Here in Singapore, nearly two in five (38 per cent) said they have a negative impression of people with tattoos.
In a survey conducted by YouGov in 2019, it was revealed that this is particularly true for those over the age of 55, where over half (53 per cent) have a bad impression of tattooed people. This is compared to a quarter (26 per cent) of those aged 18 to 24.
Furthermore, over half (55 per cent) have neither a positive nor negative impression of tattoos, and 6 per cent have a positive impression.
Another segment of the population who face judgment on a regular basis — far often than we imagine— are mothers. Any mother, at some point in their motherhood, has probably been judged by other people — by other mums, even.
So what would these statistics and realities mean for mothers with tattoos?
We spoke to theAsianparent VIPParent and social media influencer Jane Surin, perhaps one of the most colourful mums we’ve ever spoken with to date, to get a glimpse of how it is like being a mum with tattoos in this age, in Singapore.
From the first tattoo
“I got them when I wasn’t even (of) legal (age). You’re meant to get one when you’re 18, but I was 15,” said Jane as she looked back at the time she got her first tattoo. It was a tattoo of a fairy.
“I knew at the age of 12 I wanted to get a tattoo already. I just didn’t know what exactly. When I was young, I liked fairies. I used to doodle in like my primary school book and be like, I’ll get this, I’ll get that. It was also during that time where I had images of celebrities who had tattoos on themselves plastered up on the wall, so the inspiration partly came from there,” she laughed, “I knew I wanted to get inked then,” Jane said.
It didn’t take long for Jane to get her second tattoo. At age 17 she got her second one, that of a mermaid, on her upper back. “Over time, I added more and more, until I could no longer hide it in my clothes.”
The 35-year-old model and social media influencer now has a full leg and a full back covered with ink. “I have two more on my chest and then the back of my neck, the back of my ears. My finger. My earlobes are tattooed as well.”
But to Jane, her tattoos are more than just the colours and art. She said the tattoos represent many meanings.
“My entire right leg used to be covered with a bunch of scars caused by a motorcycle accident I had been in as a pillion. For a long time, I walked around with the scars and people would give my leg weird looks as if asking: ‘What is that? What happened to her?’” Jane said that’s what made her decide to cover up the scars with tattoos, a process that she said took so much courage because it was a particularly painful experience.
The tattoos on Jane’s legs are the women of DC Comics which she said was because of her admiration for strong women.
“Growing up I’ve always loved superheroes like those in DC comics, and Marvel, even. I feel inspired and motivated by them, each one of them has something in them I really feel connected to. So when I was getting tattoos, I thought it would be great to make it that of the superheroes. I am covering scars, but I am also getting the strong women inked on my legs.”
On being inked
Though still considered taboo in some cultures all over the world, tattoos are less uncommon than it used to be. However, there are still people out there who think tattoos should be off-limits to parents, particularly mums.
Mums with tattoos are often perceived impure, deviant and not good role models to their kids. Mums like Jane bear the brunt of these stereotypes.
“I get a lot of stares. When I take the train or take the bus, when I walk on the street, especially when I am with my kids, people would just look at me and stare,” Jane said.
“The elderly would come right at me and be like ‘why did you do that to yourself? You ruined your body. Your skin is very nice you know, why ruin it like that and have tattoos?’”
But Jane said, after a while, she has gotten used to the attention.
“They were a mix of good and bad reactions. With every negative comment, there are people who would give me positive ones like ‘that looks really good, who is your artist?’ or ‘Wow! That looks nice, was it painful?’”
“I’m quite lucky, I haven’t gotten any that made me go home and cry about,” Jane said. But she noted that before making peace with people’s perception, she went through a phase of getting affected by people’s opinions of her having tattoos and would feel slightly self-conscious about them.
“I remember back then when I was younger, I would get very affected by what people would say about me. Even at the slightest things. People would come straight at me and ask me ‘why get so many, why do that to your skin?’” Jane said.
According to Jane, over time, she learned how to take the judgment in stride. “I guess over time, these things make you strong.”
Jane Surin: Inked and proud
“My appearance has its perks,” Jane laughed, adding that she these days, more often than not, people would be nicer to her because of her tattoos.
“When I’m out by myself or alone with the kids even, I think because I’m heavily tattooed, people tend to be a bit nicer to me. I don’t know why, maybe they think I’m a really fierce person and are afraid of me,” Jane said jokingly, “But honestly, I feel that things are definitely a lot better now regarding society’s perception towards us.”
But being a tattooed mum meant questions about her parenting, and how she is raising her kids, Jane said.
“I remember someone asking me on Instagram if I am worried my kids would turn out like me—like it’s a bad thing. She asked if I am afraid when my daughter gets older, she’d ask why I did this to myself (getting tattoos), or why did I ever get it in the first place.”
Jane said she knew there would be prejudice about her being heavily tattooed and being a mum so she had thought of the same questions and said: “I would tell my children the truth about my tattoos. They’re not a bad thing. And they don’t have to be.”
And when asked if she’d be okay if any of her kids decide to get a tattoo when they are older, Jane said: “I will discuss with them thoroughly on their decision and when we’re both sure that’s what they want, I will even help them look for a good artist so that they get something which they won’t end up regretting. I’m a perfect example of why you need to do your homework carefully when it comes to these things as I’ve already been there and done that with bad tattoo choices!” Jane laughs.
On being a tattooed mother
No matter how confident Jane has become since embracing her tattoos, she acknowledges that some tattooed mothers still don’t have it easy.
“When people see heavily tattooed people, they think of all the negative stuff: gangs, crimes, no moral values, good-for-nothing,” Jane said, “so I think it’s really up to the tattooed dad or mum to rise above it.”
“If you get bad flak from strangers just entirely based on your appearance of having tattoos, just laugh it off. Life is too short to get affected by people who we don’t know.”
“How you deal with these things, it reflects on your kids as well. It’s very important to show your kids—more than anyone—that all the negative connotation that comes with having tattoos don’t have to be your reality. What really matters is your upbringing, how you raise your children, so make sure you raise good kids. You have to be a good example for your kids,” Jane added.
But Jane also said the work doesn’t have to come only from those who are inked. She said society should also start being more accepting of people with tattoos, and that tattoos are just a form of creativity and self-expression.
“Get to know us first. We’re human too. We’re someone’s mother, daughter, and wife. We have feelings and underneath all the ink, we’re just people, too,” Jane said. “Being tattooed does not necessarily mean we are bad parents who will pass on uncultured behaviours to our children. Get to know us first, I’m sure you’ll love us!”
Jane Surin, 35, tattooed mother
Now a mother to two kids, Jane said while it may be difficult to find time given how much of a handful her kids are now, she is still looking to get more tattoos in the future.
She plans on getting new tattoos inspired by her kids. “I want to get something that symbolises them or something that has to do with them, I am just not sure what it is yet.
This article was first published in theAsianparent.