A brief introduction to tattoo etiquette

Tattoo culture is arguably more popular now than ever. Tattoos don’t carry the same stigma that they once did, and are commonly accepted by the general public. With that being said, someone’s tattoos should not be mistaken as invitations to touch that person, invade their personal space, or interrogate and lecture them about their life choices.

Once, while I was getting groceries, a man came up behind me, grabbed me by the shoulders, and commented on one of my tattoos. I did not know him, yet he didn’t think he was crossing a line by physically grabbing a stranger. People usually get tattoos for themselves, not to please strangers to whom they owe nothing.

One of my biggest pet peeves is when someone asks me what my tattoos mean. After asking others, I have learned that there are definitely individuals who love talking about their tattoos and need little persuasion. But many are offended by the way some individuals treat them based on their tattoos.

As a result, I have created a list outlining inappropriate behaviours when it comes to someone else’s tattoos.

  1. Don’t ask what a person’s tattoo means. Sometimes, tattoos relate to less than desirable memories. Also, it’s none yo bid’ness.

Instead, consider asking broader questions. Ask, for example, “What is that tattoo?” or “How long have you had it?” By asking open-ended questions, you invite someone to a deeper conversation without crossing lines.

  1. Don’t ever touch people without their permission. If someone has tattoos, it is not a get-out-of-social-protocol-free pass. Don’t ask for permission to touch people either. I almost feel obligated if people ask, even if contact is uncomfortable.

If you’re wondering what a tattoo feels like, it feels like skin or a scar, unless it is still healing, in which case it feels like a big gnarly scab that I paid for and do not want to be groped by someone’s germy, grimy hands.

  1. Don’t tell someone that you want a tattoo they have. I do not mean “I also want a butterfly on my shoulder.” I am referring to self-designed pieces that did not come from the wall of a tattoo parlour, and that can be profoundly personal.
  1. Don’t ask if getting tattoos hurt. The answer is “yes, it did.”
  1. Don’t ask individual’s questions like “Why would you do that to yourself?” or tell them “You would be so much more attractive if you didn’t have tattoos.” Replace tattoo with fat, skin tone, or birthmark and now reconsider this statement. Do you still think it’s appropriate?

Most people don’t have to be reminded that it’s not socially acceptable to comment on an individual’s weight, but some people see no problem with judging and criticising other people’s tattoos. Tattoos are a choice, and I have decided to place some on my body where they are visible to the public.

I am sure that most people who ask questions similar to those listed above mean no harm. They may just be curious. They may even be trying to better understand tattoo culture; however, everyone needs to understand the importance of unspoken social protocol concerning consent and personal space.