keepcalm

Can't shake insecurity over loved ones' perceptions of [my] tattoos

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Hey all, I'm pretty sure this topic has been discussed to death around here, but I'm hoping this thread can maybe focus on some helpful, active solutions for a problem I just can't seem to get over. I'm sure other people have encountered this, too. (P.S. -- there's a "too long; didn't read" summary at the end!)

I'm 29 and have been living a life independent of my parents since I graduated college 7 years ago (read: I'm my own person; I do what I want.), but I can't shake the insecurity I feel because of my family's perceptions of my tattoos, and tattoos in general.

My mom ABHORS my tattoos (she gives me the silent treatment for a few days each time she finds out about a new one, when I am visiting them), and I swear it seems to physically affect her. She has said as much: "It makes me sick." In these moments, it feels like she hates me, and I have to endure a few days of THICK tension on what should be a nice and enjoyable visit with my folks. I doubt my dad is thrilled about them, but he acts like a normal person, treats me the same, and has even expressed a tiny bit of interest in a few ("Oh, that is a cool design.").

I am close with my extended family, and though I'm not the only one of us to have tattoos (some of my cousins have a few, too), the general consensus among my aunts, uncles, and grandparents is that tattoos are kind of trashy, and we're all just kinda going to pretend like the ones my cousins and I have don't exist.

Because of all of this, I feel uncomfortable showing my tattoos around my family, and this has leaked over into my decisions on what tattoos to get and where to put them. But I'm tired of it! I want to get what I want to get, and put it wherever I want it, and not feel guilty or ashamed of it!

I'm especially upset by my mom's reactions. We have a perfectly acceptable mother-daughter relationship -- except when the topic of tattoos comes up. I am tired of my personal decisions affecting my relationships with family, but maybe that's something I just have to accept if I want to continue getting tattooed?

TL;DR: What can I do to "get over" this insecurity? Should I talk to my family? Tell them how I feel? What could I say that would help them understand why I get tattoos? Would it make a difference?

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'I want to get what I want to get, and put it wherever I want it, and not feel guilty or ashamed of it!'

I think it get's to a point where you have to understand that you and your parents are going have different opinions on things. You are now old enough to get what you want, put it where you want and you shouldn't feel guilty!! Appreciate it's not their thing, perhaps don't be the one to instigate conversation over it. If they show an interest, great! talk about it, educate them, if not let things be and brush it off. At the end of the day as long as you are a decent, fun and happy person their job is done - that's the most important thing - not your choice in music/food/curtains/skin pictures!

Also want to add that I wouldn't try to hide or cover up your tattoos to please them (or anyone else for that matter - employment/work dress code argument aside) be proud to have them and they may see the futility in their opposition of them.

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Hey @keepcalm since we know each other in real life, the only thing I can say, is that well, it gets easier in time. I still get the cold shoulder and I am in this industry. Its just socialization and stigma from a different era. The only time my folks did not get a bit miffed was when I showed them the tattoo I did on myself (Sidenote, I really should not have put that anywhere near my good tattoos). But, you know, that is your prerogative, you're a chill, nice, and seemingly successful person. Just keep at being the best version of yourself.

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You should talk with your Mom, because neither your visits nor your tattoos are going to go away. Ultimately she should respect the fact that you make your own choices and the fact that the two of you don't need to agree on everything. If her reaction to that RIGHT is going to be so negative it's only going to have a negative impact on your relationship and time you spend together . . .

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My mom haaaaaates my tattoos. I think there is less stigma because I'm a guy and have been a weirdo since birth.

I think you will find the situation calms down when you do. Your added tension going in heightens the reactions. There comes a point when you parents see nothing about you has truly changed and they will eventually be over it.

Just be strong you have to be yourself

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I can relate, I feel ya

My parents reaction to my first tattoo was OMG why why why...it's so big...why did you do that to your body...

Then I got some bigger hidden pieces. I never disclosed because they clearly were not interested in acknowledging the big pink (well, purple, blue, battleship grey, etc) elephant in the room

Then I got both arms done. And some legs.

I wore long sleeves and pants to family dinners for years after the fact...then eventually my parents said, look, we don't really like or understand tattoos but we know they are obviously important to you. And we don't want you to feel uncomfortable when you come visit the family, you are loved and accepted. So please know you can wear a short sleeve shirt and shorts when it is summertime and be comfortable with us. You are our son and we love you, regardless.

