‘Tramp stamps’ again

// 7 November 2008

Ug. Reviving the ‘tramp stamp’ phrase again, the Daily Mail has published a ridiculous rant by Liz Jones about how women shouldn’t get tattoos.

She lays on the classist and sexist bullshit very thick. A taster:

They are a mark of temporary insanity, instantly turning the classiest, chicest woman into trailer trash. Not for nothing are they known as ‘tramp stamps’.

That’s one of my “tramp stamps” in the photo, by the way.

She makes some points about how tattoos are not really very rebellious, now that they’re so fashionable. Which is, obviously, correct. But not everyone gets inked to be rebellious – it can be about marking significant moments in your life, about owning your body – or, hey, liking the way they look.

So what if some of them are a bit silly?

This is just another instance of the media treating our bodies like public property. Who’s business is it of anyone but ourselves if we decide to tattoo ourselves? Women are not actually under an obligation to be ‘classy’ (ick!) or ‘chic’.

Comments From You

Kirsty // Posted 7 November 2008 at 1:17 pm

I work in a pub and managed to get myself stuck in a conversation with a regular last night about my tattoo – a small swallow on the back of my hip. He told me that:

1) All girls have swallows – it doesn’t mean anything more than a freckle does.

2) A swallow is a sign that you’ve been in prison.

3) My choice of tattoo makes me look common, like (and I quote) “some girl living on the estate with 10 kids by different dads”.

The sheer classism and sexism that still seems to cloud the way people view tattoos makes me want to scream. I never even told my most of my older relatives, because they still think that “only prostitutes and sailors get tattoos”

Leigh // Posted 7 November 2008 at 1:24 pm

This is my favourite paper on women and tatoos:


I like the elephant. I think it’s a cleverphant.

I don’t like Liz Jones. I don’t think they’re a cleverperson.

Maia // Posted 7 November 2008 at 2:11 pm

If someone wants a tattoo, of course it’s their right and nobody else’s business.

I wouldn’t do it myself because I think all tattoos just look horrible, regardless of who has them. I also wouldn’t want to risk getting hepatitis B and having the ink stay in my lymph glands for the rest of my life, which it would even if I’d had the tattoo removed.

Yuck yuck yuck.

Saranga // Posted 7 November 2008 at 2:11 pm

Ppl have such a huge problem with tattoos and piercings. I can’t understand* why they feel the need, as soon as they see you have something a bit out of the ordinary, to tell you how much it disgusts them, all the while thinking they are being polite.

Or they tell you that piercings and tattoos are somehow a sign of self abuse, and are perplexed when I tell them that’s actually a very offensive view.

Jess, I think your tattoo is awesome.

*Obviously that’s rhetorical.

Anji // Posted 7 November 2008 at 2:17 pm

Oh sigh. She’s so desperately out of touch. For one thing, ‘tramp stamp’ isn’t the term for just any tattoo on a woman’s body. It’s a derogatory term used for a tattoo on a woman’s central lower back – so called because apparently ‘tramps’ have them so their short tops and low-cut trousers show them off when they bend over. Not that that’s any less misogynistic, but she could at least get her offensive terminology correct.

Since when was it the law that women had to aspire to being ‘classy’ or ‘chic’ anyway?

I have a tattoo of the Orion constellation on my back (Orion is my son’s name) and a large orchid on my right upper arm, the beginning of a full-arm sleeve. Liz Jones can suck my left one.

Jess McCabe // Posted 7 November 2008 at 2:32 pm

Maia – reputable tattooists will use a new needle, etc, for each tattoo, so there’s no risk of catching anything. The tattooist should open and unwrap the needle from the surgically sterile package in front of you.

But I would definitely say it’s a very bad idea to get a tattoo if you have the slightest idea of getting it removed.

Sabre // Posted 7 November 2008 at 3:39 pm

@ Anji

Orion… what a very cool name!

I wouldn’t consider a tattoo in case I changed my mind about it one day. Although I would love to get a tattoo on my belly, get pregnant and watch it grow and distort post-birth. A weird desire.

I think peoples’ perceptions of tattoos on women stem from the same place that considered tattoos on men to be indicative of ‘trampy’ behaviour (i.e. the sailor thing). It’s just taking longer for people to accept it on women, perhaps because it’s become more common on women more recently?

