad by your writer’s opinions about tattoos and (even a little) about her daughter. Persons in almost every field I encounter today have tattoos. And to your point, they are usually a celebration and can be a path to healing. One doesn’t have to want a tattoo to respect the craft required to be a successful artist. And to be clear, this is an art form. Many tattoo artists also sell “traditional” types of art work. Perhaps, the writer can check out a local tattoo shop (which I admit can be a little intimidating) to seek out the non-traditional art forms in her community. Perhaps, if she approaches the matter with more curiosity than judgment she’ll build bridges to more than just a new and diverse artistic community.

    • Maria

      May 26, 2017

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      Thanks for your advice and comments, Tracey. I appreciate the LW asking the questions, and seeking understanding. That’s a great sign for the LW, and the daughter. I hope the tat is an opportunity for them to understand each other better. We could talk about the shift in their relationship, too, from parent-child to adult-adult. That takes years to maneuver, and some families more successfully than others.

      I’d love to hear more about your decision to get tattoos. Have you written about this on your blog? Please share the link, if so!!

  2. Olivia Willow

    May 26, 2017

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    As one of the “damned millennials,” I can personally vouch for the “generational gap” that the Psychcentral article referenced. I was not at all surprised by the stat about half of people in my age group (20s) having tattoos or piercings. In my experience, the people in my age group are supportive or at the very least extremely tolerant of tattoos. In contrast, most anti-tattoo sentiments or stances seem to come from a more conservative and closed-minded place that misunderstand the idea or function of a tattoo by removing it from its historical context. Historically speaking, tattoos have always been a personal expression (of tribe, of status in a community, or many other things) and an art form, as Tracey stated in her comment. It is an interesting narrative that our culture has put around tattoos (low class, criminals) up until more recent decades, and I’m sure there are books and studies about this narrative’s origins. I have an inkling (HA) that this narrative exists as more of a device used to shame and segregate people who are different (sound familiar?) as opposed to being a constructive tool used to guide us in social circumstances or in the realm of health and well being.

    The School of Life is one of my favorite channels on Youtube. Here are two short videos discussing the importance our style choices regarding hair (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kwwAJSI-dgo) and clothes (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8da1nXckEy4), and why these aspects of our appearance are cause for such obsession. Of course our hair and clothes, like the way we talk and behave, communicate to strangers. I think it is best summed up in the video about hair – we are all lonely people who seek to be understood. We obsess about our appearance because we are obsessed with trying to communicate and connect with others. Tattoos are a medium of communication that can be interpreted as all kinds of things, but it’s very easy to interpret these symbols in our own way, not understanding what the wearer was fundamentally trying to communicate. Maybe instead of telling people with tattoos what their tattoos mean, we should ask them.

    In the end, everything boils down to signs and symbols that we interpret and build a story around based on our own experiences and our culture. I think it’s important to try to see the nuance in every symbol or sign, our personal bias around it, and to remember that nothing is ever all good or all bad. We should be allowed to be proud of our story, and if someone is proud enough of something get it needled permanently into their skin, we should respect that (even if it’s just because it looks cool).

    And maybe we have concerns about whether or not someone’s means of self-expression are helpful or harmful to the individual (in the work place, for example) or the people around them, but if there is no inherent and rational reason to condemn these actions, we are then led back to the idea of tolerance and acceptance, even if it doesn’t quite suit our own taste. As far as tattoos in the work place go, the work place is changing as fast as our culture’s general perception of tattoos. It will be interesting to see how things continue to progress.

    In any case, I think you both, Maria and Tracey have summed it up! Always glad to see new truth and love being injected (HA) into these kinds of discussions.

    • Maria

      May 26, 2017

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      Thank you for joining the discussion! Your comments are power-packed, and I especially like: “Maybe instead of telling people with tattoos what their tattoos mean, we should ask them.” I hope our LW can hear the daughter’s voice in your comment. I’ll check out the videos you linked to. This will help me with my understanding, for sure.

  3. Peta Dunia

    May 29, 2017

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    I for one have been tossing and turning around the idea of getting a tattoo. I started at the very conservative end of things not liking them on the everyday person especially on females. The history of people getting inked in the Western society was very slow to go and MOSTLY included guys in the military, people in gangs/prison and people in the circus. Unlike tribal cultures in South America, Africa and other places, the Western world didn’t take to getting inked all that much….until the 1800s. One thing I don’t like is for people that have tattoos and love the art, looking negatively on those of us that haven’t gotten one or will never get one. For as much as you have a right to your personal view on tats, those of us that have decided it is not for us have a right to our personal view on them as well. I can see that getting one for a lot of people is about a personal reason, like love, loss and remembrance of a special event. I could consider getting one for such a reason…I just haven’t yet. I am hesitant to be really supportive of the full arm tattooing or full body tattooing. And for me, unless you can cover up tats on your chest, neck or face for special events, I don’t much like them, no matter how pretty or awesome the art is. I don’t make an argument against them based on the Old Testament law from God to the Israelites. I just think art looks better on canvas, buildings, paper, items and not on the body. Just my opinion, of course.

    Here’s an article on the history of tattoos in the US. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/06/30/america-tattoo-history_n_7690424.html

    • Peta Dunia

      May 29, 2017

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      Thanks for your comments, and the article link. Sounds like your opinion is evolving. It will be interesting where you land on it. Good luck!

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