Tattoo discrimination and traveling: Do I deserve to be ridiculed and harassed?

As a female traveler, part-time solo adventurer and an expatriate for the third time (so far) you can bet your sweet booty I’ve experienced quite the amount of discrimination for different reasons by different people. Sometimes it’s because I’m female. Other times it’s because I’m a foreigner. But most of the time it’s because of my tattoos.

Yes, tattoos. You either love them or you hate them, and we all have our own opinions on them. Whereas some people keep those opinions to themselves, others simply can’t wait to shout it out loud and tell you exactly how much they like or dislike what you’ve done to your body.

When I was 18, I got my first tattoo. When I was 22, I got my last one. Some of them have personal meanings, others do not. None of them were ever made to offend anyone, and not once did it cross my mind that people would view me as controversial and provocative for simply just being decorated with permanent body art.

Little did I know that my butterflies, flowers and stars would complicate traveling to the extent that I can’t even wear short sleeves or visit public swimming pools or hot springs in certain countries. And please don’t tell me I should have known better before getting them done, because it’s far too late to change that. In the western world, there’s a lot of people like me. Tattooed men and women who travel the world and want to be treated with the same respect as their non-tattooed friends and family members.


I don’t expect countries like Japan, where people fear tattoos because they’re mainly associated with the Yakuza (Japanese mafia), to change their tattoo-ban in public places just to please people like me. Nor do I expect conservative countries in the middle east to make exceptions for people like me, when their own citizens are not even allowed to get any tattoos themselves. I respect their rules and don’t wanna cause any inconvenience.

I do, however, expect more from people of the same or similar culture as myself, of my generation or the one above.

I mean, it’s just body art. If you have a haircut I don’t like, if you’ve been under the knife and had something surgically enhanced, reduced or removed, or you simply just wear an outfit I don’t like, I’m still gonna let you be you and not try to knock you down for being different. Why can’t you do the same with me?

I’m not asking you to like people’s tattoos or compliment them. I’m just asking for mutual respect. Politeness. You know the saying; “if you can’t say something nice, say nothing at all”?

Because, those nasty comments (or, honest opinion, as you like to call it) are actually quite hurtful.


Just to put you in my shoes for a second, here are some of the experiences I’ve had with tattoo discrimination while traveling.

“…You are a disgrace! You will burn in hell!” – Old lady, Gdynia, Poland

My mother is Polish and we travel to Poland together quite often so that she can fill both her suitcase and mine with Polish products (did anyone say vodka?), magazines, cheaper clothes (than back home in Norway) and shoes and whatever else she wants to take home with her. When we’re not busy shopping, we head down to the nearest spa and get ourselves some nice massages and manicures and go out for lunch and cocktails. In other words, the ultimate mother-daughter vacations. While we usually go to Krakow or Warsaw, we once decided to check out the Baltic coast for a change and spend two weeks sunbathing, swimming and having fun in the sun in Gdynia, Sopot and Gdansk. While for the most part, we did have a lot of fun, there were quite a lot of old people there ready to make sure I wasn’t gonna be TOO happy or have TOO much fun. Because I am tattooed. And tattooed people shouldn’t be smiling. They should be ashamed. As much as I can deal with people staring at me and whispering, or even saying something along the lines of “your arms are ugly”, I couldn’t hold back my tears when an old lady screamed “Such a beautiful young woman, ruined. You have destroyed your body. No one will love you now. You are a disgrace. You will burn in hell” and my mother, who understood absolutely everything, translated the parts I didn’t understand. Not only did the old lady ruin my day, but she also upset my mother.

“I’m sure you’re crazy, spontaneous and up for anything in the bedroom” – Random guy, Oslo, Norway

Let’s just get one thing straight. Walking up to a person in a bar and randomly start licking their arm without even saying “hello” first, is totally unacceptable and frankly just messed up. Who does that? Oh, right. Because I have tattoos, you have the privilege to touch, kiss, bite or lick them as much as you want, within seconds on laying your eyes on them. Random people touching my tattoos when I’m out somewhere getting drunk with my friends, is something I’ve actually gotten used to. Yes. I’ve gotten used to weirdos touching my arms without my consent. However, what I didn’t expect was that one time when I went to a bar in Oslo and some random guy started licking(!) my arm. Not only did he lick my arm, but he also said something along the lines of “I’m sure you’re crazy, spontaneous and up for anything in the bedroom. I mean, your tattoos. They’re hot. I’m sure you’re really kinky”. Last time I checked, flowers, butterflies and random stars and candy doesn’t exactly scream kink. Let’s just assume he was fifty shades of drunk.

