Tramp Stamped

I have a tattoo on my lower back.  I had it done when I was seventeen or eighteen to commemorate the loss of an aunt I loved dearly, after her long struggle with cancer; probably also to cement on my body my first real experience with death. I chose the location because I would be able to forever choose whether to hide or show it.

At seventeen, I’d never heard the term tramp stamp; or if I had I wouldn’t have made the association. I heard it when I was around 21, for the first time, and tried to laugh it off, and I’ve been trying to laugh it off for ten years. For some reason over the last two weeks, I’m hearing the term all over the place. Recently I thought about talking to a local artist about changing the tattoo so that it branches left or right or somehow exists less on my lower back, because I absolutely loathe the term ‘tramp stamp’ and all of the connotations that come with it. The thing is, until I heard it, I loved  this tattoo. It meant – means – a lot to me.

So in the grand new tradition of fight, fuck this. Let’s play with Google, shall we? Tramp stamp is not in my real-paper-dictionary quite yet, but it’s in Urban Dictionary (of course):

“Tramp Stamp” is a derogatory term referring to a tattoo which a women places on her lower back. It is especially popular among women born in the late 70’s, 80‘s, and even early 90’s. Fair or unfair, these tattoos have a socially constructed connotation associated with them. These women are labeled as tramps, whores, or other derogatory sexually promiscuous terms.

Well, I was born in 1982. I’ll give you that. There are several other definitions – they only get worse, but then, it is Urban Dictionary. Wikipedia?

Lower-back tattoos (pejoratively referred to as tramp stamps)[1] are a form of body art that became popular among women in the 2000s and gained a reputation as a feminine type of tattoo. They are sometimes accentuated by low-rise jeans and crop tops, and are considered erotic by some.

Hmm. I would have gotten mine in 1999, I believe. So, unusually ahead of a trend by a few months, but otherwise factual. I mean, I’ll be long cold and dead before you catch me in low-rise jeans or crop tops, but I take your point. You could show it off with a judicious use of clothing. That was actually part of my rationale, in fact. But did I get the tattoo in an attempt to be erotic? Er … no. Very few men find it hot. Because the conversation goes like this: “Oh wow, hot tattoo.” “Thanks, I got it as a memorial when someone I loved, died.” “Oh.”

(Less hot, isn’t it?)

Let’s try the dictionary, just for fun:

TRAMP:

  1. vagrant
  2. a woman of loose morals; specifically : prostitute

I see. So when people refer to my tattoo as a tramp stamp, assuming they are fully conscious of the implications, they’re either calling me a vagrant (‘one who has no established residence and wanders idly from place to place without lawful or visible means of support’), or a whore.

Look, most of the time it’s innocuous, and said by people who would be unlikely to even use the word ‘whore’ but that’s sort of my point: language has power, and we each have a responsibility to be aware of what we’re saying.

Ugh. Okay, better. I really just needed to vent. And the next person who uses that term in front of me is going to have to explain why they think I’m a travelling prostitute-hobo.

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4 thoughts on “Tramp Stamped

  1. Signum Profugus Amplificus
    (I apologize for my poor grammar)
    I for one, think your tattoo is beautiful. Despite it’s ugly taxonomy.

  2. I remember “tramp stamps” as becoming thing in the 90s when I was in high school – I associate them with “alterna-chicks” and the Lilith Fair crowd.

    I really, really hate the term too, even though my only tattoo (at the moment) is on my upper arm. I’ve always thought the lower back is a really convenient place to get inked – easy to hide in a corporate environment if your employers are uptight, easy to display if you want it on display, unlikely to wind up looking weird due to stretch marks or what have you. But I never considered it as a potential location for my tattoo because I didn’t want that label on it. This essay adds to my growing courage about just getting one there the next time I get tattooed and fuck the haters, though – thanks for that 🙂

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