As late June approaches, women across the globe shed layers and collectively brace themselves for the inevitable uptick in attention that newly-shorn legmeat attracts. It doesn’t even matter that, in many areas, less clothing isn’t so much a fashion choice as it is a survival tactic in oppressive heat. The fact is: as clothes get skimpier, catcalls increase. For women with visible tattoos, especially, their designs signal an obvious holler point, leading to the annual spike in “tatcalling.”
By now, hopefully, most dudes know that catcalling, in all its forms, sucks. People don’t love to get yelled at, as a rule. Yet the behavior persists. “Tatcalling is the worst,” 32-year-old print-making business owner Susannah says. “We hear it all the time.” Even good-intentioned yells are almost certainly unwanted.
I’ve got more than 20 tattoos. My very first—a treble clef with a backwards tail I got at 18 on my right wrist—continues to serve as my creep filter. If he makes a hackneyed comment like, “You like music?” or just reaches out to touch me without invitation, it’s gonna be a no from me, dawg. If there’s a less original convo starter than something as broad as music (which… who does not like music?), it’s a visible tattoo. Even worse, laying hands on a stranger isn’t flirty—it’s frightening.
“I don’t care if you’ve known me for 100 seconds or 100 years,” Susannah says. “Unless I verbally consent to or invite you to touch me, don’t.”
“I think I hate ‘nice ink’ from strange men the most,” Haley, a 33-year-old podcaster and writer in Waco, Texas, says. Of course, tattoos can work as good convo starters—at an inside-voice decibel. As Haley says, there’s a “huge difference between ‘Nice ink!’ and, ‘Hey, I really like your tattoo. Did you get it here in town?’ One sounds more like a comment on my physical attractiveness due to the tattoo, the other sounds like genuine interest in a tattoo as art and therefore a more welcome conversation.”
Long-antiquated tattoo connotations can hurt, too. “One of the most obnoxious things about having visible tattoos is that people still think this translates into being a ‘bad girl’ and that I want to be berated or annoyed or hit on or hear inappropriate shit,” Susannah, who is in a monogamous marriage, says. It’s 2019 folks—everyone and their mom has a tattoo these days, and you wouldn’t want anyone to say weird stuff to your mom, now would you?
Of course, some people choose to go under the gun specifically as a way to open themselves to new connections and are typically game to talk about them.
Atlanta tattoo artist Kandace Layne says she loves when people ask about the Naomi Campbell portrait on her arm. “It gives me the opportunity to talk about someone I see as a positive role model for black women, or just women of color in general,” she says. “She was a supermodel at a time where they didn’t even have makeup in her shade.’ From there, it’s easy to get a read not only on Layne herself, but whoever first noticed Naomi’s smize on Layne’s skin.
30-year-old Andrea in Austin, Texas, admits to using one piece in particular to help dudes out on Tinder. “I do have a King of the Hill tattoo that I like to mention in online dating profiles, because it is a great conversation starter,” she says. Though this can backfire. “Once a dude messaged me on OKCupid and I noticed his profile mentioned he didn’t want to date a woman with tattoos,” Andrea says. “When I messaged back and said that I had them, he replied with, ‘Don’t worry, I’m sure I can lick them off.’”