Look but don’t touch: Let’s talk about tattoo etiquette

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Slate.com recently published a post called Stop Touching My Tattoos Without Asking by Jathan Sadowski. Yeah, even dudes get creeped out when they’re touched by strangers — even strangers of the lady persuasion.

Here’s an example:

One recent morning I went to my local convenience store to get a cold beverage. The cashier rang me up and, as I was pulling my wallet out to pay, I could see her eyes flicking back and forth between my arms. She was staring — intently, with a glint of wonder — at the tattooed parts of my arms exposed between sleeve and elbow.

I didn’t mind this. But then I saw a telling grin on her face. And before I could finish thinking, “Oh no, don’t do it,” she wordlessly reached over the counter and lifted up my shirtsleeve. You know, so she could get a better look at my inked flesh. As if she knew me. As if she wasn’t a cashier brazenly manipulating the clothing of a customer without so much as a warning.

This anecdote is not anomalous, I assure you. It happens entirely too often. And I’m lucky enough to be a 20-something male, which means the violation I feel doesn’t begin to compare to what others I’ve heard from have experienced.

Head over to Slate to read the rest of the article. For the non-tattooed amongst us, myself included, we might learn something new.

So let’s talk about tattoo etiquette! Obviously touching anyone without permission isn’t cool, but is it really just as shitty for strangers to even look at your tatts without asking? What are your rules for admiring ink and having your ink be admired?

Comments on Look but don’t touch: Let’s talk about tattoo etiquette

  1. I love tattoos. I don’t have any, but I love seeing them on other people. I’ll look at a tattoo that seems really cool, I may stare a bit if it’s awesome. But I won’t touch, and I won’t say more than, “Cool ink!” or something to that effect. I assume many tattoos I see have a story, but if I don’t know the person, I don’t feel right asking for a piece of their personal story without knowing anything else about them.

    At the same time, I get a little annoyed when I’m admiring someone’s tattoo and they get pissy about it. I mean, from my perspective, you put art on your body to be admired. If you don’t want the attention, then don’t put it in a visible place. When I wear a nice outfit, I don’t get upset when someone compliments it, why should tattoos be any different?

    Maybe someone with ink can shed some light on this for me. I won’t touch you, but I may look.

    • I don’t know why people would get snotty for you complimenting their tattoo, but I can see why stares might make people uncomfortable. No one can tell from a person staring if they’re doing it to admire the ink or because they’re judging you. I’d rather have someone speak up than stare.

      • Okay, that makes sense. I try to be conscious as to if I’m staring to where the person is becoming aware, and if they notice, I’ll apologize. I try to not be the weirdo who stares in silence, but I understand it can be really awkward. But yea, I’ve had people I know tell me, “I hate when people notice my ink!” I’m thinking, “Umm, then why do you have it…?”

        • I’ve always been confused by people complaining about others complimenting their tattoos! I know there’s a reason for some complaints because my friend has a full back piece and some guys will come up to her completely randomly and creepily compliment her, and I know some people get sick of their tats being constantly noticed, but if you get them in a very visible area it kind of comes with there territory. As long as people are noticing them respectfully, though. One of my jobs is as a barista and I make a point to avoid even looking at tattoos unless someone’s is really amazing and then I try to make it a quick glance and add an appreciative “Nice ink!” Definitely no touching involved. 😛

          • Thankfully, I’ve not had any problems with staring – that I know of – or touching. My tattoos are mostly on my back at the moment so I have no idea if anyone’s been staring ^_^ I don’t mind if people look, but touching would freak me out.

            I don’t understand people getting annoyed about compliments, unless they come across as generally rude, like you’re standing having a conversation with someone and a random person runs up, interrupts whoever’s speaking and says, “Cool tattoo!” then runs off again.

      • I typically have the opposite response. My tattoo is in Latin, so if I notice someone staring at it (unless they’re doing it in a creepy way) I’ll usually ask if they would like a better look. For me, my ink serves as a conversation starter and I’m always excited when I get to share it with people. Fortunately, I haven’t experienced anyone grabbing at me without permission, but it helps that it’s all on my legs.

    • While I’m socially awkward and introverted, I genuinely do enjoy when someone either walks by or sees any of my tattoos and says, “hey, that’s rad!” I appreciate it and thank them!