“Oh…Wow…I have to go” – Scared woman, resort, French Countryside

My partner and I often book romantic weekend-getaways to maintain the spark in our relationship. I guess that’s why we’re still madly in love with each other and happier than ever, despite our differences. He’s sort of conservative and is not at all a tattoo-enthusiast, nor was he ever a big fan of mine, and  you know what? I’m totally cool with that. Traveling with someone like me, has its consequences, though. Just like my mother, my boyfriend has also witnessed quite a lot of mean stares, bad comments and strange reactions. Like the one time, when we had a couple’s massage and the masseuse asked me a whole lot of questions about my tattoos, and that time when we had a lovely conversation with a lady by the resort pool, while I was still wearing my bathrobe. As soon as I took off my bathrobe and got into the pool, her eyes were on my tattoos and she had a look of fear and disgust on her face. “Oh… Wow.. I have to go” she mumbled, and took off faster than I could say “well, it was nice talking to you”.

“Oh no, this is not nice. Not nice at all. You’re a woman. This is ugly” – Pool Attendant, Punta Cana, Dominican Republic

A few years ago, my boyfriend and I traveled to the Dominican Republic and stayed at an all-inclusive resort. Although I’m not much of a fan of organized trips and the concept of all-inclusive, I couldn’t say no when my boyfriend showed me the gorgeous photos of the hotel’s amazing swimming pools. Most of the staff was extremely friendly towards me and I had a great time talking to them while we were staying at the resort. The exception was the female pool attendant who was in charge of the towels one day when I went to drop off our used ones and replace them with new ones. Before receiving any towels, I had to stand there and listen to her criticize my look. She looked at me, shook her head and said; “Oh no, this is not nice. Not nice at all. You’re a woman. This is ugly. Why are you doing this, girl? It’s ugly!” she said and laughed in my face. After she was done mocking me, she finally gave me those towels.

“I’ve never fucked a girl with tattoos before” – Random guy, Orlando, Florida, US

First of all, let me apologize for using the F-word. I hate that word and would never have used it if it wasn’t to directly quote someone. Why should I censor what people say to me? It’s them who should have censored themselves before spitting out such nonsense in the first place. And we all know drunk people talk a lot of BS. Especially when trying to impress a woman. How on earth that stranger  in Orlando believed that saying “I’ve never fucked a girl with tattoos before” would ever get him any luck, is beyond me. He looked me in the eyes and probably waited for me to say something corny like “You poor thing! Let me change that for you!”. Instead, I turned around and ignored him the rest of the evening.


Please note that I’ve also encountered a lot of lovely people from all around the world who had nothing but nice things to say about my tattoos. The issue is simply just that the rude people are generally those who talk loudest – and are sadly also the ones who leave the biggest mark.

Have you ever experienced tattoo discrimination? Share your story in the comment section below!



30 thoughts on “Tattoo discrimination and traveling: Do I deserve to be ridiculed and harassed?

  1. I never would have thought that you would get comments like these! I am beyond shocked, upset and sort of confused. Why would people say that?!
    It is up to a person if they want a tattoo or not. And it doesn’t matter if it is a star, memorial or “kiss my ass”. Just because you get a tattoo is the same as getting a nose job. Doesn’t give anyone the right to comment on it.
    Be yourself girl and stand up for what you believe is right. I know it’s hurtful, but it’s still Your life ♡

    1. Yeah, sadly there are people in the world who feel like they’re entitled to say whatever they want as long as they’re “only” taking it out on people they view as “lower” than themselves. Uniqueness is praised by some and frowned upon by others. That’s just how it is.

  2. Arghhhh this is so frustrating. I am annoyed on your behalf. I have tattoos too and haven’t experienced anything like the level of discrimination you have. I don’t like people touching my tattoos without my consent or the people who think that just because you have tattoos you automatically want to see theirs and they start unbuttoning their shirt. “I don’t understand how hard it is to have a nice conversation like, I love your tattoo, where did you get it done?” One time a friend was on the train with a man openly staring at her leg and when she told him to stop, he said, “well why would you get a tattoo there if you didn’t want people to stare?” MAYBE BECAUSE SHE LIKES IT THERE, JEEZ. Though on the positive side, one of the travel shows I went to this year, when I was leaving (wearing a jumper), the security dude came up to me and was like, “you’ve got a space tattoo right? I wanted to ask where you got it done?” And he must have remembered me from walking in (though I definitely didn’t speak to him) and then thought that he must ask me afterwards – I was there for like 8 hours, was so impressed with his memory lol.

  3. Wow I can’t believe some of these comments! I’ve been asked what the appeal is behind tattoos too, but beyond that and just glares/disapproving looks from strangers, I see I’ve been quite fortunate. If someone has tattoos it literally only means one thing for sure – that they like tattoos!

  4. I had to sit there at work once and listen to an older man go on about how his daughter was a silly girl who was ruining her life because she wanted to get tattoos and dye her hair. Meanwhile I’m sitting there with blue hair and a half sleeve just in shock he thought it was ok to say this shit! I was wearing a long sleeved shirt and the next day (even though it was too cold) I wore a short sleeve shirt. He looked at me for a few minutes and then mumbled “nice tattoos” and avoided me for the rest of the day! I regret not standing up for myself but I was so takenaback. I’m a grown woman who has a career and an education – clearly piercings, tattoos and blue hair hasn’t held me back – but his daughter was a silly woman for doing the same thing! Poor girl, so glad my dad isn’t like that!

