Recently, my boyfriend invited me to his sister’s wedding. Right after he did, he hesitated and said, “Aunties are gonna be judging you, babe…” I asked him why, even though I knew the answer.
“Because of your tattoos,” he said like it was as obvious as my hair color.
“I’m going to cover them, you know that,” I assured him, subtle agitation rising in my voice.
Being a Muslim girl with tattoos is a pain in the ass, let me tell you. Nothing makes you feel like shit more than when an auntie who knows nothing about you other than who your mother is is staring at your arm with her beady, inquisitive gaze, her judgments scathing across your skin like lasers as she asks as more of a prologue to public humiliation than as an innocent question, “What is this?” She crooks her neck, peering even closer, even though she’s already centimeters away from me. “Is that tattoo?”
As soon as she says the T word, other aunties’ necks turn and direct their eyes toward me and auntie in question who is standing, wide-eyed with her jaw slightly open as if her mouth is going to vacuum whatever my next words that trail out of my own mouth are. They stare at me like vultures, waiting for me to embarrass myself because anything I say next that supports the suggestion that I have tattoos will ultimately devour me in everlasting deprecating auntie hell.
So in this scenario, like in any scenario with brown adults who view tattoos as the ultimate form of trash and taboo, I play dumb. And I lie.
“Oh Auntie, that’s mehndi.”
It’s so painfully obvious it’s not mehndi. Even if I clawed myself and bled, that would be better than having an actual tattoo, you realize. Because at least THAT’S less permanent. And it’s haram to make changes to the perfect body that God has created.
I know that their way of thinking is vulnerable to criticism. It is based solely on the assumption that because tattoos are permanent, that means they are bad. Just because something is permanent doesn’t mean it’s bad. It just means it’s permanent. It means that I had a specific motivation to change something about my body, and that for some reason is haram because I couldn’t accept what was God-given. Truth is, we’re always changing in one way or another, and I think that’s a harder thing for people to accept.
Even if I provided the aunties with an adequate explanation that yes, my tattoos are real, yes, my mother knows about them and roasts me every hour about them, and no, I don’t regret them…that changes nothing. They will continue to gossip, continue to judge, continue to criticize me as if my explanation was merely a warped and flawed justification of an aspect of Western culture that I chose to embody.
Despite the aunties’ tentative approval of my tattoos, I truly don’t regret them. In a future post, I will go into more detail about why I chose to get my tattoos and what their significance is, but for now I want to address that this is MY skin. I hate having to hide it, but at the same time I can’t blame the aunties. It’s hard growing up in a totally different world and seeing things that are taboo like tattoos, slowly leak into a culture that adamantly forbids them. But that’s what balancing my two cultures is about. I need to respect their views, while respecting my own choices. It’s a challenge, but I will never lose respect for myself for being who I am because I’m grateful to live in a country where I’m liberated enough to use my skin as my canvas.
So next time an auntie asks about my tattoos (which they won’t because I’ll cover them, but you never know)…yeah, I’m still telling them it’s mehndi.