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keepcalm

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

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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.

Such an interesting comparison! Sorry you're having trouble with your mom, too. It feels pretty crappy to be judged by your parents like this. I wonder if they know that?

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I only recently figured out that waiting for my mom's approval or appreciation of my tattoos is fruitless. I've been waiting for over thirty years & it's not ever going to happen.

My mother hates my tattoos, she thinks tattoos are ugly and thinks that they look dirty!!! I realize that when she sees any tattoo- it's as if a veil comes down and she doesn't see content. All tattoos are the same to her.

Well you know what was very freeing??? It was my realization that my expecting my mom to accept my tattoos is as unreasonable as her expectation that I would not like them or want to get them. It's her opinion and she is entitled to it.

I also have an otherwise close relationship with my mom. Another thing that has changed is that at one time in my life I would dress to cover my tattoos while visiting my mom- now I do not.

- - - Updated - - -

Keep in mind that up until only recently - the last 10 years or so- tattoos for the most part were only popular with certain subcultures of the population- especially getting heavily tattooed. Bikers, people in jail, the military and sideshow freaks. No others !

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I only recently figured out that waiting for my mom's approval or appreciation of my tattoos is fruitless.

I hear you.

However, I don't need my mom to approve or appreciate my tattoos, I need her to still be able to treat me like a person who she loves and cares about, even when she finds out I have gotten another tattoo.

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It will take years @keepcalm.

My folks too are so disapproving. But, I never seeked their approval to begin with.

I use to wear longer sleeves and long pants so I didn't smash them full view, and slowly after time...well, I was just having a beer with mum last night in a pair of shorts and a singlet ...and they're both 78 years old.

The comments only stopped within the last under 12 months. I would address them immediately, tactfully, respectfully though stern.

See, you won't change that good person in you, and oldies are funny from that generation, they judge big time because their world was so square, but they were raised with impeccable values.

You keep on chipping away and out shining with those same values, and after time, a long time, your actions will speak volumes to which they will realise doesn't match what their visual expectation is.

Good luck

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I'm sure her general reaction towards your tattoos comes from a place of love and her not quite being open to "getting it". Parents sure can be funny sometimes and it's interesting how much their approval means to their seemingly smart adult children.

I use to be jealous of my friends who's parents yelled at them for coming home with Black Flag bars or whatever tattooed on them. I think it just means they give a shit. Getting tattoos on your body just probably doesn't follow the bogus script they've had in their head for what you'd be like as an adult. Doesn't mean they are not proud of all your other accomplishments. Maybe have the talk to end all talks about them, an open and honest conversation from both ends. Then the topics off the table. Don't let your parents opinions on something so simple as tattooed skin cause strain on your relationship with your mom.

My parents were never surprised by my getting tattoos. I came home when I was 14 with a kitchen scratcher tattoo by my friends older brother. Who, not all that surprisingly, was not a tattooer. I showed my mom it with pride right away. Her response was along the lines of, "well that wasn't the smartest way to go about getting a tattoo". That was it. A few days later she pointed out that poor people, especially women, already have enough things stacked against them, no point in making myself look like a criminal and killing my potential. (Thankfully I moved far away from kitchen tattoos well over a decade ago.)

My mom may not win any mother of the year awards, but she has a good heart and I know now that she meant well with her bleak commentary. She's just always been blunt and said it how she saw it, no matter how misguided it may be. Parents have their faults. She had known since I was 10-11 that I loved tattoos. I'd always check out all the tattoos on the bikers and scumbags that hung around. I sat in awe across the kitchen table from my mom when she got one (a terrible blue rose on her chest) when I was 8 or 9. I'd get paid to babysit with tattoo magazines. We moved regularly and always being on the go meant I had few belongings, but my mom would occasionally find a new tattoo or music magazine in a gas station somewhere that would keep me distracted.

I can go home with a new tattoo and my mom will usually ask to take a peak. I'd say the real shocker and bone of contention was just my decision to grow up independent and sober, build some financial stability, and earning myself a comfortable middle class life. I'd say that causes more waves and tension. But, you know, different strokes.

