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!