Of Body Art And Beauty Politics

What crosses your mind when you see a heavily tattooed woman?

genevieveng.com

genevieveng.com

Well, I kinda was confronted by that question a couple of hours back. I walked into a shop and one of the shop attendants was a woman, with lots of tattoos on her arms as well as a large flower detailed one on her lower back. You might wonder how I was able to make out that she had a tattoo on her lower back. Well, this particular woman who is every inch African, was wearing a daring cut out blouse that was literally open at the back so you could get an ample peek of her bra as well as the tattoo.

I emphasize on the word African because the tattoo craze has only caught up in Kenya a couple of years ago. Back in 2003, you could walk up and down a street all day long and not spot a single soul with a tattooed arm or neck or whatever. For those who are African and have been born and brought up in Africa like me, they probably know how much religious Africans are. We tend to attach every little detail of life to what religion states and since the Bible forbids one from putting permanent markings on their skin, tattoos are still being frowned upon by many of the older and younger generation alike.

Most people of the above reasoning tend to associate the putting of tattoos on one’s body with being devilish. However, for quite a large number of people from this generation, tattoos just like ear piercings are a form of body art. A way to express oneself. Well, if being tattooed wasn’t entirely a painful process, perhaps I would be having one teeny tiny one myself. I’m not so big on several tattoos on one’s body but I must admit that I have previously (and in the recent past) yearned to have one small one. If I was the very daring type, perhaps 3 small ones in different locations. However, it’s not something that I’ve finally concluded to do. Fleeting thoughts if I choose to look at it from that angle.

Some religious denominations equally discourage body piercings in addition to tattoos. There are members of certain denominations who would not dare wear earrings or any jewellery. All these things are usually attributed to some demonic origin thus the shunning. Well, Christians tend to be divided in the aforementioned reasoning. I personally have had my piercings from a very young age and I now consider them a part of me. The first pair of ear piercings I got at 6 years of age and the second pair at 10. I sleep in my studs, shower in them and only part with them when I want to change earrings into something more fancier.

I tend to believe that the Israelites too donned a lot of jewellery. When Moses in the Bible went up to the mountain and these people who seemed to possess such little faith, decided to remove all of their jewellery and make a golden calf to worship, that must have been a ton of jewellery. As a kid, we once visited the Gede ruins in the Coastal region of my country on a school trip and one of the photos I saw and remember, in the mini museum at the historical site, has this Arabic woman wearing so much jewellery including a quite heavy looking nose ring. I had never known people adorned their noses with other things other than studs before and therefore, remained quite puzzled for a while, long after the school trip was over.

Africans too have been known to fancy tribal markings. This is more like the tattoo version of Africa. Surprisingly, the idea behind some of these tribal markings was to enhance the beauty of a woman. I have witnessed Sudanese citizens currently residing in Kenya with wavy tribal markings on their foreheads that are permanent, men and women alike. I once mentioned that to a friend and with a puzzled look on his face, he stated that he had never noticed these kinds of markings on our Kenyan-Sudanese counterparts. I reminded him to pay close attention next time and he will surely spot this.

It might come as a surprise to many Kenyans of the latter day generation that some communities too in our country had tribal marks. However, you can hardly spot any Kenyan nowadays with tribal markings since these are practices that have been completely phased out over time. Save for the Maasais, Turkanas and Samburus who still elongate their earlobes, it is quite rare to encounter a Kenyan with tribal markings across the face or body. So we can confidently state that human beings have always possessed this fixation with body art for eons. That doesn’t mean that those actively pursuing the culturally motivated ones are primitive or in need of serious enlightenment.

On the tattooed woman I met today, well, I personally still get a little surprised seeing all those tattoos on someone. I’m not one to impose what I believe on another. I’m also very aware that there are a lot of stereotypes attached to people who decide to get tattoos. We may be tempted to brand them as misfits, ungodly or rebels. Perhaps people who have no intention whatsoever of ever being employed in a sober organization. Being a third world, Africans tend to place a lot of emphasis on education for a better life. We are guilty of overlooking the Arts or someone’s creativity in making a living. That’s what the missionaries drummed into our heads. Education is the ticket to success.

Well, it might come as a surprise to many that there are people out there who have no intention whatsoever of ever getting white collar jobs. Who do not care whether a tattoo is on their face, wrists or wherever. That is simply their choice. We also vary greatly in our choices of body art and while I will always prefer ear piercings over large tattoos someone of another thought may view tattoos as the way to go. Such is the diversity of different personalities.

So what crosses your mind when you see tattoos on anyone?

 

 

 

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