TL;DR: Just hug your mom. Tell her how you feel, have an open conversation, and actually listen to her response. She'll get over it, they always do. Then hug her again.

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Thanks, everyone, for your stories! It's good to hear about other people's journeys and how they have dealt with reactions from family.

Getting tattoos on your body just probably doesn't follow the bogus script they've had in their head for what you'd be like as an adult. Doesn't mean they are not proud of all your other accomplishments.

Intellectually, I know this is true, but it's hard to remember when I'm getting an icy cold shoulder from my mom for days at a time.

Looking forward to the day when I can chime in that my parents may not like my tattoos, but at least they don't treat them as such a huge, offensive deal anymore.

Thanks again, guys - I feel a bit cheered up! :)

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this has been a very cool thread - lots of great support from the folks here for keepcalm and just in general

we've all experienced some push back from people we care about in regards to getting tattoos

this thread was a reminder to me just how polarizing the whole thing is

especially once you start getting more than a couple on you

many people just dont and wont understand it

and thats ok by me

because i'm not sure i can explain it for them anyway

my parents and in-laws sorta pretend they dont exist

and comments from extended fam and friends have ranged from

'you know you are starting to look like white trash' to

'those wont come off will they' - (RIP grandma)

anyway - keep calm and tattoo on!

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It's hard when someone you love is so negative about something important to you. IMO you don't owe anyone an explanation about what you do with your own body, but I can understand making an exception for family.

I like the idea of having your mom confront her reasons for reacting so strongly and explaining what tattoos represent to her, beyond just being "trashy". Is she worried her daughter has turned into a kind of person she doesn't like? Does she believe you are disrespecting her by getting tattoos, or is she hurt that you're disregarding her feelings/values/opinions? Once you know the root of the problem, you can address her worries and gently explain that her reacting that way does nothing but cause you both pain, since the tattoos are here to stay and there will only be more in the future.

Even so, she might just need time to come around. My dad eventually did... kind of... he's never going to love my tattoos but he sees past them now. I hope it gets easier for you!

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This is a wonderful thread filled with great quotes and lots of things I can relate to.

If I were in your shoes, I would try to truly understand why your mom hates them so much.

This is great advice. It's easy for us tattoo-lovin' freaks to sit here and think, "Who wouldn't love my tattoo? It's beautiful!" But what helps me is to try to understand someone else's perspective. Personally, I find scarification hideous. (No offense to anyone here who might be into that.) If my daughter, who is now 5, grew up to get good tattoos, I'd be happy. But if she went out and got huge scars, I'd be heartbroken. Does that make me a hypocrite? You're damned right, it does. It's no different from tattoos in that it's a form of personal expression wherein the canvas is one's body. So if I think of it that way, I can relate to your parents.

Which brings me to another great quote from this thread:

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.

Or to my own parents, who--believe it or not--don't know that I'm tattooed. Let's just say that we're not very close. So I hope you can find some solace in the fact that your parents seem very awesome in comparison to mine, who are very judgmental (and old and uber Catholic and lifelong residents of a small town).

In a thread filled with great quotes and stories, my favorite is from Deb:

I only recently figured out that waiting for my mom's approval or appreciation of my tattoos is fruitless. I've been waiting for over thirty years & it's not ever going to happen.

My mother hates my tattoos, she thinks tattoos are ugly and thinks that they look dirty!!! I realize that when she sees any tattoo- it's as if a veil comes down and she doesn't see content. All tattoos are the same to her.

Well you know what was very freeing??? It was my realization that my expecting my mom to accept my tattoos is as unreasonable as her expectation that I would not like them or want to get them. It's her opinion and she is entitled to it.

I spent many years vying for my parents' approval. I have it in certain areas--I'm married to a great woman, am raising a good kid, and I am successful in my professional life--but I'll never have it in others. And I'm cool with that. Einstein (allegedly) defined insanity as "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." It took years, but I finally stopped expecting my parents to accept certain things. And I'm happier as a result.

