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Women 'feel more judged' than men for having a tattoo

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Anna Brech
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Body art can’t escape the imprint of gender politics, according to a new study from the University of Portsmouth

From whether or not to have children to how we manage our our health, women often find themselves on the sharp end of other people’s assumptions.

And, it seems, this gendered rush to judgement extends to tattoos, too.

A new study by researchers at the University of Portsmouth and Casino.org found that women are more likely to feel judged for having tattoos than men, and more likely to cover them up, too.

The university commissioned OnePoll to survey 1,000 UK residents who’d had tattoos done and since regretted it.

Nearly 70 percent of respondents felt the need to cover up their designs at some point, and women were most likely to do this. 

In addition, over 15% of women said they felt judged by their body art, compared to 9.5% of men. 

Many within this group felt it would have a negative impact on their job prospects if they displayed their tattoos.

Lena Dunham says tattoos give her “ownership of a body that’s often beyond my control”

“The results of this survey make for stark reading,” says Dr Stephen Crabbe, leading the study. “Even today, society still seems to judge women more for having tattoos.

“Despite living in a more tolerant society than ever before, where equal rights are correctly pushed across all groups, tattoos remain a subject that sees prejudice cast unfairly.”

Of the women who regretted their tattoos in the study, nearly 30% said they simply got bored of the design. A further 23% said the tattoo no longer held the same significance or value that it once did.

One in three young adults now has a tattoo, and women are driving this trend as we look to body ink as a form of vital self-expression.

Lena Dunham (above) is one in a growing number of people who experiment with tattoos as a means of asserting identity.

“Been tatting myself up like crazy this month,” the actor and director wrote on Instagram last year, as she shared a photo of a rose tattoo on her thigh. 

“I think it gives me a sense of control and ownership of a body that’s often beyond my control.”

A post shared by ReeRee Rockette (@rockalily) on

Anecdotally, women with lots of tattoos support the findings in the study when it comes to other people’s judgements.

“I get a lot of positive feedback on my tattoos, although they seem to make people forget their manners,” vintage salon owner ReeRee Rockette (above) tells Stylist. “I get stroked, poked and touched by strangers – usually women – and it’s very unsettling. The negative reactions are quieter; stares and pointing, or questions tinged with passive aggression. I have had women at parties tell me why they don’t like tattoos. Despite me never asking.”

Editor Terri White has also been on the receiving end of extreme reactions over her tattoos. 

“One guy I was once smitten with listed my tattoos in the top five things he liked about me; that was wonderful,” she says. “But a lot of men hate them. In a bar in New York, I was approached by a man I’d never met before to ask why I’d ‘ruined myself’. He told me that I would be pretty if it wasn’t for them, but it was ‘like putting a bumper sticker on a Ferrari.’”

With tattoos drawing everyday sexism just as much as anything else in life, their significance as a form of self-assertion becomes all the more charged.

And - regrets or no - that can only be a good thing.

Jess Koala, tattoo artist at Black + Blue in San Francisco, says she’s seen a boom in demand from women for designs that make a feminist statement.

“I think people are just trying to wear their ideals as a badge of honour,” she says. “It’s permanent — you’re making a very clear statement: ‘This is what I believe in, this is who I am.’ That just fits very naturally with activism.”

Images: Getty, Instagram

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Anna Brech

Anna Brech is a freelance journalist and former editor for stylist.co.uk. Her six-year stint on the site saw her develop a vociferous appetite for live Analytics, feminist opinion and good-quality gin in roughly equal measure. She enjoys writing across all areas of women’s lifestyle content but has a soft spot for books and escapist travel content.

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