What I'm trying to say...your parents love you. And hopefully they come around. Change in perception can take time.

And mom and dad did come around...after 10 years. I came home from a trip with a screaming eagle on my neck. They weren't that shocked which actually was super-weird! But then we finally had a conversation where they gave me an opportunity to open up briefly...about why and what tattoos give to my life, what it means in my heart, the confidence in my body Why your neck?! Well, easy mom n dad! because there is no space anywhere else!

But until they do...remember your tattoos they are about YOU and they are to worn with your CONFIDENCE. Own it! So don't waste your energy trying to convince your parents, family, whichever people that aren't genuinely interested. That's their friggin' problem, not yours.

Good luck :)

about your Mom...Moms don't like seeing their kids in pain, which is all my mom could see in my tattoos. Pain. Until I talked to her. Open from the heart. Then my mom saw them as colourful and beautiful. The pictures on our skin are a reflection of what's inside us and where we have been. So talk to your Mom openly. Tell her all the positive things the tattoos have given you. And in time, let's hope your mom/family can drop the negativity and have an open-mind, to accept you and accept the things that are important to you.

In the meantime, remember - your tattooed skin is thick and colourful now. don't let the negative vibes stick to you.

Tattoos are temporary...and so is life :)

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Oh jeez, I really feel ya on this one! There have been many tears shed between my mother and I about my tattoos. We are finally at a point where we don't talk about them anymore and that only came after one of those mother/daughter fueled arguments (I was 29 years old when this happened btw!!!) where I told her how shitty it made me feel. I think telling her that what she is saying/doing is hurting you so badly will perhaps help put things in perspective. I believe that at the end of the day our moms don't want to hurt us but we have to be diligent about expressing our feelings in order to move past them.

Good luck with your mom! I swear it will get better with time.

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At the end of the day as long as you are a decent, fun and happy person their job is done - that's the most important thing

I agree with you, but sadly, I'm not sure my mom feels the same way :/

Hey @keepcalm since we know each other in real life, the only thing I can say, is that well, it gets easier in time. ... Just keep at being the best version of yourself.

Thanks, dude! :)

You should talk with your Mom, because neither your visits nor your tattoos are going to go away. Ultimately she should respect the fact that you make your own choices and the fact that the two of you don't need to agree on everything.

I totally agree! I'm not sure my mom is capable of adopting this perspective, but it's only fair to give her a chance. I should tell her that it hurts me when she treats me that way. Though she'll probably just respond with, "Well, it hurts me when you get tattoos." facepalm.

- - - Updated - - -

In the meantime, remember - your tattooed skin is thick and colourful now. don't let the negative vibes stick to you.

Thanks for sharing your experience, @bongsau! It's a nice story, with a mostly happy ending! I hope that in a few years, I'll be able to say my parents have come around, too :)

We are finally at a point where we don't talk about them anymore and that only came after one of those mother/daughter fueled arguments (I was 29 years old when this happened btw!!!) where I told her how shitty it made me feel. I think telling her that what she is saying/doing is hurting you so badly will perhaps help put things in perspective.

Thanks for the encouragement! I think I need to have a similar come-to-jesus talk with my mom. I REALLY hope she can start to see past my tattoos and start to focus on just having a good relationship with me instead. My personality hasn't changed, after all!

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If I were in your shoes, I would try to truly understand why your mom hates them so much. She hates them just because they are trashy? It must be more than that for her to act so serious about it. I'd sit my mom down with a bottle of alcohol, and I would force a clean answer out of her (my mom prefers avoidance of issues).

And you have to ask the right questions too. This might seem silly but root cause analysis is a valuable life tool, use the "5 Whys". "Why don't you like tattoos?", "In your mind, what makes them trashy?" I'm not going to role play this whole thing out, but I hope you get the idea. Then explain your side, why you like tattoos, how tattooing in this day and age is very different than tattooing in hers, etc. In my own experience, I see a lot of it come from pressure from our parents own peers. If your mom's friends hate tattoos, then that makes her look horrible as a mother that she raised some miscreant that likes tattoos that would embarrass her in front of her friends. You have to see it from her side. If you were on her side of the fence, what would it take to change your mind?

