Why We Don’t Touch Tattoos

My Eric Clapton tattoo is a real dad-magnet.

It’s almost too bad I didn’t get it purely to snag men over the age of 50 because I’m sitting on a real goldmine. It’s a goldmine full of dad stuff: embarrassing puns, Grateful Dead T-shirts, socks with sandals.

At a bar last week, a man with long, gray hair and the body of an ex-Creedence Clearwater Revival roadie put his meaty hand on my arm. “Whoa!” He said, to himself more than to me, “That’s Layla!”

Nobody with tattoos likes when strangers touch their ink. But the bonanza that breaks out when a Baby Boomer sees mine is probably unparalleled.

The former college pot dealer at the bar wasn’t using a new pick up line where you just keep guessing names until you get it right; he was noticing that on my upper arm, I have a rendering of the cover of “Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs” by Eric Clapton’s 1970s band, Derek and the Dominoes.

I can count on one hand the number of people my age who have correctly identified it. It’s always older men, surprised to see a 23-year-old girl with a tattoo honoring a musician who was most popular before she was even conceived. Without asking my permission, this guy’s hand closed tighter around my scrawny arm.

“Guys, guys!” He called out to his ex-hippie friends, who were playing pool in the corner. “Check out this girl’s arm! It’s Layla!”

Then, he dragged me over to them like a bag of unwashed laundry and made me display my tattoo.

Before I left the bar, he also had me show it to some other extras from the cast of ‘Easy Rider’ who were sitting down.. They reacted similarly. There were a million hands on it like I was someone’s Yellowstone National Park vacation photo album and not a breathing person.

Months ago, the manager of an Italian restaurant –- an older gentleman with skin like wet leather –- asked me why I had Layla’s face on my arm. “I love classic rock. ‘Layla’ is my favorite song. I love the story behind the album,” I said, giving my usual answers.

He put his hand on his forehead and sighed. “Man, I saw all those bands live back in the ‘70s.”

I laughed, “You’re lucky. I wish I had.”

He asked how old I was. I told him.

“I would trade you your age for my concert experiences,” he replied. He was joking, of course. He’d once seen the Rolling Stones perform in a basement.

I understand the enthusiasm older men have for my Clapton tattoo. It’s nostalgia. It’s the shock of seeing someone who was a sperm back then with an image they haven’t seen in years on her arm. It’s joy that the music of their youth has survived. It’ll be like seeing a teenager with a Jay-Z tattoo in the year 2050. We’ll probably freak out and yell, “My name is HOV!” at them, too.

My real problem is more of a common one among inked people: My tattoo, whatever emotions it evokes, does not give you the right to touch me.

For every well-intentioned Deadhead for whom my arm brings back memories of getting high in a van with Hendrix on the radio, there’s also this person:

“I don’t care why you have it. I was just using it as an excuse to put my hands on you,” a turd-muffin bro told me one night, cutting off my explanation of how I got into classic rock.

Tattoos are art. Someone drew them and I paid to hang their work in the gallery that is my body. Would you bum rush the Mona Lisa and start smearing your dirty hands all over it? Do you need to touch every bump on a Van Gogh to appreciate what it looks like? Not if you’re not Mr. Magoo, you don’t.

Tattoos are also skin. They are not Braille. They feel just like your unmarked arm does.

You would never grab a stranger because you like their Biz Markie T-shirt or because you want to admire the key necklace they got at Forever 21. You would never say, “I love your haircut” and then rub that person’s head.

Why does having a tattoo erase all the usual touch boundaries? My tattoo is of a woman’s face, not of the words “Touch Me.” And even if I did have a tattoo of the words “Touch Me” because, I don’t know, I’m a big Rocky Horror fan, you still shouldn’t touch me.

I have a tattoo you like. Thank you. And if you’re a dad, I certainly appreciate your increased interest in “Layla.” She was beautiful enough to inspire one of the best rock songs of all time; of course she elicits wonderful, bell-bottom-tinged memories for you.

But that is still my skin you’re grabbing. Even if it looks like your favorite record, skin should still be recognizable to everyone.