      I’m sorry that you’ve run into folks that get pissy about you checking out their ink; that’s weird to me since most tatted people I’ve run into love talking about their ink, myself included.

      I will say (but you don’t sound like this kind of person) that it gets uncomfortable when people just stare, ask me “did it hurt” and “well, what do(es) it/they MEAN?” The latter two are minor annoyances since it seems that folks without tats ask those questions more frequently. And I politely answer and let them know what my experience was like. But don’t just stare (and don’t touch me, please), ask me about ’em even if you think they’re hideous 😛

        • I can live with eternal “did it hurt?” questions, but don’t…touch…me. That’s like walking up to someone because they have an interesting scar and touching it. NOPE.

          • Or walking up to a pregnant lady and touching her belly! My sister had this happen to her several times when she was pregnant!

          • My cousin is a tattoo artist (and extremely talented, I might add). I remember years ago there was an interview where he basically said “if you think it’s going to hurt, it is.” I think people are idiots to actually ask if it hurt.

            While I haven’t any tattoos of my own, I am a great admirer of those of others. I don’t think I’m a creeper/gawker, though I definitely appreciate a beautifully executed design. Most of the time, I don’t say much beyond that I think it’s really cool/beautiful/that sort of thing. I’m not an interrogator and definitely not a toucher! It weirds me out when strangers (and often acquaintances) touch me, so I wouldn’t do it to others.

            Oh, and I am personally dreading the inevitable pregnant belly-touching. Honestly, if you wouldn’t touch a specific person’s non-pregnant belly, why would you invite yourself to touch it now? (If you’re that desperate, at least ask first…?)

      • I get the feeling that people who ask “what does it MEAN” are the same people who stand in front of a Jackson Pollock or a black square on a white canvas (https://morganculture.wordpress.com/2013/05/30/no-you-couldnt-totally-make-that-modern-and-contemporary-art-for-the-layperson/) and ask the same question. A lot of times, I take this as an opportunity to teach them about art for art’s sake. Or if I’m feeling less giving, I simply tell strangers that “it’s personal”, though most of mine have text and are somewhat easily understood.

        I’ve also not heard of people getting pissy about their ink, but I do understand the issue of being judged. Since I now live in LA, whenever I go back to the Midwest or head to the South, I forget that I look very different and that people may have never seen someone who looks like me. Those kinds of stares are often very uncomfortable (like when I went to Korea and everyone wanted to take pictures of me instead of the cool landmarks I was visiting), so yes, people react differently to that idea.

        When I travel, I try to be extra polite and extra tolerant, because people with tattoos/piercings often already have stereotypes about us as rude and mean. If even one extremist encounters my body art AND my polite attitude, something could change in that person’s life- like in that article about pink hair and judgeyness on OBB.

      • I have this same experience. Even though I’m introverted and shy, I love when people compliment my tattoo. If you get a visible tattoo, you have to know that people will notice it. Even here in Seattle where everyone is inked from head to toe, people still comment and compliment my tattoo, and I always appreciate it. Even when people ask what it means, I’m happy to explain. But no. touching. I’ve had it happen before when I’m around a group of people, where I’m already uncomfortable because of aforementioned introversion, and all of a sudden I just feel a finger on my upper arm. Can we just agree as a society to cut this out?

      • The three that get me are “did it hurt?,” “how long did it take?,” and “how much did it cost?” Those questions feel disrespectful, especially when those are the ONLY questions asked. If someone asks about my pieces, the art, or even the meaning (which isn’t my favorite, since they don’t really have much meaning), and then happens to ask about how long it took, it doesn’t bother me too much. But when the focus is on the pain or the cost, I just don’t get it.

    • I have ink. I know you mean well, but I think you’re confused about certain things, so I’m going to try and explain.

      My tattoos aren’t on my body to be admired. They’re on my body because I was in a very bad emotional space, and I thought getting inked would relieve my distress. I did not get them for other people to enjoy. I see where you’re coming from, but it’s really really rude to assume otherwise, even if they are in a visible location.

      Having a tattoo isn’t at all like putting on an outfit. I wake up every day and I see my tattoos; I go to sleep every day and I see my tattoos. If I decide that I do not want attention on a particular day, I cannot remove or alter my tattoos.

      Also, I can almost guarantee that you are not the first person to look at or comment on a person’s tattoo. Sometimes, I just get tired of answering questions. I try to be pleasant, but I get /a lot/ of comments, and most of them — although well-intentioned– are very rude and invasive. It’s exhausting.

