Thursday, February 2, 2012

Bumper Sticker or Custom Paint Job: An Open Letter to Lisa Khoury from Caitlin

Hi everyone!  Thanks to Nova for letting me post this on her blog. If you haven't read the article "Why Put a Bumper Sticker on a Ferrari?", well, consider yourself lucky.  Seriously though, in the article a plucky young wannabe-journalist named Lisa Khoury wrote what I'm sure she thought was a snappy article about her feelings on tattooed women.  I don't want to spoil the surprise for you who haven't read it, and really I can't express to you how pedantic and unoriginal her ideas, and delivery, are. If you haven't read it, you should check it out before you read my open letter below.
I shared this link with Nova, one of my favorite ladies (tattooed or otherwise), and we decided to do a "guest post trade" on each other's blogs. Fabulous idea, right?   Without further ado, here is my letter:


Dear Ms. Khoury,

I get it. You're in your early 20s, still in college or a recent college graduate. You know a lot about tattoos because you've seen people with them from afar or maybe even saw an episode of Miami Ink. You can understand, even from a distance, all of the dimensions of a woman's choice to get tattoos. Awesome.

By way of an introduction, I am a twenty-something professional working in higher education. I travel across the country visiting colleges and universities and guiding them in the creation of effective training strategies. I speak three languages and received highest honors in my Russian degree. I am married to my high school sweetheart Rob, an Army combat veteran whom I almost lost during a 13-month deployment to Iraq and who recently accepted a position as a wildland firefighter in New Mexico.

I also have tattoos.

I got my first tattoo at age 19, a tiny word in Gaelic that loosely translates into "soulmate." My husband had the same thing tattooed on his arm--along with the word "comrade" in Arabic for his Army buddies-- and carried it with him for the entirety of his Army enlistment. Far from "proving a point" or "craving something new," I got this tattoo because I chose to have a physical manifestation of something that  meant the world to me, in this case my relationship. On the other hand, I also am getting a tattoo in the next few weeks that was offered as a gift by my artist.  The meaning behind the design in and of itself isn't as deep, or really all that deep at all. But like all of my tattoos, it is reflective of my journey and of the various relationships and events that make up the sum total of that journey.

Suffice it to say I was extremely resentful of how you so naively frame women with tattoos. It is positively egregious that I find myself having to tell a young woman coming of age in the 21st century that "class" does not come from physical beauty, having one's nails done, or wearing high heels. It comes from strength of character, intelligence, curiosity, integrity, and kindness. It comes from not judging others who may believe differently than you, who wear different clothes or hairstyles, who make the choice to put pictures or words permanently on their skin, or who choose to keep their skin bare.

It's bad enough to judge a group of people of whom you clearly have no knowledge or understanding, but to suggest that we replace tattooing with manicures and high heels? I find it appalling that you so easily deride tattooed women for not doing something "productive" but imply that "productivity" translates into buying new clothes and new shoes.

Indeed, it is my opinion--and the opinion of many--that tattoos are not mutually exclusive with productivity; one can have tattoos and work hard at their job, volunteer or give to charity, just as one can not have tattoos and do those same things. To imply that "elegance" comes from embracing a very stereotypical image of what women "should be," and not, say, from the ability to hold an interesting and intelligent conversation is not only antiquated, it is unquestionably harmful.

We are in an unprecedented period of history, when women are closer than ever to being completely equal to men at least in the eyes of western society; viewpoints such as yours, namely that a woman's true strength lies in her appearance and that her appearance is only marred by adding artwork, only manage to set back the progress we have made.  It's even more tragic when it's our fellow women who do this to us.

Your reference to "gym memberships" or "yoga" in place of tattooing was also extremely naive. I live in a small town of 7000 people, and should you go to our local gym you would find that the majority of the returning patrons have at least one tattoo. Some of the most fit people I know--one of them my tattoo artist and another, my husband--are also the most tattooed people I know. I suppose you would be surprised at how many people with tattoos take care of themselves and view their bodies truly as temples; after all, when's the last time you saw a temple that had no decorations or adornments at all?

You know, only someone who had never set foot inside a tattoo parlor could say something like, "Nothing comes out of getting a tattoo. You get a tattoo, and that's it," because had you ever gone through the tattoo process you would know that there is far more to it than ink on skin.  One of my tattoos took a total of 25 hours to complete, and the experience of those 25 hours--talking with my artist, developing a relationship, watching the art take form--is just as valuable to me as the tattoo.  And you know what? Every time I look at that tattoo I'm reminded both of the period in my life that it represents (namely my husband's Army enlistment) and of the fun I had working on it with my artist.

In short, Ms. Khoury, I can tell you that I learned far more about myself from having tattoos than I ever have from wearing high heels, getting a new hairstyle or a manicure.   I know, however, that my experience is not everyone's.  I do not pass judgment on those who choose not to get tattoos any more than I pass judgment on those with different hairstyles, though interestingly the people from whom I receive the most judgment are those who do not have tattoos.  We all choose to live our lives in our own way, and as long as we aren't hurting others I don't see a reason to pass such harsh judgement, particularly if you have no understanding of those of whom you speak.

I hope, Ms. Khoury, that you come to see how harmful articles like the one you wrote are.  And I hope you get to know some tattooed people, because despite your best efforts to generalize, we probably will surprise you.

Thanks for reading and please make sure to check out Nova's post on my blog.
If you write your own response to Ms. Khoury, please share it with us in the comments or send her an email at

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