I Have a Tramp Stamp and I’m Damn Proud of It

Covering up a tattoo is like trying to cover up anything from the past.
Publish date:
March 6, 2015
tattoos, body art, Body Ink, Back Tattoos, body modification

Well, I’m proud of it now at least. I wasn’t for a while. I almost paid hundreds of dollars to not be cursed with the dreaded tramp stamp title anymore.

When I was 19 I got a tattoo on my lower back, which was something I thought over for a decent amount of time. I sketched up what I had envisioned, a rainbow that is shades of blacks and grays on the left and colorful on the right with a lightning bolt in the middle. I hung it above my bed for around seven months to make sure I didn’t get sick of it before getting inked. I didn’t.

For me the tattoo represented the duality of human nature and life itself: how light coexists with dark. It also symbolized balance, which is my zodiac symbol. I’m a Libra. I know, I know, “basic bitch” shit.

Not only was this before the term "basic bitch," it was before the term “tramp stamp.” It was my second year of college and I had calmed down considerably from the first. I partied hard my freshman year, and even ended up in the ER more than once from drugs. At the time, my choice to get a tramp stamp tattoo was one of the least impulsive decisions I made in a while.

By early 2002, I had stopped doing drugs and the drawing of my future tramp stamp had been above my bed for a few months. I began dating a guy who had a friend who was a tattoo artist and we would drink and smoke our gross cigarettes in the tattoo shop he worked at.

My boyfriend’s friend said he could tattoo me at a discount so I took him up on his offer. It took less than an hour. It’s a simple tattoo with no elaborate shading, but that’s what I wanted. It’s kind of cheap-looking, which makes sense seeing as I paid practically nothing for it and the fact that it is a goddamn tramp stamp.

Back then it wasn’t as socially acceptable to have visible tattoos as it is now. “You’re not gonna get a job if you do,” rang in my ears from the older generation. Despite this, I loved my tattoo so much that I wished it were in a more visible spot. I would stand in front of studio apartment’s full-length mirror, with my back facing it, twist my neck back and admire the little rainbow.

Years later the designation "tramp stamp" was introduced to the world for girls with lower back tattoos. At first I would tell myself that my tattoo was different, that it wasn’t a tramp stamp because it wasn’t a tribal symbol or a dolphin or a Chinese symbol, but who was I trying to kid? If I was wearing a low cut pair of pants and bent over for whatever reason, my tattoo would be visible and a “Hey, I didn’t know you had a tramp stamp!” would inevitably follow. I would usually blush and deny that it was a true tramp stamp.

I was so embarrassed in fact that I almost got an entire full back tattoo just to cover it. In 2005, I went to a tattoo shop and discussed prices and made an appointment to get a full back of peacock feathers. The tattoo artist gave me an estimate of around $650 for the large piece of work. I thought about it for a while and decided not to do it, mainly because I didn’t have the money for it. I’m glad I didn’t go through with it, though, because I honestly would have regretted a full back of peacock feathers. My problem at this time was that I still cared too much about what other people thought.

Covering up a tattoo is like trying to cover up the past. When I look at my tramp stamp in the mirror now, I laugh and think “That happened.” It’s starting to fade in parts, just like the memories from the time I got it, which I’ve grown nostalgic for.

It represents a part of my past when I was scrambling to find and express myself. I approach it the same way I now approach all my past mistakes and experiences: I don’t try to hide it, deny it, or feel shame about it. Cue the Chinese symbol tattoo that says "No Regrets."