I can tell you, sure as shit, if I were to go to the beach with my mom, she would immediately be fearful of what the people around us would think about my tattoos. She can't help it, she is a mother. She wants all her kids to be seen in a respectful light, and that is her opinion of what respectful means. My older brother rocks a mohawk. It looks good. My mom hates it and it embarrasses the hell out of her because her friends see her son with a mohawk and she feels ashamed.

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My mom used to be the same. The worst moment for me was after I had mostly completed my sleeve. I had my arm up behind my head watching TV, and looked over, catching my mom staring at my arm with a disgusted look. I asked "what?" probably too defensively, and she told me I had ruined my arm. Things were a bit tense for a while.

For us, the answer was for me to explain how hurtful those kind of reactions were (and I totally got the "it hurts me when you get more tattoos" response) and try to show how important they were to me. I think my mom genuinely saw them as a phase that I would grow out of and regret. Once she realized that wasn't the case, and I continue to get more coverage, she's accepted it and usually comments positively when she sees my new tattoos.

I guess I recommend trying to sit her down, and convey how much both tattoos mean to you and how hurtful her actions are.

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@Cork, that is great advice - thank you!

I'm pretty sure my mom's feelings are similar to your mom's -- she's ashamed of what people will think of her for raising a tattooed daughter. It's a generational problem, at least partly.

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I know that for my personal perspective, I would give just about anything for my mom to have a chance to comment on mine (I think she'd approve, but you never know). I lost her in '93, dad in '78. You need her support and approval, even if it doesn't extend to your tattoos. But even more, you need her. Let her know that.

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My parents are surprisingly neutral about it. My Dad even tried to justify it by saying, "You know, I see teachers get tattoos nowadays." If anything, I try not to advertise any new tattoos I've gotten or will be getting.

But as I type that, why am I hiding the fact that I'm getting more tattoos? I'm not going to shove it down their throats, but if they happen to ask I will tell them.

Side note: I do tend to get shy around any kind of parental figure aka other people's parents. I think I just assume all parents hate tattoos, even though my parents seem to be neutral about it, and not all parents are the same. I just have a tendency to cover up when around parents.

But if anything, my parents know what kind of person I am, and that I have not changed. Maybe if your parents saw that, their opinions on tattoos would be different.

On the bright side, you don't live with them. So you only have to deal with it when you visit them. In my case, I only see them twice a year.

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I have the same problem with my mom and dad. They hate tattoos and think they are trashy. So, I just avoid showing them to them and I avoid talking about tattoos with my family. My mom is never going to come around (she's now 80), and we live in different cities. So, I figured why bother making her upset. She'd cry for months if she saw my coverage.

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I can tell you, sure as shit, if I were to go to the beach with my mom, she would immediately be fearful of what the people around us would think about my tattoos. She can't help it, she is a mother. She wants all her kids to be seen in a respectful light, and that is her opinion of what respectful means.

My mother has been extremely supportive of the tattoos my brother and I have, but they do still make her uncomfortable on some level, and this is definitely why. She's less concerned about what other people will think of her than she is about what they'll think of my brother and I -- she worries that they'll make snap judgements about our character, and sees this as the potential for doors in our lives to close unfairly to us.

I sent her a long letter before finally getting started on getting tattoos, explaining my interest. She'd made the usual 'what will you do when you're old and they look terrible?' remark, and as part of the letter I explained that I'd rather be interesting when I'm 70 than a bangable 70-year-old -- seriously, who cares about that at 70? I'm 33 and I barely care now -- and added sort of on a whim that, given I hope to donate my body to science when I pass away, I hope the person who receives it spends a few moments puzzling and wondering over all of the art on me.

Bizarrely, this latter image is the one that seems to have made everything fine for her. She finds it hilarious.

Everybody's mom is different. Communication is worth a try at least once, though, and if you can get to the bottom of it, all the better. It'll be a shame if not, but you have nothing to feel guilty about either way. A mother's job is to prepare her children for the world and the decisions in it, so that we're ready to make those decisions for ourselves when the time comes...even in the presence of opposition to what we find important. Sometimes it just gives rise to uncomfortable differences of opinions in the end. ;)

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When my mum saw the ones on my feet, she freaked. I was disgusting, a disappointment to her. Her daughter defiling her body like that. She's a retired nurse, I can see her point of view but I didn't tell her about the ones that came before or since. I have photosensitivity so was always covered up before getting tattooed anyway. Nothing has changed in that respect. I did try to explain why, but nothing. When my auntie, mum's sister, saw the one on top of right foot. I explained why and she commented that was lovely to do.