      There are a lot of people who do put tattoos on their body to be admired, and who appreciate compliments. Your approach does not seem wrong. Generally speaking, it’s okay to compliment and admire tattoos. You actually do seem respectful in everything except your reaction to people who do not wish to have you interact with their tattoos.

      Please, remember that you are commenting on something very personal. People aren’t obligated to be kind to you if you’re commenting on or staring at their body, even if you do it with the best of intentions. People are very much entitled to set boundaries.

      Honestly, if you’re going to interact with someone’s tattoo, you’ll just have to deal with the occasional irritated inkee.

    • Honestly I don’t a problem with this at all. I love it when people tell me they like my tattoos. I mean after all, I did spend a lot if money for the artwork. However, I have a couple of friends who hate being stared at, but I can understand part of the feeling since we don’t know if we’re judged or not and just get in that defensive mood. Hope that sheds a bit of light of you!

  2. I have a large backpiece and I’ve had people try to lift my shirt up (or pull at the neck) to see it. NOT COOL! In those cases I usually turn around quickly with my elbow aimed at them and ask what they are doing, but I don’t show them a thing. If they ask about it politely and want to see it, I tell them that I can’t lift up my shirt to show them but I have a picture handy on my phone to show them. Then I thank them for asking to see it, rather than assaulting me.

    • I also have a couple back tats and when I wear them out (in the summer, for example, or when I’m wearing a lower cut dress) people do touch me. Usually from behind. Usually without saying anything. I am not super comfortable with folks touching me WITH warning; I’m not even a big hugger. So to suddenly feel someone’s hand on my back is shocking everytime.

      I get it – I changed my body deliberately and the evidence of that change is very visible. But I also grew up learning that someone’s body is their own business. And that includes tattoos, pregnancy, scars, dyed hair, piercings, visible disabilities, ANYTHING. Just…don’t touch me.

    • Yes! I understand that when I wear a shirt and my tattoo peaks out of the top it naturally makes people curious to see the rest… But I’ve had everyone from drunk strangers at a bar to my fiance’s aunt (who I didn’t know very well) start pulling on my neckline. I love my tattoo and I love to show it off. But I do not love people unexpectedly pulling on my clothes.

    • SO NOT COOL! I have a tattoo under my collar bone, which is partially visible when I wear a V-neck. I got the tattoo because I love it. I did not get the tattoo for public consumption or comment. The number of strangers who have felt entitled to walk up to me and yank down my shirt to see the tattoo is just appalling. I am a human being. I have art on my skin, and it is beautiful. But folks still have to abide by the rules of common decency! No touching strangers, no nosy questions, no asking to see parts of my body that are currently covered by clothing, no staring without explanation. Don’t ask me how much it cost, don’t ask me where else on my body I have tattoos, don’t make judgments.

      Instead, here are some things that you CAN say: Nice ink! Where did you get it done? The color/line work is really beautiful. Please forgive me for staring. Nice to meet you!

  3. I have tattoos on my arms, especially my inner forearms, which are usually turned in towards the body when your arms are at rest and the ink isn’t as obvious. I can’t tell you how many times strangers have actually grabbed my wrists and pulled my arms out in order to see them more clearly. This happened a lot when I was a server, since my arms were at eye level with most people sitting and eating. My own customers would do this constantly. Absolutely freaked me out and pissed me off. I have no problem with people admiring good works of art, I do it myself with other people’s ink. Stares are a little weird, tho. But I would have no problem holding out my arms for people to see if they simply ask instead of thinking they have full reign to touch me. Strangers touching my baby belly without permission also drives me nuts!

  4. I have two tattoos, both on my wrists. Little kids often ask me questions about it, and they’re the only ones that will just touch without asking me. I don’t mind at all, though I might tell them they should ask my permission first. It’s cute to watch them as they discover that it’s not like their temporary tattoos.

    I think it would be incredibly rude to just start moving or taking someone’s clothing off. Unless you’re my lover or maybe if I had a personal stylist, don’t touch my clothes. I wouldn’t hesitate to slap the hand of someone doing that.

