IN Guyana, people who have tattoos are stigmatised by others in our society. It is safe to say that when someone does not conform to the norms of our country, they are seen as outcasts; the same can be said for people with tattoos. I remembered always hearing the talks, “people with tattoos are in gangs or were prisoners” or “women with tattoos are party animals and filled with promiscuity.” While those talks might be less today, it’s still faint amongst Guyanese. I have many friends and family with tattoos and I can tell you that none of them are a part of the stereotypes or stigmas I just mentioned. I know of persons who have to constantly wear long sleeves or cover their tattoos with makeup when seeking employment and still have to do it after they have the job—if they get the job that is, because employers usually class someone with tattoos as being “unprofessional.”
You know, for a country and even world that encourage freedom of expression, we’re still quick to judge people with body art. People have tattoos on their skins for many reasons: to express themselves; to observe a major life event; to remember loved ones who’ve passed away or even to cover up scars. Perhaps the most beautiful social media thread that I’ve ever seen was pictures of persons who had scars and transformed those very scars with tattoos (scissors tattooed on a cut, quotes on self-harm scars, flowers on breast cancer survivors and so many more). There was even a tattoo trend, with people tattooing a semi-colon on their hands to signify their awareness of suicide, depression, self-harm and anxiety. Today, the people who get tattoos are from all circles of life—breaking down those stereotypical walls.
Art comes in many forms and tattoos should not be an exception. People may also have a problem with this form of body art because of religious reasons, having their perspectives based on myths or just a general distaste for body art. I am not pleading with you to develop a liking for tattoos, but I would ask you to not judge and disrespect others because of their choice to have one, or two or even a sleeve. I personally admire persons with tattoos for many reasons—for the unique ideas and concepts they come up with, their bravery to not let normality confine them as well as, their ability to commit to one piece of artwork on their body for the rest of their lives. Having a tattoo does not make you less of a teacher, lawyer, university student, friend and most importantly—it does not make you any less of a human being. If I am to call out a list of the professions in Guyana, inclusive of my very own; social work, the newspaper would not have had enough pages to print other stories this week.
According to my research, tattoos are a choice people make, which makes it a controllable stigma. My question is, “Why is it still even a stigma?” As far as I am concerned, tattoos can bring sight to who a person is on the inside—their personality and beautiful soul.
Tattoos have been a part of our culture for a very long time. From the Amerindians tattooing their tribal symbols on their skin to the temporary henna tattoos adorned by Indians on special occasions and these are acceptable forms. We can somehow pick and choose which form is acceptable and which form isn’t?
My general advice to everyone is to look at tattoos as a form of expression rather than just ink that stains the skin forever. I remember a quote I once saw: “Some people hang up their art pieces on their walls, I wear mine.” That, to me, is how many people who have tattoos see it as well. If you’re planning to get a tattoo, make sure you go to a professional tattoo artist where they practise good sanitation and cleanliness. This will make sure you do not receive any infections. If, by chance, you are not the committing type, there is always temporary realistic tattoos. Whatever the case may be—I do hope you can wear your art without being judged.