Good luck to you.

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For me, part of getting increasingly heavily tattooed is understanding and accepting that not everybody likes tattoos. It's tough when that negativity comes from your own family, but that's all part of what you take on by getting tattooed.

For my part, my family has been more or less fine with it. I know my dad doesn't like my tattoos but we don't have a super close relationship so we've never talked about it. My mom always wants me to say that my latest tattoo is my last one, though I don't really see how it even matters at this point. She's coming more and more to accept that getting tattooed is just something that I do, but there are tough moments for sure. My parents were staying with us but were away visiting NYC during the Montreal convention a couple of years ago and they got back to the apartment just at the moment I got out of the shower the day after having my shin destroyed by Chad. My leg was super beat up and swollen and my mom saw it and immediately burst into tears about it. I guess a large part of that had to do with what @bongsau said earlier in this thread about our parents not wanting to see us in pain. At the same time, though this has never been said to my face, I know that some of my extended family has been pretty hostile about my tattoos. One of my uncles, a retired former career air force officer, a really straight-laced type, asked my mom flat-out why I look like a "goddamned biker" and have so many tattoos. I couldn't have asked for a better response from my mom. She told this uncle that I have so many tattoos because I like them. So yeah, she doesn't like that I have tattoos, and she has asked me what she did wrong as a mother to make me do something like this to myself, but when it comes down to it, she doesn't think I'm a bad person for it and has stuck up for me. And that's great with me.

My in-laws don't know that either me or @Pugilist have tattoos at all. We see them in general a couple of times a month. It's all long-sleeved shirts and pants around them even during the hottest part of the summer, or hiding if they stop by unexpectedly. We say that they need to find out eventually, but if they do find out it's going to be a huge fight so it's best to just keep them covered. I think even when they do find out we're both tattooed, we'll still both keep them covered around them out of respect.

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Thank you so much for the insightful comments, @hogg! Can't believe your parents don't know about your tattoos -- that's impressive! Same for you, @Graeme, with your in-laws!

I'm glad my parents know about mine, because I think I would be even more stressed about it if I was constantly having to remember to hide them completely. (Also, I go to the beach with family every so often, so that'd be near-impossible anyway.)

In the end, fully understanding my mom's point of view, and giving her a chance to understand mine, seems like the best way to go about this. I haven't made much effort yet because the subject is just so sore, I'd rather avoid it altogether. But a chance to clear the air is really appealing. Here's hoping I have the courage to do that soon, especially since I might be getting my feet tattooed in the new year -- buckle up, mom! ;)

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This may or may not prove useful / interesting, and it may or may not be too much information to share on the Internet, but below is an exact word-for-word copy and pasted conversation I had with my dad a few years ago about my tattoos. Needless to say, this is the last time tattoos have ever been an issue between us, and I'm happy to say that both my dad and stepmom are cool as hell about my tattoos now (even after seeing me with my hands and fingers covered in tattoos for the first time when I went back to visit them a few months ago).

This whole ordeal started when I got a text message out-of-the-blue from my stepmom that said this:

"I thought I would pass on to you my critique of tattoo art. It is one dimensional art done by mediocre art class dropouts whose work, if not embedded in skin, would eventually be sold at a garage sale for a dollar to some lady in pink shorts."

Needless to say, I was pretty frustrated / upset, and ignored the message entirely and sent no response.

A week later, I got this message from my dad:

"Just read what Kel sent to you on the "tattoo" ... Unless its a picture of Libby [their dog], I agree"

After becoming even more upset, and after stewing over these messages for about a week, I finally responded to my dad, and the following conversation took place...

Me: "I want you to know that I'm pretty unimpressed with the messages you and Kelly sent me last week."

Dad: "We didn't think that you would jump for joy. Just an exercise of concern on that line of expression and the view of 56 (28x2) years of experience... Didn't expect you to necessarily agree, but wanted you to know we are concerned about you... Its of course your choice, but we are allowed to voice concern... I think we are anyway, love does that kind of thing..."