  5. I have a few visable tats that people seem intent on touching and I absolutely hate strangers invading my personal space. It completely freaks me out. the worst is the piece on the back of my neck because people have kinda snuck up behind me and touched the back of my neck! Bleh! I’ve almost assaulted a few people who have done that and would have felt completely justified in my reaction (i’m a 5’2″ female)

  6. Urrrgghh, touchy people.

    I have one (small, text) on my inner arm and a larger image on my shoulder blade and I really don’t mind it when people notice them or ask questions (I pay very little attention to staring because most of the situations where that is probably happening, I am in my own little bubble of ‘I am commuting and there are no other people on this tube, lalalala’) but I’ve also had people grab my arm and twist it so they can read the text or touch my back when I’m wearing a camisole. It is the WORST. They tend to get a loud ‘do not touch me’ and a death glare.

  7. When I was in university I remember being out at a bar and some guy came up and started rubbing my tattoo on my arm, as if he thought he was being smooth or something. I’ve never gotten away from someone so fast! It was beyond creepy. I’d definately agree that people should draw the line at touching others without asking/knowing them. Looking, however? Frankly, you chose to get a tattoo, if you don’t want people looking at it, put it in a place that you don’t generally show to the public or get used to the attention, because it’s going to happen no matter what.

    My husband has a city skyline on his forearm that has 2 skyscrapers side-by-side. He doesn’t just get looks and people touching him, he gets people asking if it’s supposed to be the twin towers. Seriously? That was one he wasn’t prepared for, and it happens alot. I have a large castle on my upper arm that looks a bit like Hogwarts, and although that wasn’t necessarily my intention, I don’t mind the comparision at all! I feel bad for my husband though, as it’s a really cool city scene, and now he can’t get away from what other people think it is.

  8. I have a lot of people both staring and asking (though most of the “did it hurt” comments are directed toward my lip ring, and to which I simply reply “a needle went through my face; what do you think?”), but I can’t recall people trying to touch my ink.

    I’m very weird about being touched by strangers so I would definitely be upset.

    Can anyone explain the touching ink phenomenon? What do people think they will feel?

    • I know the 1st couple ones I got, the artist pressed down way too hard so my skin scared into keliods. So you can feel these tattoos. I think that’s what they are expecting even though most are flat.

    • I think your response to the lip ring comment is interesting – I also have my lip pierced, and literally did not feel it. It felt like pressure, like someone squeezing my lip, but absolutely no pain at all. Of course, the healing process was a different story.

      I have a lip ring, eyebrow ring, 5 holes in one ear, 8 in the other and three tattoos. I guess I’m the luckiest person in the entire damn world because almost nobody ever comments on them, and I’ve never been randomly touched. My tattoos aren’t always visible (one on each shoulder blade, one on ankle) but I wear tank tops often so the ones on my back are pretty obvious a lot of the time. I do get comments constantly on my hair (black on top, neon pink underneath), but 99 times out of 100 it’s, “That’s amazing, how did you do that???”

      The other 1% it’s the condescending, “Why do you do that to yourself?” Which has been in response to both hair and piercings. My response is, “Why do most women have their ears pierced?” It seems to shut them up pretty quick.

  9. My girlfriend has a couple of tattoos on her arms. One time we were out getting food and these two teenagers kept looking at her. Finally one of them asked, with genuine interest, “Did you do those yourself?” ..Probably the strangest question she’s ever gotten asked. She could only say “Uhh..no?” and we made a quick escape.

  10. Touching someone’s tattoo? Very wierd and incredibly rude… I have a tattoo on my heel, so it’s only visible during summer. Once I was in a store and one girl who worked there saw it as I was climbing a stair – I was wearing long jeans and flip flops so it only got exposed for seconds- asked to see it and proudly declared “this is genious, I’ve always wanted to have a tattoo with wings, but on the back it would get too big, and, that’s a clever idea to hide it from my parents”. UGH. The tattoo and its placement are very important and have a deep meaning for me, stupid girl, I’m sure people get ideas all the time from other people’s ink but it’s incredibly shallow to say it out loud to someone you don’t know.

  11. Years ago, I was chatting with a classmate and I asked her what made her choose a pretty tattoo on her ankle. This was someone I knew, but not well, and she reacted really badly–she said it was personal and she didn’t want to discuss it with me. I was really shocked–I would never think of reacting that way if someone asked me about a piece of jewellery or something else I was wearing. But I guess tattoos are different, more intimate even if they are on display? I have never asked anyone about their tattoos since, which is sad for me because some people I know have lovely ones. Is their any polite way to talk about other people’s ink?