  5. Interesting post. It is strange indeed that people have so many things to say to people with tattoos! … I don’t have any tattoos but I have never felt uncomfortable or weird or lucky for that matter around people with tattoos! .. I think yu should ignore people who are not nice to you! I loved to read your experiences though :)….

    1. I don’t get those kinda nasty comments often, but it happens. I do get a lot of compliments as well, too. So don’t be scared of getting tattoos done if you want them 🙂 just carry them with pride and be aware of the fact that some people might be offended (especially old people).

  6. I’ve actually have the opposite, whenever I travel people of other cultures love my tattoos. Even when I went to Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Thailand, Paris etc. However, my grandmother who now has Alzheimers is so mean about my tattoos. She calls me a thug and says I look ugly and why did I do this to myself. I always tell her “I don’t care what people think” and she usually stops.

    You’re a beautiful girl and you shouldn’t have to regret your choices. For me, getting tattooed helped me become myself more fully.

    I hope the world opens up to you, you deserve smiles and appreciation!

    1. I get a lot of positive attention as well, but the negative attention is generally louder and more expressive, if I can put it that way. I’ve never been to Dubai or Abu Dhabi – and I’m glad to hear they’re not generally negative about tattoos over there 🙂

  7. I am a huge fan of tattoos! I don’t have any myself, but my boyfriend has a lot and we have never encountered any problems. However, we have traveled to a lot more liberal places. It’s so sad that people are always so quick to judge over something so silly!

  8. Wow! I don’t have tattoos, but do have multiple ear piercings and a fondness for brightly-coloured hair. And I would never expect to receive the comments you have, not in western cultures. I guess it goes to show that rudeness is universal… sorry you have to deal with it, but well done for being you!

  9. This is so rude! I can’t believe that people think it’s ok to give their opinion on something which should be none of their bloody business 😡

  10. Ugh, disgusting those comments you’ve gotten… I totally agree with you; in Japan, Korea and Arab country f.ex those comments would be understandable but come on, in places like Poland and even Norway (I’ve lived there too and found the people some of the most open minded ones I’ve ever met) comments like that cannot be accepted.
    When will people start minding their own business…
    Thanks for sharing this. People without tattoos, like me, should know how it is like too.

  11. I’m actually quite shocked at some of these. I’m tattooed myself but mine aren’t as visible – tattoo discrimination in the workplace means I’d potentially lose the job I love if I let all my inky daydreams become a reality! I had no idea about Japan… I’d have thought they’d be more open what with their vibrant culture. I’m utterly disgusted by the sexual harassment you’ve received because of your tattoos. I’ve experienced a mild version of it when I used to use dating sites – people assumed I was “wild” because I had crazy hair and heavy makeup. When are people going to realise that aesthetic preferences have very little to do with sexual character?! I really hope you don’t have to experience any more discrimination by these small minded people. You seem to me to be a very kindhearted and warm person, and personally I really like your tattoos. Easier said than done, I guess, but try to ignore the hurtful comments.

    1. Yeah, I remember when I was single and used dating sites it was the same. I always loved to experiment with makeup, and I have my tattoos, soooo guys assumed I was just “looking for a good time”. Sadly this doesn’t only happen to women. I have a friend who dumped a guy who was heavily tattooed, muscular and had a shaved head – because he wasn’t the “bad boy” she thought he’d be. He was romantic, kind and worshipped the ground she walked on… But that wasn’t what she wanted from him..

  12. I have a tattoo but as mine is on my back it’s pretty easy to cover, but I do have to be careful with what swimwear I take with me. The tattoo is of a flower, paw prints and the names of my two dogs that have now passed. I haven’t had comments to your extent but I’m very aware of having the tattoo when I travel

  13. Wow – that’s insane! I’m so sad to hear that this happened to you so many times. There’s a huge different between a cultural apprehension towards tattoos and being a straight-up dick! I’ve never had any similar experiences, but I only have to small tattoos on my forearm & collarbone. I had no idea that tattoos were banned in public places in Japan – good to know for when me and my partner go there eventually!

  14. I did wonder why you had them covered up in Barcelona. Even with long sleeves all the time I saw them, now I understand a little more. Personally, I think it’s a generational thing! And at times a religious one. I wouldn’t have one, lots of people my age have and my ‘ daughter in law’ has – each to their own!

    Not the same at all, but 20+ years ago when I was in my 30s I had very grey hair. Hating chemicals I didn’t and don’t dye it but the looks I got here in rural Spain where everyone dyes/dyed their hair made me instantly a foreigner/odd. Now I love the fact that I’m always ‘abnormal’ therefore they don’t bother talking about me!

    Go girl, cover or show – the choice is yours. Maybe you’ll have cover days and bare all days and that’s cool too. We are human after all.

    1. Sometimes I cover them up to avoid the sun, other times to avoid attention. Depends 🙂 Yeah, I got my first grey hairs 5 years ago. I was so embarrassed back then. Now I don’t care that much, but still use semi permanent organic haircolor to cover them 🙂

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