I only put some ink on it. TC mark

image – Amazon


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  • http://twitter.com/silenceisharder Melissa M

    truth. someone jokingly tried to rub off one of my tattoos with a kleenex once. the tattoo was TWO DAYS old. i’m just glad they didn’t damage it, which was entirely possible.

    • http://www.nosexcity.com NoSexCity

      Unless you were already scabby, the worst that would’ve happened was some Kleenex fuzz in your goo. (Or an infection, which is the worst thing ever.)

      …still gross, though.

    • spinflux

      I hope you hit them. Hard.

  • Guestaroo

    I liked this piece, really well written. 

    However, I think you should try and enjoy the level of connection that your tattoo is giving you with people who feel that they’ve lost touch/relevance with today’s youth. You’ve given them a beautiful surprise, and perhaps they’re a little overwhelmed by it, but the tattoo is doing its job–it’s demonstrating daily to the outside world something personal about yourself. Whether or not you meant to, it’s making complete strangers feel like they know you a little bit. It’s giving people a rush of nostalgia, a feeling of connection, a nice little reminder that they were young, too.

    I can understand why being touched might make you uncomfortable, but especially in a bar setting (where people are a little drunk and more socially lubricated), I actually think it’s a beautiful thing. If guys are using it to be creepy and touch you, that’s another thing, but someone who genuinely loves Eric Clapton and is surprised to see it on your young skin is probably quite innocent in his little grab.

  • Nam

    “I don’t care why you have it. I was just using it as an excuse to put my hands on you,” – lol. Oh girls… When will you realize this is EVERY man’s reason, not just the ones who admit it.

    • Akkaks

      youre an idiot chauvinist piece of shit

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jonathon-Ferrari/100001319787228 Jonathon Ferrari

    Oh man.  Quoting the Black Album?  You really are only 23.  That and you just compared the Mona Lisa to a tattoo.  Now go listen to Reasonable Doubt and gain some perspective.  As for the whole touching thing, I couldn’t agree more.

  • Frut

    first rule for writing should be “why should anybody i don’t know personally care about this?”

    • Jenn

      you clicked the article to read it, so… I don’t really get your point…

      I don’t have tattoos and I had to google this layla thing to know what it looks like but I still enjoyed the article.

      go read your diary if you want so badly to personally care about something you’re reading.

      • Frut

        cool well i guess there are some deep narcissism/self-image issues to explore in a piece about “i got a classic rock tattoo rfo attention from older men, why are they all acting creepy??”. any insights

      • Frut

        also bell-bottoms can’t tinge something, etc. but why get into that

      • Jenn

        buddy if you are looking for narcissistic articles then TC is your goldmine but all i’m saying is this piece isn’t so bad, she actually had some interesting things to say in it.  but seriously friend go look at any other piece on here and pretty much bathe in people’s narcissism

      • Frut

        well that’s true

      • Ashen1

        Have you read the stuff by Kat George?

  • Ashen1

    I started listening to Clapton when I started high school. Now I’m 20 and would instantly walk across the room to chat you up if I saw that tattoo. I wouldn’t grab your arm though, unless you wanted me to.

    • Kabrice

      cool dude

      • Ashen1

        I do not understand in what way I was being cool but I will take the compliment nonetheless. 

  • mysticlipstick

    So…. do we get to see the tattoo…? I promise I won’t touch you.

    • Kobayashi

      Look at the pic posted with this blog, now imagine it on someone’s arm, TADA!

  • Mads

    I have a tattoo in Braille.  Still skin, though.

  • Hezah

    I have two visible tattoos on my arms, and I frequently get asked about them. Honest to God, I got them there so that I could enjoy them daily. However, I understood from the get go, that getting visible tattoos meant people would ask about and touch them. I have my answers ready when people ask about them, and always let people who ask, see or touch them.

     While I don’t typically enjoy it when strange men grab my arm to read what it says…it comes with the territory, and I politely correct the behavior let them know it’s not ok. But honestly, if you are a girl in a bar, tattooed or not….dudes are going to find an excuse to grope you.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1363230138 Michael Koh

    someone asked me if mine was done in sharpie

  • http://twitter.com/CowboySandtoes Cowboy Santos

    boo fuckin hoo. 
    yes it is an invasion of private space. but to write a fuckin article about it.. 

    also, you didnt credit the artist who did the Layla cover.
    no i am not a hippie, nor am i a baby boomer.. nor any description you referenced. 
    i have ink. and it really all depends on WHO i let touch it. 

    i’m sure your tattoo is nice. 

