Sunday afternoon thought break: tattooed professors

18 Mar

I’m knee-deep in end of the term business — papers and exams and grading and fun! — but I’m taking a break to ponder tattoos and academia.

Why would you ponder that, Martina? Good question, blank computer screen onto which I’m projecting the thoughts of my potential readers!

The answer is: because I just scheduled a consultation for my next tattoo. The plan is for the first line of Mary Oliver’s poem “Wild Geese” to be inked onto the inside of my left arm, just below the elbow. And I’m pretty damn excited about it. But there are those who are not so excited about tattoos, especially visible ones, and their impact on one’s potential future employment. So here, in no particular order, are my thoughts on the matter.

  1. If my tattoo is really the thing that keeps me from getting a job, they probably wouldn’t have liked me as an employee anyway. It’s highly unlikely that the kinds of places that are strictly and officially anti-body art would even be an option for an academic like myself. I mean, this Jew-with-a-gay-mom-who-writes-about-abortion-and-the-apocalypse thing that I’ve got going on pretty much takes me out of the running for working at a school like Missouri Southern State University or George Fox University. And no love lost there for me!
  2. The question is whether institutions without formal rules banning tattoos will nevertheless be biased against me if I have tattoos. Good question. People are judgmental about a whole lot of things, especially bodies. But if I can successfully cover my wrist tattoo (can and occasionally do!), then I think the middle of my arm should be easily concealable. And truly, I think that the face of my field is changing such that a tattooed English professor isn’t really a concern for most.
  3. The further question is: what will my students think. Easy answer: they’ll think whatever the hell they want to think. And I’ll still be the one who gets to grade them at the end of the term! Blamo: teachers have the power! But really, studies have shown that many students actually respond positively to tattooed faculty, so I’m not actually concerned about it. Plus, I try not to show off too much of my body to my students as is, so they might never even see the new piece of work, and since I’m a curvaceous woman, they’re probably more likely to be fixated on (ahem) other parts of my body than my arms.
  4. The truth is, it’s my damn body and I’m going to mark it and decorate it and dress it and love it however I damn well please. And adding this piece of artwork to my arm is a way to mark, decorate, dress, and love myself that feels sanctified and right. So I’m going to do it and when I look at it, I’m going to love myself, and that is worth the time, the money, the pain, and whatever judgment I might get. I truly don’t understand why I shouldn’t honor my life’s progress and process in a physical way. I like making manifest what is otherwise intangible; I like the idea of writing my life onto my skin, inscribing upon myself my joy and sadness and triumphs and failures. I like when Margaret Cho says that she “love[s] heavily tattooed women” because she “imagine[s that] their lives are filled with sensuality and excess, madness and generosity, impulsive natures and fights. They look like they have endured much pain and sadness, yet have the ability to transcend all of it by documenting it on the body.” I like documenting. So I’ve chosen, for the second time now, to document in flesh and ink and word and color. Good.

Those are my thoughts, inarticulate as they may be.

But what I really want to know is this: what do you all think? Are you tattooed and, if so, what has been your experience wearing your skin out into the world? Do you want tattoos, or want to add to your collection? If so, why? What do they mean to or do for you? And of course, if you’re not so hot on tattoos, I’d love to know why that’s so!

Update: in case you’re reading this (and aren’t a subscriber to the blog) and are wondering “did she do it?”, then check out this follow-up post to see the low-quality picture of my beautiful new tattoo!


31 Responses to “Sunday afternoon thought break: tattooed professors”

  1. Simon Olofsson January 6, 2017 at 5:36 pm #

    Im doing my masters now and considering going on with a PhD. Im quite heavily tattooed with a full sleeve and a huge side piece froms ribs to knee (with clean out portraits of Baudelaire and Wilde tho, maybe there’s some academic cred there). I wouldnt even react to a professor having tattoos. The only reason people can see a tattoo is because its on the body, not on the brain. So you rock that poem, Im sure you are beautiful with it nailed to your skin.
    Best regards// Simon

  2. Anthoney June 2, 2016 at 10:42 am #

    Great article. I am inked and openly wear it. Although since teaching college I haven’t, which am now reconsidering. Some have noticed a few peaking out under my long sleeve (some sleeves shrink a little lol); all I do is explain and move on with the lesson.

