The Body Electric: Tattoo Magazines and the Big Dumb
That's my arm. I thought it only fair, if discussing the representation of tattoos, to be up front about my own. This one, taken directly from a life science textbook, falls in line with most of the work I've had done: science-y and metaphorical: half-directive, half-reminder.
I like getting tattooed. I like the ritual of it. I like the color, swell, the formation, the symbolism. I like creating a relationship with an artist at the outset and then being really quiet for the hours we're together, united in concentration. (This piece is done by Jeff Rassier at Black Heart Tattoo in San Francisco, by the way. I highly recommend him). Tattoos, for me, are about reclamation. My body, my soul. My tattoo, my heart.
I, perhaps like you, know a lot of tattooed people of all genders and sexualities. And I know a lot of queer and female bodied folks with fantastic, subversive, beautiful pieces. We are surrounded by people telling stories with their bodies, which is why tattoo magazines like "Inked" always piss me off.
What could be more interesting than a rag devoted to consensually (so noted because most tattooed people do not like to be grabbed or otherwise accousted by strangers regarding their tattoos) and artfully telling the stories and philosophies behind the ink? Very little, except that "Inked," like most magazines that feature tattoos, is also selling the sort of hyper-masculinity that seems to exist solely to create an anxiety to buy: a product/personae feedback loop. Let me show you what a man likes. Let me tell you what a man buys. Chicken and the egg.
But I digress.
"Inked" sucks for several reasons (generally bad art is an obvious complaint but I'm live and let live around that issue); but what pisses me off is the role of women in the magazine. Presuming the gender binary (problem number one), "Inked" seems to divide itself around bros (typically heavily tattooed guys in bands, etc.) and women who seem to be featured less for their tattoos (since most only have one or two pieces) and more for their bodies. See this feature, where you can vote for a generally provocatively posed "girl of the day" on their website.
Don't get me wrong. I find tattooed women sexy, but I also find them interesting. It might be an old story to open a magazine and see a flattened, stereotypical caricature of our tired binary, but I always hope for more when it comes to representations of the (semi)-counterculture.
So, forget "Inked" and its ilk. I have begun a collection project wherein I am cataloguing the tattoos of my peers: fierce and flamboyant folks who are bearing their badges in offices and classrooms; who are organizers and writers and musicians and librarians; who carry their meanings and mottos and who move, like poetry, through the world around us. In the coming weeks, I might even share a few of those stories here. Feel free to share your own, as well.
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