Saturday, October 10, 2009

Guest Post: Inked - Ink, religion, and politics

This guest post was written by Galina of Oh, You're a Feminist?! . Galina is working towards her phd in clinical and community psychology, focusing on empowerment as prevention and discrimination's effects on mental health. For fun she likes to trail run with her dog, create jewelry, and travel.

I began wanting a tattoo and nose piercing when I was 12. My parents, conservative immigrant Jews, were very much opposed to both ideas. The tattoo they talked me out of by convincing me I wouldn't be able to be buried in a Jewish cemetery when I died. The nose ring was tougher. My mom used good old fashion guilt and scare tactics, "you'd be breaking my heart," "no one will take you seriously," "what will my friends think?" I decided then that I would obey my parents' wishes for a few years and if I still wanted the body art as an "adult" I would make the choice based on my person politics, not theirs.

Fast forward to college where I studied psychology and women's studies: I still wanted the tattoo AND the nose ring. I headed my mom’s advice on the nose ring, since I’d be applying to clinical psychology programs and they are traditionally conservative. My plan was to get in and effect massive change from the inside, studying social justice and progressive issues rarely examined in the field. The admission process includes an interview, and I didn’t want to give them any reason to exclude me. Little did I know I would end up at a very progressive program where social justice is a core value and I don’t have to pretend to be anyone else to scan my way in.

I wanted my first tattoo to be symbolic and meaningful not just to me but to my goals and values. I settled on an adaptation of Picasso’s dove, holding an olive branch in her mouth. She has a green eye to match my eyes. In Judaism, doves symbolize peace and love. According to the story of the Great Flood , Noah released a dove in order to see if it would find land. The dove came back carrying an olive branch in its mouth, indicating that there was dry land (and hope for a peaceful future) once again.

I spoke with my rabbi at the time about the antiquated notion of not being buried in a Jewish cemetery if I got a tattoo. She assured me that this would not be a problem in the congregations I was a part of (non-orthodox sects of Judaism) and that body art will not determine my relationship with G-d.

My second tattoo is a bit more political. It is an Audre Lorde quote that reads, “your silence won’t protect you.” This tattoo has provided me with many opportunities to educate others on who Audre Lorde is and her impact on the women’s movement and the world. I love when people ask me about what my tattoo says because that means I can start a conversation about women’s rights, privilege, and discrimination. I chose to put such a feminist imprint on my body for several reasons. Most obviously because of the vast impact feminism has had in my life. Also because of the common feminist phrase the “personal is political.” I find it much harder to “hide” my politics now that I have this tattoo, which keeps me honest and gives me ample chances to speak my mind.

In a purely aesthetic sense, I love the way tattoos look. I find them incredibly sexy and telling of people’s lives and stories. If I were (physically and psychologically) brave enough, I would get a much bigger piece in a much more visible place. Because just like what you wear and how you look does not define you, neither should your ink. But it should tell a story, because we’re all unique and deserve our voices heard (or seen as the case here).


ms liberty said...

i can't see the pictures!

Amelia said...

Oh no! Can other people not see them? They're showing up fine for me.

Kandeezie said...

Love love love the tattoos! Thinking about getting one myself.

Indian Home Maker said...

LOVED this post!!! Loved your tattoos :) And the lovely stories behind them :)

yellowpansy15 said...

Just wondering about the piercing comment- Because I have two tattoos, and a nose piercing, and I'm applying to grad school for clinical psychology.

I've never heard of any programs being that conservative; maybe it is a regional thing? Like, do you think they really would've said no if you had one? Maybe I just went through a very liberal psych undergrad program, but none of the professors ever made any comment about it and at least 50% of the other students had facial piercings.

Anyway, just curious. :)

PS: love the dove tattoo!

FeministGal said...

Thanks everyone! :)

@yellowpansy15 - i think it was the schools i was applying to a few years back, they tended to be more on the traditional side and more psychodynamic. it ended up not working out for me anyway (even without the nose piercing lol). But it did make me realize those aren't the type of programs i want to be in and when i reapplied i only did so at schools where i could be myself. it worked out well and i absolutely love my current clinical psych program. feel free to email me ( if you want to vent any grad school application gripes, it is a daunting process.

Saranga said...

Lovely post. Your dove design is beautiful.

Teacher Talk said...

How did you decide on your tattoo quote? I'm thinking of getting another tattoo - a female empowerment quote hopefully - but I can't seem to find enough good, short quotes. Any ideas from your own research?

p.s. I just found your blog today, and I like what I see so far! :)

Giraffes are Cool said...

I'm thinking of getting another tattoo - a female empowerment quote hopefully- but I'm having a hard time finding a good, short quote. Any ideas from your own research?

p.s. I just found your blog yesterday..I like what I see so far! :)

Anonymous said...

I like that you tied your tattoos/piercings to feminism. So true. My body, I want to do what I want to it. I just got a tattoo that is an ambigram: when I read it, it says Onore (honor) and when the rest of the world reads it they see Amore (love). It is a reminder to offer Love to the world, while honoring myself/to love and honor myself and those around me. Unfortunately the workmanship is poor and I'll have to get it fixed... said...

I love the Lorde tattoo; I like how it's slightly curved. That's a sensitive area - I've got a snake wrapped around my foot to keep me grounded and willing to change. I'm actually getting Picasso's peace dove on my shoulder later this week! I've already got Matisse's dancers on my forearm. My body is a giant canvas waiting for inspiration.

I pierced my ears secretly at 16 because of the body is a temple thing. But my dad doesn't say much anymore. It has been thirty years since that first piercing.