  • Anonymous


  • Quarterlifelady

    I have five tattoos. And I’m not sure anyone has ever tried to touch them. But I get compliments a lot of times. I think I could change this to “Why We Don’t Touch Black Girl’s Hair.” Because as a black woman, I get so sick and tired of people trying to touch my hair. Leave me be, white people. Leave me be.

    • Seeeriously.

      Oh my fucking god, yes. I feel like I’m in a petting zoo when that happens. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/LdbsMouse Lori Brooks-Smith

    I feel that way about people touching a pregnant woman’s stomach… I mean WTF? I have 3 kids and at some point in each pregnancy I had to dodge out of the way of some random stranger who thinks because my belly has a baby in it that my personal space issues are null & void.

  • yeahI'mmakingameancommentsorry

    kinda made the same point about 5 times

  • Guesty

    No one has ever wanted to touch my tattoo.  I’m going out tomorrow to get the cover of The Parable of Arable Land tattooed on my boobs.

  • Banana

    “I understand the enthusiasm older men have for my Clapton tattoo. It’s
    nostalgia. It’s the shock of seeing someone who was a SPERM back then
    with an image they haven’t seen in years on her arm.”

    You were also an egg.  In fact, there wasn’t actually a ‘you’ back then.  You didn’t exist.

  • Youramericanlover

    Interesting tattoo. And great article.

    However tattoos aren’t art. Tattoos are a craft,
    like beaded bracelets or a cabin made of popsicle sticks. Still, Clapton. Nice.

    • Drew Gill

      Tattoos aren’t art?  Why, because it’s not on paper?  You’re so completely and utterly wrong.

    • http://twitter.com/kaimcn Kai

      For my own interest, who died and made you the decider of what art is?

  • Chels

    “Tattoos are art. Someone drew them and I paid to hang their work in the gallery that is my body.”      

  • -Heather-

    “Tattoos are art. Someone drew them and I paid to hang their work in the gallery that is my body. Would you bum rush the Mona Lisa and start smearing your dirty hands all over it?”
    chill out, it won’t rub off

  • AbaMarc

    WTF! A person being grabbed by the arm by a stranger is wrong. Who are you people? There isn’t an excuse for touching. None! We can ask to getter a closer look, WITH OUR EYES! We can discuss it. We can ask questions about it. We can’t just go up to a person and start touching them without their permission. Are you guys serious? Is it OK to grab someone by the ass because you like the pants or shorts they are wearing?

  • http://twitter.com/kaimcn Kai

    I HATE the way people assume that having a tattoo makes you a postcard for them to display to all their friends. I don’t mind turning my arm or body parts to give a better view of my ink, but moving my body or clothing is so completely off limits.

  • Dumbcrazychick

    I agree completely except for one point. The “you wouldn’t compliment surrounded haircut then run their head” part. Strangers frequently pull on my hair and rub my head without permission then calmy say they like my hair when I call them out on it. I’m going to assume that you are either white or don’t wear your hair curly otherwise you wouldn’t have listed that example as it is even more annoying when someone tangles my hair with their greasy unwashed hands than when a random person touches one of my tattoos. Just thought I’d throw that out there.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=13003622 Ren Walker

    So true, Gaby!  Being a woman and tattooed seems to generate giant floating neon arrows around me that flash “Touch me!  I won’t be creeped out in the least by a stranger groping me without permission!”

    Another pet peeve with tattoos?  When people ask “what does your tattoo MEEEAAAAN?”  I draw all my artwork, so I’m sorta pissed that my work has to represent the memory of a dead person or a traumatic event or some pseudo-religious bull.  Sometimes, quite simply…art is art for art’s sake.

  • http://www.lolamalone.co.za/the-dos-and-donts-of-tattooing/ The Dos And Don’ts Of Tattooing | Lola Malone

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