Laura // Posted 7 November 2008 at 4:10 pm

Jess, that’s a beautiful tat! As is Angelina’s tiger, wow.

I can’t quite believe anyone actually gives a crap about other people having tattoos.

Laura N // Posted 7 November 2008 at 5:50 pm

What makes people think they can comment on what other people do with their bodies or what they look like EVER? I wouldn’t write a whole article on why I don’t like beige cardigans. The number of times I’ve had to defend my appearance (tattooed) to strangers and even my own family members (“why have you got a tomato on your arm?” “IT’S NOT A DAMN TOMATO! Why are YOU wearing brown shoes?”) – why do they CARE? I don’t care what other people do with themselves. Sorry for the anger.

Shea // Posted 7 November 2008 at 6:47 pm

I second the “only get a tattoo from a reputable tattooist”. I have never heard anything about the ink staying in your lymph glands.

I am so intrigued. Is this true? Is it not just trapped by the dermal layers? Why is it not broken down by the body? *mind boggles*

I heard the swallow was meant to represent someone who had travelled extensively, this is why sailors used to get them. Supposedly someone who had seen every continent/ ocean.

I love the tattoo -its beautiful.

earlgreyrooibos // Posted 7 November 2008 at 8:20 pm

The fear of not being “classy” really kept me from doing the things I wanted to do with my own body. I wanted a tattoo for years, but was freaked out about what people would think of me. But once I got the nerve to do it last December, it ended up being very freeing. Once I committed to being “not classy,” I felt free to stop waxing my eyebrows and shaving my legs, which I hated doing. Hey, I wasn’t classy anymore, so who cares? Okay, that wasn’t the real mindset I had exactly. It was more like “Well, I love this tattoo and I’m never getting rid of it, and people might judge me anyway, so I might as well quit shaving because it’s not like they weren’t already judging me.”

I got my second tattoo in September and I imagine I’m going to get at least three more in my lifetime. I don’t know if I’ll stop when I reach 5, I just know that I only have ideas for 3 more right now.

Lauren O // Posted 8 November 2008 at 7:35 am

There is quite a double standard about tattoos for men and women. I definitely see people criticizing men who choose to get tattooed, but not nearly as often as I see them criticizing women who do. And the criticism for men seems to be, “That was a stupid idea,” while the criticism for women seems to be, “She’s a slut” and “She ruined her beautiful body!!” Because women should decorate their bodies based on what other random strangers might find attractive rather than what they find attractive.

The other day I was reading some dumb music blog, and there was an article making fun of male musician’s tattoo choices. The last one was Dave Navarro, and his blurb was titled, “The ‘Why Does That Woman Have Tattoos?’ Tattoo.” Because apparently it is really shocking and unacceptable and mock-able to see any woman with any tattoo? (There was also, of course, the added loveliness of insulting Dave Navarro by saying he looks like a woman.)

starsign // Posted 8 November 2008 at 9:29 am

I’m not a lover of tattoos, they’re just not my thing. But I can appreciate their aesthetic qualities. I must say they I prefer really vivid colours in tattoos compared to just black/blue. That tattoo at the top of the page is beautifully coloured. Some of my female friends have tattoos and they look good on them. One friend has a pretty blue flower on her hip, it is tiny and really sweet.

Liz Jones can be very offensive with her views on what women should/shouldn’t look like, etc. Sadly she isn’t alone.

Anne Onne // Posted 8 November 2008 at 1:52 pm

The bizarre thing is, I never thought most people get them for the same reasons the article describes! I mean, trying to make tattoos middle class? Who gets a tattoo because they are trying to destroy the middle class? All the people I know who have tattoos because they like the way they look must be secretly bent on making tattoos worthless!

They’re not exactly seen as rebellious in the same way any more (unless the design is rebellious, or they are extensive tatoos), and apart from the odd teenager getting them to spite their parents, I was under the impression that most people got them because they liked the design and thought tattoos are pretty.

They’re not for everyone: you have to like the idea of having the same tattoo on for the rest of your life (which personally I wouldn’t like, feeling like I’d want to change it, and would find it impossible to decide what to pick) and of course a reputable tattoist is important, but if someone wants a tattoo, it’s their body, their business.

Anna // Posted 8 November 2008 at 2:47 pm

Dear me. I’ve received a lot of crap for my tattoos before [http://www.facebook.com/home.php#/album.php?aid=142864&id=661435612] but that has got to be one of the most bile-filled rants ever. Impressive even by the Mails’ standards.