    Each of mine tell a story, some I will share and others I keep to myself. They are a journey and with only 15, there will be many more coming!

  3. Veliko Tarnovo Cazare June 29, 2014 at 9:50 pm #

    Pensiuni Dunavat

    Piece of writing writing is also a fun, if you be familiar with afterward you
    can write otherwise it is complex to write.

  4. Thelittlepecan May 23, 2013 at 9:43 am #

    I actually just spent a couple of weeks agonizing over my first student evals EVAR. Several comments were related to my tattoos/body. I’m over it. I went into academia to be who I am and I was actually appalled at what students thought they had the right to critique (and have me take it seriously).

  5. Ruth November 25, 2012 at 1:20 pm #

    I just wandered onto your blog and I just adore it- particularly this entry. I’m finishing my master’s right now, and I have always wanted to/intend to go for my PhD and be a college professor. I am heavily tattooed, almost full sleeves (no leg tattoos) but I have kept them where I’m always able to hide them if I need to (i.e. long sleeves). I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had professors or other academic leaders frown upon my art when it has been exposed. They are all well done, but I’ve also concerned myself with what future students will think. I have a 3.8 GPA, so it makes me irritated to see ignorant individuals judge me on my bodily decisions and self-expression over my intelligence and drive. I certainly do not anticipate working for some of these closed-minded people. I also love this poem, thank you for the encouragement!

  6. KarylAnne July 9, 2012 at 10:11 pm #

    I’m so happy I came across your blog! I’m an undergraduate student majoring in writing with an emphasis in creative nonfiction, and I’m working on a CNF immersion journalism piece about academic tattoos. Your blog entry will be helpful with some areas of the piece, I think.

    • martinalynne July 10, 2012 at 10:01 am #

      Wonderful! I’m glad that the of which conversation this post is a part can be helpful to you. I’d love to hear what you come up with when you’re finished!

  7. Jen Reynolds June 29, 2012 at 12:00 pm #

    Thanks so much for this entry and these comments! I just got a rather large traditional tattoo on my arm and — although I absolutely love it — have suddenly begun obsessing with what my students and colleagues might think (I am a woman and I teach law). Realizing that I might “offend” or “distract” people has made me aware of how completely and reflexively I have been depersonalizing myself at work, just in general and as a woman, actually. Much to think about. Thanks again.

    • martinalynne June 29, 2012 at 12:45 pm #

      Thank you so much! I’m glad that the conversation was useful for you — I think, at the end of the day, that simply having these conversations is a step forward (or at least it feels like one to me). Thanks, therefore, for being a part of that conversation!

  8. jeanne March 22, 2012 at 11:59 pm #

    That is a beautiful poem!! My thought on tattoo…I have been wanting to get a tattoo but have not got “enough guts” to do it and of course been saving money for it…and having my body inked would not be a problem here (in terms of job searching) as tattoo is no biggie in NZ, almost everyone has one! 🙂

    • martinalynne March 23, 2012 at 7:59 am #

      Interesting! I didn’t know that tattoos were so common in NZ — do you have thoughts about why tattoos are so accepted and normative in New Zealand society? I’m curious.

      • jeanne March 23, 2012 at 6:47 pm #

        Oh, it has to do with the indigenous people in New Zealand. The Maori heritage is strong on tattoos (moko). During the early days, receiving a “moko” marked milestone between childhood and adulthood, signaling status and rank, and of course to make a person more attractive to the opposite sex. 🙂

        I guess it sort of expanded from there and they are quite common here. Do check this website..

      • martinalynne March 23, 2012 at 7:11 pm #

        That’s what I was thinking. I find it really interesting that the Maori tradition would be so influential and resistive to anglicization. Thanks for teaching me!