Me: "That's fine, but I want you to know how I feel about your approach. First of all, I don't appreciate the unprovoked, passive aggressive attack in the slightest. Secondly, I don't expect you to like tattoos or understand them but I do expect you to have some respect for me. If you take offence to a decision I've made, or something I've done, or an entire industry for that matter, I expect you to be adult about it and have a discussion as opposed to making misinformed, uneducated and insulting jabs about a topic you clearly no nothing about. That being said, you're entitled to your opinion and I respect that. I don't expect you to like it, but I do expect you to be a little more tactful and treat me like an adult if you have an issue. I love you guys and it really hurt me to be treated that way."

Dad: "Sorry Mike, you know we had no intention in hurting you and respect is certainly not an issue as we respect you implicitly. Yes, we know that Tat's are a form of expression. We just want to make sure that as you add them that it is something you really want as we know so many people who a few years later are sorry they didn't think the choice through a little further..."

Me: "I appreciate your concern, and I take no issue with you guys feeling that way. Like I said, the issue I had was with the way you guys chose to say it. The nature of our relationship seems to be that we don't speak very often (which is too bad, but for whatever reason that's how it's gone) so I cherish the times where we do talk so much. It hurt me that your comments came so out of the blue and seemed to take the place of us being able to catch up as people because everyone was so caught up in outward appearances. What I'm trying to say is that I love and miss you guys, and I was upset all week about the way that that situation went down."

Firstly, I consider myself very lucky that he was so open to my point-of-view and was willing to discuss it, but I firmly believe that open and honest communication is the key to remedying these particular kinds of situations.

Either way, good luck @keepcalm!

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I had a similar in-person conversation as @rozone did with my parents.

I forewarned them that I had gotten a tattoo, and showed them the next time we got together. It was only a matter of time anyway as we spend a lot of time together in the summer. My mother is more open-minded than my father, and said "wow, it is so big! I am so glad that you can cover that up at work". My father said he appreciated the craft and quality of it and joked that I could always get it removed if I decided I didn't like it in a few years. He too talked about how he knows people who regretted their tattoo choices, and was concerned that "you'll want another new one when that one gets old". I have a family member that has some, er, not so awesome tattoos and my parents have been saying "please don't turn out like so and so", thus I've been able to use that as an opportunity to talk about good tattoos, how to make tattoo choices, and that it isn't a "light" decision for me. It's been slow going but I appreciate them trying and not freaking out the way I expected them to. My sister responded admirably by saying that she was surprised it took me so long.

My mother-in-law has no idea about my tattoos, and I plan on keeping it that way because I know it would not go well.

@keepcalm - I recommend a letter in a situation such as this. I've utilized that method in the past with a very difficult situation and it was just was we all needed.

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I'm having a similar issue. My mom doesn't like tattoos. She grudgingly accepts the ones I have/want to get, as long as they're able to be covered. There are also certain types of tattoos she thinks women should never get, for any reason. There's a tattoo that I really, really want to get on my arm as a reward to myself for reaching the weight loss goal I have. I want to get a black and gray dragon starting about mid-bicep and going to the back of my hand.

The problem: Mom hates large tattoos. Dragons are one of the 'not for women' subjects. And the one time I jokingly mentioned getting getting a tattoo on my hand, she said if I ever did it would be like slapping her in the face.

I've talked to her a bit about more visible tattoos. Other than just not liking them, she's also worried about me being able to get a job with something that can't be covered by a long sleeved shirt. This tattoo is a ways off, I still have quite a bit of weight to lose. But I'm not sure how to best break it to her that I want to get it. We live together, so it's not like I could just get it and hide it until it's healed and I don't think coming home with a dragon spiraling down my arm is the best way to sell her on the idea.

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Thanks for all the support, guys!

I'm planning on slowly drafting a letter over the holidays, to send sometime early next year, probably. I'd be happy to share it here, if that would be useful, in case it might help others struggling to find the words to talk to their own loved ones about tattoos...