The ‘half-wits’ who call them ‘tats’? Is using any form of verbal shorthand or slang now sufficient to render you a ‘half-wit’? *shakes head*

Yes, some of my ink is rather generic, and dear me the kitty is a bit shit and badly done – but they are my tattoos, my body and every time I get another one I am claiming back a little piece of myself that was taken away from me.

..I just took the time to read the entire comments thread. Apparently I am lower class, immoral, a prostitute, fat [or rather, ‘the sort of woman who’d hang around a bar with a stone extra hanging out of my trousers’].. *shakes head, despairs*

Ruth Moss // Posted 8 November 2008 at 3:21 pm

Wow, that’s really made me think twice about getting a tattoo done now – have thought for ages about getting my son’s name, or something to symbolise him, as a tattoo… but now that it’s not considered classy or chic, I’d better think again!

Maybe I’ll crochet a doily with his name on it instead?

Girl 1 // Posted 8 November 2008 at 6:39 pm

Yeah, but it’s Liz Jones though, the woman who takes self indulgent naval gazing to new depths… isn’t she the one who wrote that article about lying about her age to her husband? (she knocked 10 years off I think) and then got paranoid about her mother revealing her little lie, so much so that she claimed to be really pleased when her mother got dementia.

Mail journalists really are in a class of their own, maybe that’s what she means by classy…

Helen // Posted 8 November 2008 at 8:39 pm


Yes, exactly.

Tattoos aren’t for everyone, but mine have gone a long way towards helping me to reclaim my body as something which is a) beautiful and b) mine.

I also think that they scare a lot of people in women because they show individualism – your body will never quite fit the mould again – and power over your own life. (Not meaning to say that all tattoos are original, indeed, most are generic, or to say that tattooing is the only way of showing these attributes.)

Particularly objectionable line from Liz “What I hate most about all these celebrity tattoos is… that tattoo wearers think that by writing on themselves, a la Angelina Jolie, they are somehow ‘alternative’, ‘deep’ and ‘profound’, that they have meaning in their lives.” Heaven forfend anyone should gain any sense of empowerment by a decision they make about their own body. If women are allowed to make decisions for their own sake, rather than to meet the standards of society, who knows what awful things could happen??

Evie // Posted 9 November 2008 at 12:15 am

@ Girl 1

Are you sure that Liz Jones was being entirely serious regarding lying about her age/being glad about her mother’s dementia? It seems bizarre that somebody so apparently obsessed with “keeping up appearances” would honestly divulge all of her innermost thoughts, schemes and neurosis’ in such a way; essentially massively sabotaging herself.

Then again, I confess that before this article I’d never read anything by LJ.

More generally, although I agree with what everybody here is saying about expressing and empowering themselves through their own body, I object to “female tattoos” for a different reason altogether. The reason that I used the quotation ringed “female tattoos” instead of women with tattoos is that I recently spoke to a woman who was considering getting tattooed, however, she felt pressured to constrict herself to “appropriately feminine” designs – butterflies, flowers, hearts, stars e.t.c. and was nervous about choosing the stereotypically masculine skull that she liked.

So the moral of the story is that even in this supposedly rebellious area of life – according to LJ – women still find themselves restricted by oppressive gender norms!

Cruella // Posted 9 November 2008 at 12:53 am

Love that tattoo Jess, that’s great!

Saranga // Posted 9 November 2008 at 5:27 pm

@ Anna: your roses and stars are lovely! Plus you get extra kudos for having good taste in music. :)

As Helen quoted from Liz:

“What I hate most about all these celebrity tattoos is… that tattoo wearers think that by writing on themselves, a la Angelina Jolie, they are somehow ‘alternative’, ‘deep’ and ‘profound’, that they have meaning in their lives.”

Who the hell is anyone else to decide the meanings any individual ascribes to their actions? Particularly when it comes to something as personal as intimate as tattoos, or indeed piercings.

It seems to me a lot of hatred for body art comes from others’ misinformed ideas as to why people get them, swiftly follow by mocking of said tattoos.

MY body, MY say, MY meanings. Not anyone else’s.

You’re criticised if you show your body art, you’re criticised if you don’t.