  9. shornrapunzel March 21, 2012 at 8:13 am #

    “Tehee quod she” from The Miller’s Tale. 🙂

    • martinalynne March 21, 2012 at 9:12 am #

      PERFECT! If you decide to do it, the guy I went to is great…

  10. Kate March 21, 2012 at 7:44 am #

    This is not really about tattoos, but I have to write to say I’d never seen that poem before and I think it is one of the beautiful things I’ve read. Thanks for sharing.

    • martinalynne March 21, 2012 at 9:13 am #

      I’m so glad you like it! It’s really one of my most favorite poems in the world; that stanza at the end about our place in the family of things? It gets me every time.

  11. Lozzz123 March 21, 2012 at 12:29 am #

    For a slightly different take on the topic, I don’t have a tattoo, but I do have a piercing just below my lip. That’s a fair bit harder to hide. I’m also a bit concerned about future employers – but I still did it anyway because it’s something I’ve always wanted. It may not be as meaningful, but it is something that I think helps demonstrate who I am. So you’re right, if they don’t want to hire me because of that, they may not have liked me anyway without it.

    • martinalynne March 21, 2012 at 9:15 am #

      Piercings are definitely also a thing! I think sometimes that piercings get even more flack, because even less people see them as artistic. But hopefully we’re moving toward a world where facial piercings won’t be a surprise; one of my professors has a big ol’ nose ring, so that’s a good start!

  12. rivula March 20, 2012 at 11:31 pm #

    I’m in a foreign languages department, and one of my classmates has a *misspelled* (and later corrected) tattoo in one of those foreign languages. No one seems to care about that one or any of the many others, mostly visible (and correctly spelled) in the department.

    But I could never, ever get one for myself. Just like I cannot stand bumper stickers or anything else that mars a perfect plane. I’m lucky I got my ears pierced when I was too young to have developed THAT little tidbit of ocd.

    • martinalynne March 20, 2012 at 11:34 pm #

      I also love pristine bodies: no makeup, no hair color, no adornments. Humanity is so beautiful on its own…

      But man… misspelled tattoo! I checked and double checked mine, just in case, out of abject terror at the thought of a permanent misspelling.

  13. Patty H March 20, 2012 at 9:15 pm #

    I am one year away from being a credentialed 3rd grade teacher, and I have a tattoo. A pretty big one on my foot. There have been TONS of times where kids have commented on it. They usually ask me what it is, why I got it, and what my mom thinks. I have found the best way to deal is to just talk about it for a second. I say that it is a tattoo, I got it because I like it, and I’m sure they have probably seen tattoos out in the world before on other people. That usually prompts them to want to tell a story, and we can deflect the attention back to something else. I worry that when I am a teacher and not just someone who works in the classrooms, the reactions from parents may make their way to me. But honestly, at the end of the day, the way my body looks has nothing to do with my ability to educate.

    I bet your tattoo will look lovely. I think since you are talking about being a professor, it’s even more accepted. I have had tons of college professors with tattoos.

    • martinalynne March 20, 2012 at 11:32 pm #

      Yeah. I bet you face a different battle than I do because you work with children. But honestly, I stand by my statement: if there were enough parents at a school to cause a ruckus about your tattoo, then you probably wouldn’t want to teach there anyhow. I mean, what would happen if you tried to read your kids “Heather Has Two Mommies” at a place like that? I’ve had a few conversations with my best 8-yr old friend about my tattoos and I love the way kids react to them! So more tattooed elementary school teacher power to you!

  14. sweetdisarray March 19, 2012 at 9:27 pm #

    I always thought I would never, ever get a tattoo, but then I went through something rather traumatic and it took me a long time to get through to the other side afterward and in the aftermath I suddenly felt like getting a tattoo was the only way I could tangibly mark the way that that overcoming that experience had changed me internally. I still haven’t gotten it because I can’t decide exactly what I want to get (and since it’s permanent, I damn well want to be sure), but I’m determined to get one someday. And now that I’ve decided that, I also want to get two more after that, one to mark each one of my children. For surely they have marked my my heart forever; they may walk outside of me, but I carry them with my always and it seems fitting to mark that on my skin.