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Gah, @keepcalm and all others, I certainly feel you in regards to parental disapproval! (although my mom did get a tattoo on her hip in an ill-advised attempt to bond and understand me and recently got it removed...and it was waiting for me in a tupperware container full of salt when I got home. She had a tummy tuck but asked the surgeon to save the skin for her. Creepy? Yes. Sweet? Yes. Fucking weird as hell? Don't even get me started)(ah, family). (y'all want pics?) (also this is my least fav tattoo, i am soooo glad to get it covered now! never would have done it unless she had agreed to also do the same tho)

My parents have never liked tattoos. My dad didn't speak to me for months after he found out about the (little teeny tiny) flower on my back, and my mom just looked at me with sad, disappointed eyes. I really wanted more tattoos, and when I decided to go for a highly visible tattoo on my forearm at 23, I knew I was doing something that might cause my parents to literally never speak to me again. It was fucking tough!!! And then all the guilt for why I would do something that I knew would basically divorce me from my parents, what a bad kid, blah blah blah. Lots of guilt. But I still loved my tattoos.

At some point before I got that first, highly visible tattoo, I showed my mom a picture of some cherry blossoms that stretched across a woman's entire body. I thought they were beautiful and I was sure my mom would feel the same way, even though they were tattoos --- NOPE!! And it was at that point that I realized that just because my mom didn't like something didn't mean it was not cool/right/good-looking/whatever - and that I could like something independent of her and that my opinion is still a valid one.

As I collected more tattoos over the years, my parents began speaking more about what i would do at work, and what was I supposed to do at black tie events? At the time I was on the film festival circuit and attending opening galas pretty regularly, so it wasn't an out of nowhere question...but nowhere did I feel comfortable saying "I LIKE the way my tattoos look in dresses!". In fact I just felt humiliated and ashamed. Again, this feeling of guilt - how could I be so shortsighted and do this to myself? Do I not care about my future? Why would I have wasted all this education and this good job etc etc etc ad nauseam - it's really hard to get your parents' disapproving voices out of your head, even when you think they've been banished!

Anyway - guess what - they can be covered up if you really want them to be. I attended a black tie event two weeks ago with my What Tattoos? look in full force. Long sleeves. Long gown or pants. NOT HARD TO DO.

I did attend a few events this summer with tattoos out in full force. Surprisingly difficult for me to do because of those nasty voices in my head, but I got over it. (I'm 31 now) I personally gauge the event, the hosts, where I am (seattle is fine to show tattoos, oklahoma is decidedly UNWELCOMING). I make a point of looking spectacular to the normies so that not only are they embarrassed if they've trash talked tattooed people to me (more common than one might think) and later see my tattoos, but that maybe it gives 'em something to think about.

In Oklahoma, when I am home visiting family, I keep mostly covered up. This keeps me from dealing with the huffs and puffs, stupid thick tension, and any assaults on my character or future. I used to feel very comfortable with this, because I'm not rebelling or trying to piss my parents off with tattoos (though they have certainly leveled those accusations before), so why poke the bear if it's not necessary? But now I feel kinda bummed that I can't be myself around them. Or like walk downstairs in a tank top. And I was just in OK for thanksgiving and I felt totally trashy and hated myself for getting tattoos. ?!?!! I LOVE TATTOOS so that was a weird feeling for me - I was just basically sucking up the disapproval in the air, I think! bc i adore my tattoos.

I was just home recently and my mom had to use a fabric glue to stick the collar of my dress in a certain place - not to cover a tattoo, but so that the dress would fall right - and she moved the collar and saw some tattoo and made the worst noise...it made me feel bad, but whatever. It's okay if we all like different things! My mom gets hella plastic surgery, I'm not into that kind of body mod, so that's what I relate the tattoo thing to at the moment.