My mum hates them, I tried talking but got closed door on the subject. I just don't bother now, it's just easier. I live at home because of health issues and no point in making life any more difficult than it has to be.

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I sent her a long letter before finally getting started on getting tattoos

when I think about a mom and their kid getting tattooed, i think of Marcellus Wallace during The Bonnie Situation sayin, "Oh, no fuckin shit she'll freak."

I did the same thing as @sophistre but after I got my first tattoo... sent a long ass heartfelt email with a photo of the tattoo with some explanation about it and she called me soon after saying she understands. that broke her in easy, but she had no idea the coverage that would later ensue. ;)

I think what a letter (or email) does as compared to a conversation is allows you to clearly get all of your thoughts and points out to the reader rather than having the listener rebut, interrupt, or shut off altogether. it can't turn into an argument and you don't have to deal with emotions. you can get all your emotions in writing and the reader can let their emotions flow as they read, soak it all in, and reply when they're ready (if at all). either way, it found it to be a bit safer and more effective for my mom.

just another option, depending on your situation. good luck!!

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I know that for my personal perspective, I would give just about anything for my mom to have a chance to comment on mine (I think she'd approve, but you never know). I lost her in '93, dad in '78. You need her support and approval, even if it doesn't extend to your tattoos. But even more, you need her. Let her know that.

^ this. Sums it up. Luckily my mom loves my tattoos, but she loves them because they are on me. Even though I know deep down she doesn't approve, it doesn't matter really in the grand scheme of things. Life's short man, and bickering or avoiding your family over tattoos is a waste of precious time with them.

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Thanks, everyone, for the thoughtful replies!

I sent her a long letter before finally getting started on getting tattoos, explaining my interest.
I did the same thing as @sophistre but after I got my first tattoo... sent a long ass heartfelt email with a photo of the tattoo with some explanation about it

My family has never been great about expressing our emotions or talking seriously about how we feel, so I am really liking this letter idea! I think I'm gonna try this route.

I agree with you guys that a letter would give me the chance to be clear and comprehensive about my thoughts, and it would give my mom time to digest it and construct her own thoughts, which will hopefully lead to a more nuanced response from her instead of just "it makes me sick."

It's too late to do it preemptively -- they already know about 90% of my work -- so I think I'll wait til after the new year to send it -- there's no worry they'll see my newest tattoo over the holidays since it'll be cold as hell and I'll be all covered up!

Thank you all for the awesome insights and advice, as always!

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I know that for my personal perspective, I would give just about anything for my mom to have a chance to comment on mine (I think she'd approve, but you never know). I lost her in '93, dad in '78. You need her support and approval, even if it doesn't extend to your tattoos. But even more, you need her. Let her know that.

I definitely hear this. So sorry for your losses. This is great perspective.

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@keepcalm

I do not know how to take care of this issue either, my mom is acting the same way. Everytime I come with a new tattoo she says something, to the effect that she is disapproving but the only thing I have to say is that she needs to get used to it because i will get more. She has this opinion that tattoos are ugly. Her problem is with the art being on the body, she can not get past that for her thats a bad thing, design or look does not matter.

I don't have the best relationship with my parents so Im probably not doing the right thing but... I usually try to make them, mostly her, understand that its an art form of its own. That her negative attitude is to compare to someone who is presented with a piece of music, and is of the opinion that its bad because there is sounds in it, before even trying to listen to the music.

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I feel for you.

My mom didn't like my tattoos at first (20 years ago). She wasn't as overt as your mom, but her quiet disapproval was like thunder to me. Every once and a while we talked about it, but she associated tattoos with my father, who was a big a$$. Even though she is a reasonable woman she admitted it was challenging for her. I kept doing my thing and about 4 years ago she came right around and is very supportive. So yeah, time and patience.

I really like the suggestion of writing a letter to your mom. She might be projecting her own fears on to you; it's more about her than you. She may never like them, but perhaps in time, she can get to a place where she doesn't get so emotional about them that it affects your relationship. Don't let her feelings stop you - you are your own person and need to keep being true to yourself.

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