    Anyway, I think that poem is beautiful…

    • martinalynne March 20, 2012 at 11:30 pm #

      That’s exactly how I got my first piece: i just wanted my outsides to reflect the growth I’d made inside. My mom has a huge stomach tattoo that she finished a few years ago that I love, and I always feel like it’s a way for her to carry her heart on the outside. I bet your children would be honored (when they’re old enough) that you would let the way they’ve marked your body be art.

  15. Lauren (@rainytaylor) March 19, 2012 at 5:46 pm #

    This actually came up today during my offfice hours!

    I have a small tattoo on the inside of my left wrist, “Hey Jude, you’ll do.” from the eponymous Beatles song. I love this tattoo. I love it, and I intend to get “What a lark, what a plunge!” from Mrs. Dalloway tattooed on the back of my right shoulder after I pass comps, too. I definitely want more tattooes (tattoos?) because for me, they are what make my body MINE.

    But, this came up in office hours today because I had two really shy students come to talk to me about the speeches they are giving this week. One of them said “My roommate and I have been wondering all semester what your tattoo says on your wrist! We’ve been speculating about it and every time that you gesture wildly after class we will see if either of us were able to make it out!” And so I showed her my tattoo and told her the story behind it. She was totally fascinated. I was just pleased to have heard so much out of such a shy student!

    • martinalynne March 20, 2012 at 11:28 pm #

      It’s so true: my students think the tattoos are so cool! They like to ask me about the story and it’s an interesting way to open up conversation. I love typographical tattoos, too, because I like the idea of people trying to guess what it says. My new one is pretty big, though, so I don’t think people will have to wonder much!

  16. Theresa March 19, 2012 at 10:30 am #

    While I don’t mind other people having tatoos, I really wouldn’t want one for myself. I wouldn’t be too concerned about its effects on my future employment options, especially for tatoos that are easy to cover up. Primarily, I feel that I really don’t want something on my body where I don’t know how it will change when my body ages and whether I will still like it years from now when my life and my tastes will have evolved. For me personally, there are also so many other ways to document my life and remember important experiences, that I don’t feel a need to do it on my body. Finally, I feel the human body is pretty amazing as it is with its ability to adjust and change and any intervention, may it be tatoos, piercings or other cosmetic procedures, disrupts its natural aesthetics for me, not to mention that it subjects the skin (or other parts) to a risk of infection and harm, even if this is, of course, small. Of course, that’s just my personal take on it and I can see and understand how other people weigh these factors differently – after all, it’s a great thing that each of us can decide for themselves and choose to their own liking.

    • martinalynne March 20, 2012 at 11:27 pm #

      I think you’re totally right: there are so many ways to document and mark and honor moments in life. I like imprinting these things on my skin, but there’s no right or wrong. Plus, it’s not like life doesn’t imprint itself on us whether we like it or not; I mean, hello scars and stretch marks and grey hair!

      I think knowing that your tastes might change is a great reason not to get a tattoo. For me, though, my two pieces are both so significant that I know that even if my tastes change, the moment of loving those things will still be precious, which sort of alters the equation for me.

  17. shornrapunzel March 18, 2012 at 9:34 pm #

    I think your point about not wanting to work at the kind of place that would be biased against a tattoo is right on. Also, the hiring process begins without visual contact (i.e. all blindly submitted applications), so if they like you enough to invite you to campus to hear your work, they probably won’t care about tattoos.
    I go back and forth about whether I want a tattoo. If I got one, I know what it would be (part of a line from The Canterbury Tales) and where (on my back near my left shoulder-blade, where it would be visible if I wore a halter dress), but I haven’t been able to commit to the expense and possibility of pain yet.

    • martinalynne March 20, 2012 at 11:24 pm #

      You’re so right, Chels: if they like my work, why would they care about my tattoos? Especially since my tame, literary tattoos are the least controversial thing about me. However, I’m all abuzz to know which line of Chaucer you’d get…

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