I stopped expecting my parents to treat me nicely many years ago, @keepcalm. Eventually I ported it all into a "them" problem and have minimized my contact with them. I keep my tattoos covered up, though they are aware of them, and I choose to interact with them about different topics, and I refuse to be baited into an argument regarding tattoos. I guess what I'm trying to say is what many have said before me in this thread - wishing/hoping/waiting for parental approval that's never gonna happen is a dumb game that will make you feel bad. It's okay if they don't like tattoos - they don't have to - but they don't have to be jerks about it. If they are gonna be jerks about it, minimize your exposure and choose only to interact with them in neutral territory. If you're comfortable with it, cover up and just show your tattoos off to your friends who think they're cool as hell!

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I was just in OK for thanksgiving and I felt totally trashy and hated myself for getting tattoos. ?!?!! I LOVE TATTOOS so that was a weird feeling for me - I was just basically sucking up the disapproval in the air, I think! bc i adore my tattoos.

This. Thisthisthisthis THIS!

This is the feeling I hate.

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This. Thisthisthisthis THIS!

This is the feeling I hate.

I feel like this is an "US" problem. We KNOW we like our tattoos. We got them on purpose. PAID for someone to do it to us, in fact. So why let disapproval from flyover states or other-minded parents get to us so strongly?!

While I was dealing with the horrible "i'm so trashy and disgusting" feeling, I also recognized that I didn't feel like that all of the time, and knew that I wouldn't likely feel like that in a few days...so even though it sucked, that is what I held on to - the impermanence of the situation. You know how you feel, and you know that it isn't all the time. Remember that!

Best of luck! It sucks. But you're an adult and you like your tattoos - that is ALL THAT MATTERS!!!!

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Parents aside, my tattoos have sparked interesting discussion about them during lunch and breaks in work. Most people like them and want to see them and hear of new work I'm getting done and found out a few who have one or two tattoos. They're curious about it and my coverage and why I keep getting tattooed. A civil, calm discussion about it is fine, I like that but not this whole "tattoos are disgusting and you'll regret it and no more about it" closed minded view, I can't abide.

Besides the amount of people I've had say to me that I've changed their opinion of tattooed people/heavily tattooed is amazing.

Yes, as I've said, I keep mine hidden from family (apart from tops of feet), but it is for an easy life. Am I ashamed of them? No. I keep them covered for work (no visible tattoo rule). They're hidden a lot of time, and honestly have had people say to me that they didn't realise I had so much coverage!

At the end of the day, they're an extension of me. People will either love them or hate them. As children we strive to get praise from our parents. When we're told by them that we are disgusting and ruining our bodies, yes it does hurt. It fucking hurts deep. But I can see it from their point of view, they still look out for us. I'll be 39 next month and am still considered "their baby girl". It's part of life, I just block their view out and don't tell them about my tattoos. Life is too short for hassle.

I hope some of that made some sense!

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Like many people on this thread I've had similar issues with my mom (also boyfriends, but they are easier to get rid of) when it comes to disapproving of my tattoos.

My mom was very upset with my first tattoo. I make sure I am very patient and hear her out no matter how many times she repeats the story about bikers and criminals with tattoos. (If I'm being a real dick I will remind her about my own arrest record). I am careful to explain the story behind them and I think what finally helped was a coverage expectation discussion. I have mentioned when I was younger I wanted tattoos on my neck, but now I see how that won't fit into my life, etc.

I have also discussed my doctor's perceptions of tattoos and how they fit into my care. (I'm getting part of my face reconstructed and there is a lot of talk about which is more painful)

Its basically been a lot of talking and me wearing what I wanted to wear around her when I visit.

But then I showed up with a dagger on my leg. To me it was a very very personal tattoo for a dear friend and a classic pull on american traditional flash and to her it was a weapon. She could only see that I had branded myself with a weapon that made me look like a decidedly aggressive person. I was shocked and told her she was right. I thought shin tattoos looked aggressive but I never thought of that perception of the iconography. But I don't regret it.

I do slightly regret the night I broke my face, but she doesn't seem to care so much about how that looks.

tl:dr Keep the discussion open. Make sure to express that you expect respect and you expect to give respect with the conversation. If the first conversation doesn't go well, don't give up. They come around.

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