It is 82 degrees outside today. 82!!!!! Finally! The Mediterranean summer I’ve been longing for is here. That means I need to do a wardrobe overhaul/start preparing for unwanted attention and snarky comments about my tattoos.

Below are the two tattoos that get the most attention/commentary in the U.S.- my Neutral Milk Hotel tattoo (yes, I have a band tattoo, UGH), and a watercolor portrait of my corgi Angus.

Large and visible tattoos on women are increasingly the norm in the U.S. Even in the Midwest (where I primarily live and teach), to see a woman with ink is becoming commonplace. I can even remember when my mom- MY MOM!!- talked about getting a small tattoo on her ankle.

That being said, large visible tattoos on women, particularly political ones, are not the norm here in Belgrade and still not that common in the U.S. 

I have rather visible tattoos on my arms, and one is distinctly political (to folks here in Serbia), so I am mindful of covering them up when I go out. That being said, on a day like today- when the pavement is finally hot and the flowers on the trees have mostly given way to large waxy leaves- I cannot bear to wear sleeves.

As most academics with visible tattoos will tell you, students cannot not talk about your tattoos. I am sure there’s a gender component to this too. Women’s bodies are fair game for analysis and critique in public, so it makes sense that this applies to women’s tattoos as well.

I remember the first time I responded to a student asking about my tattoos while I was teaching. This was before I had tattoos on my forearms, and just a little bit of my inner arm piece was sticking out. The student asked me what it was, and I snapped at her, “I don’t see how this has anything to do with the lesson I am teaching right now!” Three years later, I still regret my response to that particular student.

Yes, it was inappropriate for her to interrupt my lesson. Yes, it still is inappropriate for students to comment on a professor’s appearance in the classroom. Again, this is something that is disproportionately gendered- how many men professors have students commenting on what they wear, their hair, and their tattoos? Yes, I should have been used to students asking inappropriate questions at inappropriate times by that time in my teaching career.

I regret my reaction to that student, because I shut down what could have been a useful teaching moment. At the time, I was teaching Introduction to Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, and this was pretty far in the semester. Students had the language and skills needed to analyze gender performance, socialization, sexism, patriarchy, the public vs. private sphere, and sexism.

I could have used that moment to point out that women in front of the classroom face a different set of challenges than our male colleagues. Not only do we have to work harder to establish our credibility as scholars and get students to listen to us as authorities on the subjects we are teaching, but we also have to deal with our bodies being marked and on display. White cisgender men are “neutral” in front of the classroom. They are accepted as experts on what they teach, and their presence does not challenge assumptions about academia and intellectualism. However,  anyone that does not fit into that narrow category faces the daily grind of being a scrutinized body. This is part of the reason we started this blog, because we want to add to the voices that bring into the light issues that most marked people in the academy struggle with daily.

I feel the need to pause for a second and recognize the privilege I have to be in a department and in a university that allows instructors to have visible tattoos. I chose to pursue a career in academia in part because I wanted that freedom to express myself with piercings and tattoos (as a former riotgrrrl that is a very important part of my identity). I also want to note that not everyone has the freedom to make those choices. I also want to acknowledge that as a white cis woman I have a lot more freedom than many of my colleagues re: movement, security, and being respected/accepted in academia.

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What my students could see during student conferences today.

Understanding my privilege as an academic who can have visible tattoos displayed in the classroom does not mean that I am comfortable with having my body (and its ornamentation) being a topic for discussion during class. Nor does it mean that I welcome commentary, touching (YES, people touch my arms without permission!!!), or unsolicited attention regarding my tattoos. Just like the rest of my body parts- arms, legs, breasts, ass, stomach, feet etc- my tattoos are mine, and not yours, and you do not get to ogle at/talk about/touch them without my permission.

Now to the fun part- outfit specs!

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My skirt is a faux suede rose mini from H&M, and the blouse is vintage. No shoes because this pic was taken on my balcony and it is WARM.

Final note- All of my tattoos were done by women artists- a personal policy of mine, and I gotta give credit where credit is due.

In order of newest to oldest here is a list of my tattoos and their artists:

I know that we have countless folks that have visible tattoos and teach, so I’m curious- what are your experiences with teaching and tattoos? Tweet at us @sartorialschols, hit us up with a tattoo pic on IG @sartorialscholars, or shoot us a comment below.

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