Stop calling lower back tattoos tramp stamps

Illustration: Alex Gomez· The Sentry

Illustration: Alex Gomez· The Sentry
Tattoos are not a statement on sexuality

Lower back tattoos initially became popular for women because it’s an area that one covers in a professional setting but also because low-rise jeans were in style in the late 90s and early 2000s. As a result, women could cover these tattoos for work but show them off when they were out with friends.

It was also sometime during this period that lower back tattoos became known as “tramp stamps” in popular slang. This is because this area was considered “erotic” or indicated promiscuity.

This “tramp stamp” label became so predominant that it’s even a joke in the 2005 film Wedding Crashers, when Vince Vaughn’s character sees a woman with a crop top and lower back tattoo and says, “Might as well be a bullseye.” This is a hypocritical statement coming from a character who regularly shows up uninvited to strangers’ weddings to find women to have one-night stands with.

The term “tramp stamp” reflects cultural anxieties about women who don’t conform to traditional beauty standards and women expressing their sexuality. 

In general, women with tattoos frequently receive comments about how their tattoos are “unladylike” or are questioned regarding why they would get a tattoo when it “doesn’t go” with formal wear or feminine clothing. Very similar comments are made to women who choose to dye their hair a vibrant color or get facial piercings. All these comments are methods of putting women down for not appearing in a way that’s traditionally feminine or appealing to strangers.

On the other end of the spectrum of inappropriate comments, women with tattoos also experience “tatt calling,” receiving unwanted comments or even unwanted touching of their tattoos from strangers. Unnecessarily eroticizing women with tattoos and using terms like “tramp stamp” encourage problematic behaviors, like street harassment.

Unfortunately, this term has dissuaded many women from otherwise getting a lower back tattoo. Even so, women getting a new tattoo often tell friends and family members, “Don’t worry, it’s not a tramp stamp.” However, there are many logical reasons why someone might choose to get a lower back tattoo. It is an area that is very easy to cover in a professional setting (or hide from disapproving family members). It’s also an area with relatively low body fat, so a tattoo there is less likely to get misshapen over time. 

But the point is, people shouldn’t be shamed for their personal choice of where to place their tattoo, especially in an area strangers can’t even see a lot of the time anyway. 

The term “tramp stamp” and other inappropriate comments to women with tattoos reflects an antiquated mentality. Tattoos are becoming increasingly popular in the United States, especially among millennials and Generation Z. According to a 2015 Harris Poll, 47 percent of 18 to 35-year-olds have at least one tattoo, compared to just 13 percent of baby boomers. So, for people who don’t like women having tattoos, including lower back tattoos, they’ll only be seeing more and more of them in the coming years.


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