Friday, January 4, 2013

Tattoo reception

I have a lot of tattoos. We'll say this right off the bat here. Two stunning half sleeves, smaller pieces on each forearm, plus even smaller ones on back, ankle, and foot. Each tattoo is a work of art, particularly the bigger pieces. I thought them out, and every one of them means something to me. The images themselves cannot remotely be considered offensive to anyone. But due to my years working administration I also know how to keep them covered when the occasion calls for it.

Before going to India I did a lot of research on where I hoped to go, and the cultural views on tattoos in that region. I learned that in certain areas in the north and in the east tattoos on women are associated with prostitution, so I made sure when I arrived in India to get clothes that covered up all my ink. I learned that in Goa pretty much anything goes. That Bombay is fairly Westernized. And that Rajasthan is just too hot to wear that much cover!

I learned that women in India don't typically have tattoos at all. And if men do (for many it is against their religious beliefs) the designs are often small and discreet.

While in Bombay on my way north again I picked up some shirts from a street vendor. (Bargained hard for them too, and got the price I wanted, but that's another story!) They were very simple little tops. High neck, with a strap on one shoulder and a tie at the other. Lightweight and comfortable and yet modest in that no cleavage or displays of body were revealed. What was revealed though were all my tattoos.

One thing I noticed is that while I thought I got a lot of attention just by being a foreigner, I got even MORE attention because of the ink. When before it was every fifth person stopping to ask to take my photo now it was every second or third person. (That got upped to every person when I was drawing.. Yet again, another story.)

When walking down a street men would call out "nice tattoo! Where did you do it?" Like I had done it recently and somewhere local! *Laughs* But women and girls would jump to the assumption that it was paint or henna adorning my arms. And every time I say no, it's a permanent tattoo they want to touch it and do.

I hadn't realized this was an assumption shared by some men as well until one day in Pushkar a young man came up to me and asked how long I'd had it (pointing to the Red Queen on my left arm). "Her? Oh, a couple of years now," I replied casually with a smile. A look of shock crossed his face. "How long since you've had a shower?" He asked in astonishment! I still didn't quite grasp what his deal was so I started getting offended and a bit defensive. "This morning!" I said. "Why?" His look of shock changed to one of wonder and his hand inched out as if wanting to touch my arm. "How does it stay on???"

I laughed... A burst I couldn't contain when I realized his mistake. "No no no," I told him. "It's not paint. These are real tattoos. Permanent!"

It took some doing to finally get through to him what I meant by permanent. And he was pretty much in awe. He followed me around for the next little while, asking questions about the process and calling friends over to look, before I finally felt unnerved by the attention and begged off and returned to my hotel.

I am glad I figured out that hiding the ink did reduce some unwanted attention. But I also made sure, before going on to my next destination, to ask friends I made where I was what the reception would be to my tattoos and if I should be more careful to hide them or if wearing my comfortable tops baring my arms and shoulders (and thus tattoos) would be fine. So I am not going to blame the tattoos for what happened to me in Jodhpur. I would never victim blame for a situation like that in any case. It was all them.

I do know that when I go back to India I'll continue my practice of asking locals about local customs and beliefs before going out in any sort of "revealing" outfit, though. Because it is always better to know than not know.

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