    • I don’t understand why people get so angry either about being asked the meaning. I have a personal tattoo as well, right on my wrist, and I get asked about it a lot. I can understand if something is personal and maybe they don’t want to talk about it, but I think a simple”I’m sorry it’s not really something I want to talk about” is all that’s needed, not anger. People are naturally curious and tattoos can be natural conversation starters. Maybe word your question as “are you able to share what that tattoo means?” That way they have an easy out if it’s too personal for them to talk about, instead of maybe feeling like they are backed in a corner with being asked flat out what it means. I just wish everyone was nicer all around, the world would be such a better place lol

      • I occasionally get frustrated by that question, but mainly because I feel my tattoo is so obvious that asking is unnecessary. I have a tic-tac-toe board tattooed on my right arm, so anytime someone asks what it means, I just smile and say “it means I can play tic-tac-toe whenever I want.”

    • I’m shocked when people that have visible tattoos react this way. At some point, someone’s going to ask about it, and that’s okay. That’s not to say that anyone has to divulge a long, drawn-out story behind the meaning or reason for choosing their tattoo, but they should at least anticipate the possibility that eventually someone will ask about it.

      Sure, I get tired of people assuming that my shamrock-Chicago flag tat means that I know/knew/am myself a CPD officer and they’re confused when I say simply that I’m half Irish and from Chicago and it reminds me, no matter how far from home I get, where I came from.

    • My tattoo’s a reminder of getting through my mental breakdown, so I have to have another meaning on standby to give when strangers ask me. “Oh, I just like the design!” “It’s for my degree/first pet/sibling/whatever.”

  12. This is why I choose my tattoo placement with strategy. The tattoos I want people to see or ask me about, those are the ones I put in easily visible places. My wrist, my right ankle, my left calf. The ones that are more for me or within my household, I put those in places that are usually hidden (my back, my upper arm because I’m anti-sleeveless).

    The ones showing are my tattoo with my parents’ handwriting, the puzzle pieces for my kids, my engagement tattoo, and sometimes my upper arm tattoo if the stupid shirt sleeve is too short.
    The ones not showing are my Betty Rubble, 2 sparrows with xoxo, and the rest of my upper arm–tree design drawn by my then-boyfriend-now-husband.

  13. No touching, ever. Like Amy upthread, I love tattoos on other people but don’t have any myself. However, as with anything about anyone that catches my eye – clothes/hair/whatever – if I am so intrigued that I feel I can’t help but stare I always say why I’m staring, because my facial expression, which I know to signify wonder, could look like anything to the other person! Generally I do my best not to stare though (it’s just difficult to not do it if I’m tired or stressed whereas speaking to the person doesn’t take so much effort for me because I find that quite easy). Unsolicited touching is something I’d never do and I cannot understand why some people think their right to have a feel supercedes other people’s right to maintain their personal boundaries.

  14. I actually had no idea this was even a thing! How weird and creepy. But I’ve also never experienced people touching my baby belly without asking. I guess I either give off a “don’t touch me” vibe, or I live in an area where people know better.

    But I also have a tattoo on my ankle and if someone was going to touch it, they’d have to get on their hands and knees to get at it. Perhaps that’s a deterrent (although apparently not for that woman in the article who tried to lift a woman’s skirt to get a better view of her tattoo…what the hell). I can attest that my tattoo has only be touched once. I was at my hairdresser, and the in-house makeup artist (who I know and have many conversations with) caught a glimpse of it and lifted up the hem of my maxi dress while I was getting my hair washed to touch it and gush over it. I didn’t mind because I knew who she was. But if it was someone else I probably would’ve freaked out a bit.

    I do admit I catch myself staring at tattoos often. But I’m really shy so sometimes I can’t man-up and say to someone “I love your tattoo!”…sometimes but not always. If someone catches me staring I will say, “Oh I’m sorry for staring, I was just admiring your tattoo…it’s really cool”.

