I got my first tattoo a few months before I came to China. Now, six years and twenty tattoos later, I’ve learned a lot about China’s attitudes towards tattoos. It all started when a heroic Chinese guy got tattooed by his mother (!) so he would always remember the important things in life. Since then, tattoos have become a stigmatizing identification mark of criminals, much like the Japanese perception. This attitude holds true today, but thanks to globalization, the *gasp!* factor has lessened considerably.
What Chinese girls think about tattoos
Chinese girls are very enthusiastic about fashion and personal aesthetics (whether this enthusiasm translates into actual ability is another issue). However, being girls, they change their minds a lot, and the permanence of tattoos scares many of them (as it does guys as well). Yet a lot of girls are very curious about tattoos, and you’ll come across many of them with temporary or henna tattoos. It’s a fact that girls like decorations.
If you see a tattoo on a Chinese girl, it will usually be small, either tribal or floral or both. It will usually be on the upper arm, hand, shoulder, or ankle (the lower back “tramp stamp” is thankfully rare since Chinese girls have very nice waists). If a Chinese girl is going to get a tattoo, it’s usually for one of two reasons: 1) she wants to follow her favorite superstar or 2) she wants to cool enough to hang out with the “in crowd” (that girl at the barbeque joint playing dice with the dudes probably has a tattoo). Girls also think it increases their sex appeal (in my opinion, rightly so), and you’ll find many tattooed girls in their Barbie doll outfits and 7” heels heading towards the KTV to start their shift.
Of course, some girls don’t care what other people think and just like the look of tattoos. Compared with the average Chinese girl, these girls are often more independent, outgoing, and “fun” (you can take that to mean whatever you want). I’ve been quite surprised when some of my students come bounding up to me with the exciting news that they got a tattoo. Sometimes it’s well done, and sometimes it’s generic, but I applaud their bravery.
What parents, husbands, and bosses think (about tattoos)
Um, that’s a negative. I’ve never met a Chinese woman who got a tattoo after she was married (besides my wife). For some strange reason, Chinese husbands don’t like their wives being too sexy so a tattoo is a definitely “no.” Respectable jobs, such as being a teacher, secretary, government official, or other white collar careers are out of reach for women with visible tattoos. With Chinese women becoming more independent mentally, socially, and financially, you will find tattoos where you wouldn’t before, but tattoos are usually the domain of young, single women who aren’t thinking about the consequences for their future.
Of course, the biggest ixnay comes from the parents. Since a tattoo hurts a girl’s marriage and job prospects, it is absurd why their perfect, angelic daughter would even consider such a thing. If the daughter has always been a little “different,” her parents might not be so aghast, but almost none of them would encourage their daughter to get inked.
I know tattoos aren’t for everyone. Personally, I think tattoos can look great on a Chinese girl. Before she met me, my wife didn’t have or want any tattoos, and now she has two and is planning to get a third. Asian skin is very well-suited for tattoos, and I think a Chinese girl with a tasteful, well-done tattoo displays confidence, sexiness, and a willingness to be different. So if any Chinese ladies read this and you feel that you really want a tattoo, think carefully about it, and go for it! But please, no more Jolin-inspired 1/3 arm bands. Those are about as lame as the snarling wolves that most of the guys get.