Breasts and the Tattooed Model: An informal essay
Allow me to be mildly controversial for a moment, and just say, that I really do not care about what men think. Before you all get up in arms about what I just said, please know that my statement is in reference to specific situations, in which photos of me are ruthlessly torn apart by men. Women participate in the negative comments as well, but less often.
The women who participate in shaming other women’s bodies know better, and in some ways, it’s more hurtful and detrimental. All in all, however, it’s fueled by collective patriarchal privilege, which makes men think it’s acceptable to tell a woman that she needs to change something about her body to please certain men’s aesthetic sensibilities. Some women follow suit with this behavior, in order to fit in.
Every woman knows what it’s like to have your appearance scrutinized, judged and commented upon, whether you are a model or not. It comes with the territory of being a woman in a society where you are valued for your appearance, no matter what other types of accomplishments you have made.
These women want to be in the “boy’s club.” They want to say “Hey, I’m not one of THOSE women, I’m not a GIRL, I only connect with and hang out with GUYS and I think like them, so I have to demean women too.” This has an incredibly negative affect on women as a whole. With every negative comment made BY a woman about another woman’s appearance, our collective social validity dissipates. It pits us against each other, and makes us look catty and insecure, which is exactly what misogynistic men want. United we stand, divided we look like hysterical self-hating children.
“Wait…you’re a Feminist Model?”
What spawned my need to vent about patriarchy today? Well, I am a feminist model. Many people may not understand that. Allow me to explain. I majored in Women’s Studies in college. Feminism makes sense to me: the belief that men and women are entitled to equal rights economically, politically, and socially. If you don’t believe women are entitled to equality, you are a fascist who agrees with the collective oppression of over half of the world’s population. Men and women may be different, but we are entitled to the same rights. Separate is not equal, we’ve established that, it is common sense. It’s my belief as a radical feminist, that the road to equality has everything to do with women controlling their own bodies. This is not just in respect to birth control or abortion, but also in respect to what women decide to do with their physical appearance.
I am covered in tattoos, and I realize that this is still technically a social taboo depending on where you live. I live in Washington, DC, so it is DEFINITELY taboo here. Women who have tattoos on their bodies are making a social statement about personal ownership, whether they know it or not. They are saying they are not concerned with traditional concepts of femininity.
There is a bit of a conundrum with this concept within the tattoo modeling community. What I have noticed is that what began as a counter-culture and inherently feminist idea to spread and promote images of women that don’t fit traditional beauty standards in hope of destroying the “beauty ideal”, has dissolved INTO the beauty ideal. Hyper sexualization of alternative and tattooed women is rampant.
In my experience as a tattooed model, I get hired much more often for sexualized and revealing sets than for anything artistic or fashionable. I don’t necessarily mind this, I enjoy all types of modeling, but it would be nice not to be typecast into a particular role.
Suicide Girls promotes themselves through hyper sexualized burlesque events (it’s not the type of burlesque you are thinking of) and pornographic photos of alternative women. Nothing wrong with pornography. I have followed them since their inception in 2004ish, and I really thought it was an empowering concept in the beginning.
The women featured often had creative and artistic representations of themselves that didn’t necessarily fit in with traditional forms of pornography (think Playboy). Their personalities and interests were demonstrated in the photography concepts. This has changed. While they still feature many different kinds of women with many different kinds of “looks”, the personalities of each individual model are lost. They are now just objects for masturbatory release, rather than women making a statement.
I don’t judge these women for participating; I understand why alternative women join Suicide Girls. It’s because it is the most popular and longest standing representation of alternative women currently in existence, and it markets itself as a feminist company. There are mountains of evidence to the contrary. This evolution toward strict objectification void of creativity has been, in my opinion, the result of striving to meet the aesthetic demands of the western male masses. Photos of alternative and tattooed women are certainly changing and so are their bodies.
Silicone, Saline, Poison, Inject me baby…
I see tattooed models, Suicide Girls or otherwise, gaining more popularity as they get various forms of plastic surgery, the most popular form, of course, being breast implants.
Now, this is a complicated subject. I don’t want to make women feel ashamed or like they are “bad feminists” for deciding to get breast implants. I also completely understand that occasionally they are a business investment (think of exotic dancers, porn stars, and sex workers and yes, even some types of models.) These women have made a business decision based on what the western beauty ideal is to make more money.
I completely get it, because it is SO HARD to make a living as a model as it is. In a business sense, they are doing something intelligent that will yield more income and opportunity. In a social sense, however, it is reinforcing a beauty ideal that is unattainable for most women (especially women who will never be able to afford plastic surgery), and in a way, sending this message to men: “I will change my body to fit your needs.”
This, technically, is NOT a socially empowering situation for anyone. Women are sacrificing their bodies to make more money, and men are happily patronizing them. Within the tattoo modeling world, it means that what men want matters more than what we want. It’s no longer a changing, fluid, or counter cultural concept. It has become a stagnant oversaturated market full of women so desperate for notoriety that they are making decisions about their bodies based on male opinions.
“Whur’s ur tit’s?”