  15. I was raised in a culture of personal space invaders. It’s totally normal where I grew up to touch a stranger. I try really hard not to do it, but sometimes, it’s just an automatic reaction—this is how we relate to people, even strangers. When we see beautiful hair, we touch the hair. When we see a beautiful ring or bracelet, we touch the hand to get a closer look. When we see a cool tattoo, we get really close and maybe touch (even my “Oooh, pretty, do touch!” brain halts at touching the actual flesh of a tattoo, though. It’s tantamount to touching a scab, even in my subconscious.)
    I always apologize profusely after, but it happens. So please, before you deck me, give me a moment to offer my sincerest “OH MY GOD I’M SO SORRY.” Then slap.

    • People behind me in lines (usually a woman) tug at my hair. Drives me insane. I have curly hair and some of it ringlets. I’ve asked adult women if they are four and need a time-out in the grocery store for tugging my hair. They usually look surprised by my reaction and insist that they just wanted to see the curl spring back. I cut my hair short for several years because I was tired of people playing with my hair. Honestly, I don’t understand the desire to touch strangers so it is interesting to hear the other side of this. For me, the first step to relating to people is speaking or offering a hand as initial contact. It is very jarring to jump right over those steps and touch any part of me outside of just accidentally bumping into me – which also bugs me but that is on me to get over.

      • My hair has been long for about 15 years. It is usually somewhere between my waist and below my butt, but has been as short as bra strap length (to me, that feels like I’ve been scalped, but I couldn’t find a wedding hair dresser who would deal with more than that). I am a mix of wavy (50%), loose curls (40%) and the odd straight bit (10%), so my hair is on the wild side, texture-wise.

        I almost never wear my hair down in public. Part of that is protectiveness (wind, friction, dirt, snagging) but a lot of it is people thinking it’s okay to play with it, pet it, and even grab my ponytail or a lock of hair, preventing me from walking! I especially hate it when grabbed from behind, I have narrowly avoided assaulting people on numerous occasions.

        I am usually furious but oddly, it’s harder for me to come up with something snappy to say. It’d be easier for me to just hit them, which I won’t do because- shock, I don’t want to touch someone I don’t know. Or be violent, even if the urge is definitely there…

  16. My hubs and I have yardage of ink between us. We invest in them like art but know ours will never get stolen, lost, or repossessed. Like any gallery, look, don’t touch. You may even get a tour if you are interested, polite, and the docent is willingly on duty. Don’t be all Creepy McCreeperson with the Mona Lisa, friend.

    I have been touched, caressed, my clothing moved, pulled away from my body (to look down my back) and my bra/straps moved by a stranger’s hand. Once someone, who I am convinced was high, lifted up the back of my shirt in the middle of the dairy aisle to get a better look. My hubs looked stabby. As a woman, I couldn’t help but feel icky for a while.

  17. uuuggh the touching. I get pretty tired of explaining what it is(my most visable tattoo is a baku) and people asking how much it hurt(yes it hurt. how much? uhhh…)But I am never mad at the person if they are polite. They don’t know I have already explained it three times today.

    People touching and grabbing my clothes though, I have some horror store’s about. I only got touched on the belly by a stranger once when pregnant. I’ve been grabbed and petted and had my weird hair fondled more that I care to count.

  18. This is a simple matter of body autonomy. It is my body and no one has the right to touch it or judge it. I really don’t care if some folks are fascinated, interested, curious, or whatever other justifying adjective they choose to use; do not touch my body without my permission. So says my foot that is attached to my well-muscled soccer legs. I have a tattoo that rarely ever shows but occasionally people try to pull down the back of my shirt to get a better look. Pulling at my clothes is perceived as an attack to me and most likely will be physically stopped. My tattoo is no more an invitation to my body than another woman’s large breasts or a man’s fantastic ass. It does not matter that I chose to add a tattoo to my body any more than it matters the clothing I wear, the degree to which I show my breasts, the amount of effort I put into sculpting muscles, the color I dye my hair, etc. Touching my body without my permission is an invasion. Full stop.

    • THIS!!!!!!

      ETA: There’s a whole host of issues wrapped up in this presumed lack of bodily autonomy: misogyny, lack of agency, presumption of ownership. I would love to see an examination of touching women versus touching men. I would hypothesize that women are touched much more frequently (by men and other women) than man are.

      • YES!! “misogyny, lack of agency, presumption of ownership” is exactly what I am getting at.