Danielle // Posted 9 November 2008 at 9:07 pm

This was my favourite comment:

“People get tattooed for thousands of reasons, to mark transitions in our lives, to decorate ourselves, to take part in Art in a very personal way…and I would imagine that impressing you is very, very low on anyone’s list.”

– Bruce, Elkton Md, USA

This post made me think of Skin, one of those short stories from Tales of the Unexpected. I love that story.

And I’d also like to say that it’s a great tattoo Jess, just make sure you cover it up if you’re going anywhere “classy”!

A. // Posted 10 November 2008 at 6:44 am

“The sheer classism and sexism that still seems to cloud the way people view tattoos makes me want to scream.”

Also, racism. When I got my tattoo (nothing extreme, little black stylised sun on the left shoulder) my mother told me “You now are like those from Africa” (gotta appreciate the subtlety, though) and “What if your future husband won’t like your tattoo? You’ll have to remove it.” God forbid anything would stand in a woman’s way to holly matrimony.

And now I want to get a swallow, too:)

Lindsey // Posted 10 November 2008 at 10:12 am

Articles like this only serve to make me want a tattoo so that people like this will know not to approach me

Ariel Silvera // Posted 10 November 2008 at 11:11 am

I think the personal choice to have a tattoo or not, whether you’re comfortable with it or not, that’s fine and all. As long as it’s not mired in classist, misogynistic rhetoric like our wonderful human being here at the Mail.

Token “It’s the daily mail, what do you expect?” response. Ye lords.

As for my personal view, I love tattoos, even if they look silly, so what? I’ve seem some amazing tattoos that look like art from children’s storybooks. My tattoo is a bit generic: it’s just japanese kanji that reads “revolution”. And now that I am going ahead with HRT, I’ll add the two kanji needed for its original intended version, “revolutionnary girl”.

It may be just kanji, which everyone has, but it’s kanji that has meant a lot to me for years.

magic_at_mungos // Posted 10 November 2008 at 2:56 pm

Tattoos aren’t for everyone and there are some people who regret theirs and there are those, in my opinion, look horrid. But you can’t generalise everyone who does have body art as a tramp.

I got my tattoo after nearly 4 years about thinking about it and asking a friend to design it for me. It wasn’t exactly a hasty descision and I still consdier myself as a contributing member of society. You usually can’t see it unless I’m wearing a top with a low neckline at the back.

So, I’m all for people having body modifications – as long as they do it saefly (i.e. going to a clean hygeninc tattooist or piercer) and it’s not a rash descision. That person knows what they do and whether it would be appropiate for their everyday lives or make provisions to cater for their work.

Goodness me. Tramp stamps indeed.

Shea // Posted 10 November 2008 at 11:21 pm

I re-read the comments for this piece, on the Daily Male comments board- it just seems like an excuse for petty judgemental people (well, would they be reading the Mail if they had a clue?) to spew misogynistic vileness about young women in general.

@ Lindsey – I’m in total agreement, I think tattoos might be a great way of discouraging attention from 50 year old men who feel I should give a crap about what they think of my body. Because oh wow, if I can do what I want with my body and modify it to what my perception of beauty is rather than to you & yours, then there even less of a non- existent chance that you’ll ever get some.


Jaime // Posted 11 November 2008 at 12:10 pm

I’m not certain it’ll get through now that there are over 250 comments but this was mine…..

The author displays all the characteristics she seems to think a lady with a tattoo must have and has spent her life loathing and mutilating her own body. Ms Jones, didn’t you remove your breasts for fashion? I find that a little more worrying than someone with a butterfly permanently inked onto their body.

No-one has mentioned this (maybe I’ve read too many of her articles, I can’t help it, she’s like a trainwreck) but it’s always disturbed me, I can understand a double masectomy for health reasons but hers were stated as being for fashon but possibly more to do with severe body dysmorphia. She’s a very worrying person and I can’t understand why she has a newspaper column when what she really needs is some sort of therapy.

Clare // Posted 14 November 2008 at 8:30 pm

I have a tattoo on my foot, 2 stars! I think it’s pretty and makes me happy, and anyone who does not like it can just not look! Besides, I hate stupid columnists who write for the Daily Mail, so everyone’s happy!!!

darika // Posted 14 November 2008 at 9:22 pm

Agree with many of the sentiments here. But, most of all I resent Liz Jones holding herself up as the standard of all that is “classy” or “chic”. Puh-lease

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