Back to the picture comments: It seems that whenever I share one of my photos on a popular social media site, there are innumerable comments (mostly from men, and some from insecure women in agreement with men) about my lack of mammary endowment. Allow me to share some of these comments with you:
- Brian Fulkerson: “She should spend less $ on tats and save for some boobs” (male)
- Gary N Jennifer Dominguez: “Dam joto Nick Leyva…. this chick looks like a piece of ply wood wit scribbles in my garage! ! No curves wat so ever” (male)
- Kelly Ross: “This girl looks about 12. Very disappointed tattoo page!!” (female)
- James D’Angelo: “Where’s her titts lmao” (male)
- Albert N. Susan Salazar: “She has no tits!!!” (male)
- PJ Whittenberg: “Whur’s ur tit’s?” (male)
- Sam Hutton: “She looks like a man” (male)
- Brian Fulkerson (in response to women disgusted by his mean comment): “Kayley Blankenship, Ali Williams, Kimberly Geratty you are all clueless. She is a model for a magazine on the internet. She and her employers put her on display to be judged. I expressed my opinion. I was not rude or offensive. I didn’t call her ugly. I didn’t call her names. I don’t give two flying fucks what you think about it. If you didn’t like what I said then you could’ve moved along…it not hard. But you couldn’t do that could you? Bitchs.” (male)
- Harry Dickson: “Shoulda spent some of that tat money on a rack” (male)
- Freddie Craven: “Ugly 14 yr old?” (male)
Another man, whose comments have since been thankfully removed, commented three times on the photo, RATING me a 2 out of 10 for my lack of boobs.
Brian Fulkerson’s second comment is particularly interesting because he is so terribly misinformed. I’m not a “model for a magazine on the internet”, nor is this social media site “my employer” putting me on display to be “judged.” These photos are shared to be ENJOYED. I am an independent freelance model, which means I am my own employer. Most models on the Internet are freelance models, especially tattooed models.
This means, that they are unable to be part of an agency because of their look, and they have to work twice as hard to gain notoriety and make money. Men made most of the negative comments, not surprisingly, and one comment made by a woman hoping to be part of the “club.”
A Lesson in Self Confidence
In the photo, I am confidently smiling, because I felt confident in that moment. I wasn’t even posing for that particular picture; it was a candid capture of me in a very happy and confident moment. I’m wearing a one-piece leotard that still shows my tattoos, but is relatively modest compared to other things I have modeled.
Could it be that a “beauty outsider” like myself exhibiting confidence without being over sexualized, demonstrates a threat to patriarchal ideologies? Why would these men feel so strongly about tearing me down because they didn’t like one specific part of my body?
It’s a form of control and power for them. They feel powerless in certain aspects of their own lives, they see someone confident despite their uniqueness, and they have to shit all over it to assert some kind of control. While these comments can be occasionally hurtful, they have never influenced me to want breast implants, or change anything about my body. Here’s why….
The Story of my Boobs
It’s true, my breasts are tiny. I am a 32B, sometimes a 34A depending on the bra. Let it be known to all, that I LOVE MY SMALL BREASTS. We have been through a lot, my boobs and I, and I have not always loved them. I went through puberty at a very young age, so in the 4th grade I was a B cup. By the time I was in the 8th grade, they grew to a 32DD. In college, they blew up to a 32HH. I was at that time, 5’4 and 140 lbs, and they consumed my whole body.
It was impossible to dress myself the way that I wanted to, and I felt like I had no control over how I looked. All anyone ever saw when they looked at me were my breasts limiting me to be identified exclusively by one body part. This made me extremely socially anxious about being around people. The bras were so expensive, $100 was usually the least expensive price for a 32HH bra. On top of all of that, I was dealing with excruciating back and shoulder pain every day. It was unlivable, and I had to take care of it.
My circumstance was so severe that my student health insurance covered the cost of my breast reduction, which was one of the best decisions I ever made for myself. I instantly felt lighter, as a total of 5 lbs of breast tissue was removed from my body. After recovering from surgery and slowly learning to dress myself, I was relieved with the new way I was being treated. People didn’t just stare at my chest anymore; they looked into my eyes when we were conversing.
Something so simple can feel so validating when your breasts for have identified you so long. The bras were so much cheaper, I was able to dress myself the way I wanted to without worrying about appearing obscene or being stared at. I had scarring from the surgery, which I covered up with beautiful floral tattoos on my breasts. I love how it looks, and find it infinitely more aesthetically pleasing than when I had 5 extra lbs of boob on my body.
I consciously CHOSE to have small breasts. For this reason, I do not care what men think, and I will never get breast implants. I have developed a more positive body image since my breast reduction that isn’t dictated by what anyone else wants, but what I want.
Going forward: The Future of Tattooed Women
Though many people may disagree with me, I feel like my decision to have a breast reduction allowed me to be more expressive in my modeling. My look is versatile, and I’m not limited to just eye candy shots. I have much more freedom of movement with posing, and can be androgynous in photographs if I want to.
Modeling, for me, functions as a means to be creative, artistic, and think about composition. It also allows me to meet many like-minded artists, travel, and make extra money. It is not a way for me to get tons of attention from random men.
I am hopeful that concepts of beauty within that tattoo community will become more empowering rather than limiting for women. In order for that to happen, however, men and women need to stop reducing women to their specific body parts.
Models within that tattoo community: I call on you to think for yourself, and make decisions about modeling and about your own body based on what YOU want. If you want implants, get them, but make sure you are getting them for yourself, and not to feed into patriarchal ideologies. Conceding to change your body for someone else’s pleasure disregards the most important message tattooed women are supposed to send: we are women who think and act independently.
Inform yourself and Think Critically
Everyone has their aesthetic preferences, and they are certainly entitled to express their opinions, but be informed and be considerate. Your comments have a direct effect on social ideologies whether you realize it or not. Some of these comments while you may believe they are innocent, function to oppress and control the bodies of the entire female gender. Men and women, think before you comment.
Tattooed sisters, please deeply consider your decisions to alter your bodies, and what kind of message you intend to send about tattooed women. I encourage you to force the world to accept you as you are, rather than changing yourself to meet someone else’s aesthetic demands.
Naomi Wolf said it best, and I’ve overused this quote but it is so incredibly applicable to my situation: "She wins who calls herself beautiful and challenges the world to change to truly see her." This idea, of not CARING about what anyone else wants you to look like makes a positive, strong and definitive social statement for all women. Think about it.