        My husband has many more tattoos; his are on the arms and are mostly military themed. Waitresses and random women frequently (more than it happens to me) touch his arm where the tattoos are but he experiences it completely different from how I do. It doesn’t seem to bother him at all because he doesn’t feel threatened as a physically large, white, male, with military training. We’ve had many a conversation on how I feel threatened when people touch me. I am also a 1-foot-bubble person and he is not. Professionally, since we have worked together, it is even more interesting for us. His tattoos are respected and seen as a badge of prior experience where mine are judged as rebellious and unprofessional. I’ve been told, more than once, I should consider having it removed! (And don’t get me started on being told that my curly hair is unprofessional but that is off this topic.)

    • As far as I can tell, some people think it’s ok to: touch pregnent bellies, touch tattoos, touch unusual hair, and grab the arms of young female retail clerks while talking with them. This last one is the only one I have experienced, and it is only old retired men who do it.

      • I work a pretty public job (parking officer in a downtown area). Despite being in uniform (which to me would signal “don’t touch”), I still get touched plenty. Agreed, it’s usually retired guys my dad’s age or older who seem to think I’m going to be charmed by their dumb banter and arm touching. Had a probably drunk guy put his hand on my waist once…weird. Occasionally it’s an old lady, who touches my arm or hand as she thanks me for giving her directions or something.

  19. I had no idea this was even a thing! You ALWAYS ask someone before you touch them (except if you are ya know, having sex with them or married to them). If someone uses a wheelchair, walker, or cane, always ask before touching/moving it as that is an extension of them. Baffling why anyone would assume it is okay.

    I am interested in seeing tats, and I will ask “what does that mean?” if it is not clear. I have also asked the story behind it, I have never had anyone get angry at me. over it. I don’t see why, if a person is polite, you would get angry. Maybe they are having a bad day? This is a good etiquette reminder, regardless!

    • Yeah, I guess this is what my comment was getting at…I am just so baffled by the thought of ever touching a stranger (and was never touched when I was pregnant) that to think someone just reaches out and touches someone’s tatoos? It’s just so beyond baffling to me…

  20. I don’t have tattoos but I totally get this. Can we just do an umbrella rule of don’t touch people without their permission?
    Cause I have people just randomly touch me all the time. I’m like “Don’t touch me! I know my hair is super long and you think that is cool, but you touching me is not cool.” or “Ya, I’m wearing a corset and that is really different, but don’t touch me.” The worst is when people just reach and grab my necklace and pretty much grope my breasts in the process. A few people have gotten punched because of it. My “I feel threatened” instinct is often to punch.
    I think I’ll go crazy when I get pregnant and people start trying to touch my tummy.

  21. I didn’t realize this happened to people- I’ve never gotten the urge to touch people’s tattoos, even the really nice one. I think some people must disassociate the “nice art” from “some stranger’s skin.” If you were in a store and saw something nice for sale, it’s alright to pick it up and examine it, right? And somehow, that feeling bypasses the “it’s another person’s body and they might not want me touching it” warnings that might otherwise fire in their brains.

    I was glad to read this article, because now it will make me reconsider getting tattoos in more prominent locations. I have one, but it’s high up on my arm and always covered by a shirtsleeve. I did that on purpose, since I think some employers are still iffy about hiring people with visible ink. And if it would end with customers touching me, I can understand why.

  22. I have two small tattoos, one is a wedding ring and usually covered by my engagement right. The other is on my shoulder and can’t be seen unless I’m wearing a tank. I have had people come up and move my tank strap to see it and even poke it (there is a scar in the middle of it and for some reason people want to touch that). I have nearly decked those who have come up behind me and start moving my clothes. Usually if someone notices and asks what it is, I have no problem moving my shirt an inch for them to see; though if it were a larger piece I wouldn’t be willing.

    The other day I did have a friend notice it. It was just a simple, “I didn’t know you had a tattoo; that’s cool and fits your personality.” He didn’t ask to see it, so I didn’t show it, and he followed it with, “I’m sorry if me noticing and saying something made you uncomfortable at all.” I told him it didn’t and I took it as a compliment and thanked him for being so respectful. Definitely went better for both of us than grabbing my shirt nearly being knocked on the floor. 🙂

  23. Well as someone who has been touched and someone who wants to touch, here’s my take. Touching without asking is a big no-no just like my pregnant belly was. And if I want to see more of someone’s ink? I just ask. It’s been no big deal and most people are proud and will show you. A guy even pulled his shirt up for me. And PS there have been offers for me to touch which solves the whole problem 🙂

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