Flawlessness has long been the ideal for black women, both as metaphor and in terms of aesthetics. A clean reputational track record is an ideal state of being for us all to aspire to. Like a patch of unmarked skin, we laud the unblemished archetype of womanhood from girlhood. Historical tropes of purity police women’s public lives and pubescent bodies: just as we grow conscious of what goes inside of girls’ bodies, we grow conscious of the outside too and so, the topic of tattoos is brought forward.
Visibly tattooed black women have long been an anomaly in mainstream culture. The first time I recall seeing one was when I watched singer Mary J. Blige for the first time on screen. Out she strutted into the centre of my television, brown skin aglow with a splatter of markings on her body – a rose and stem near her inner thigh, her name printed in a band of gothic letters around one arm, a cross stapled to the other.
Both enamoured and intrigued, I grew hawk-eyed and receptive to this type of body art on every visible black woman going forward. Eve’s paw printed cleavage was hard to miss with her frequent low-cut tops, as was Rihanna’s famous hennaed-hand tattoo (as per its unmissable placement). These women were mainstream and yet, were adorned with body modifications that were initially a statement of subculture.