Why everybody gets "tattooed mormon girl" wrong

I've noticed over the last year or two, lots of posts in the Mormon fbook-social-media-blogosphere regarding "Tattooed Mormon Girl."  I'll go ahead and refer to her as TMG from here on out.  I think that [lots of] Mormons love TMG because she is visual proof that a person's past can be exactly that—just the past.  That anyone can be clean, repent, and leave an old life of sin behind.

TMG gives Mormons [the ones who aren't so uptight and un Christ-like as to shun her outright for covering parts of her temple with [IMO] beautiful artwork] the chance to say, "see?  We include even someone who looks super worldly on the outside, but what really matters is her faith, yadda yadda."  The reason this bothers me, is because it is ultimately a phony sentiment.  So many pat themselves on the back for "looking past" her tattoos.  So you can interact with a tattooed human, and not reduce her to the ink on her arm?  BFD.  Congratulations.  She's a damned convert, and you're not an awful human being.

The convert part is sort of what gets me.  Because seriously—you aren't a good person for not judging her for having tattoos.  You're just not a shitty person.  Because ask yourself this—what if she weren't a convert?  What if she were the same in every respect—spiritual, faithful, intelligent, not-super-evil, etc, but yet had chosen to "graffiti" her temple anyway?  How would you look at her then?

She wouldn't be on the cover of LDS living mag, that's for certain.

I read a blog post written by her husband today that really got under my skin.  I don't know why I read such things, and I really don't know why I even care.  The most bothersome line was as follows:

"How do you look past the tattoos she has, knowing that people will stare?' Some would even applaud me on marrying her, because of her past and how her past is so visual. I mean really? Serious? Hearing that use to bother me. Not once have I ever noticed or even cared that she has tattoos, I just don't see them when I look her. Sure, I know they are there, but its not something I have ever cared about."

Here is the thing.  I get the point he is trying to make—that her tattoos do not define her.  That he looks on her heart, rather than at her skin.  But what he is in reality doing, is not completely accepting his wife for how she is.  If he truly loved all of her, he would very much see them, and love them, because they are a part of her [and they are actually quite beautiful.]  They aren't merely relics of a wicked past. They are a part of who she was, who she is, and what made her the person she is today.  Don't get me wrong—I'm not questioning the guy's love or devotion to his wife.  I simply think that he is misguided in the way he is presenting TMG.  

Instead of being an actually really valuable, progressive teaching lesson: "I love my wife.  She has tattoos.  Also, she is an incredible person.  Her tattoos don't change that, and maybe even add to it," he is reinforcing the very stigma that people who applaud TMG are accidentally not overcoming at all.  Instead of teaching "people can have tattoos, and still be good people, and good Mormons, and it isn't your damned business to judge them anyway," he is teaching "people who got tattoos in their past can be good people and good Mormons, after they repent, and once we can get ourselves to just ignore them and not look at them."

The lesson is really this: nothing has changed.  Tattoos are still stigmatized, and people with them still stigmatized.  Only now some people, instead of looking at them as currently sinful, look at them as proud battle scars of sin.  Proof that bad people can become good.  

So please stop patting yourself on the back for not judging TMG.  If you can get to a point where you can look at her and think, "that is some beautiful artwork on that awesome Mormon girl's arms," then go ahead and start patting.  Because maybe, just maybe, you're starting to set aside meaningless dogma, and getting to the heart of what the gospel is really about—loving one another. 


Lindsay said...

Mormons do think that getting a tattoo is a sin and I don't think anyone is trying to make a statement that tattoos aren't a sin by TMG. It's O.K. for Mormons to think that it's a sin to get a tattoo. You don't have to agree with it. No, I don't think Mormons should treat people who have tattoos bad because getting a tattoo doesn't make you a bad person but I don't think that holding the belief that it isn't Gods desire for you to get a tattoo (or rather, it is a sin to get a tattoo) makes you a bad person either. Her husband has a right to believe that way, and who is to say that she doesn't also believe that way now. People can change and that's what TMG represents. I don't mean to be too terrible. I guess I just get frustrated when I'm generalized for being a member of my church.

As a side note - I strongly disagree with your opinion that you have to accept someones point of view to love them. You don't. I love tons of people and they sin. I love myself and I sin. It doesn't make you a bad person to disagree with someone else's opinion. It doesn't make you a bad person to have your own set of morals, until of course, that means that you are treating other people badly.

Fish Nat!on said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Fish Nat!on said...

You missed the entire point of this. I'm not arguing that mormons shouldn't think that getting a tattoo is a sin (even though I think that is a pretty heavy thing to call it. Is it more sinful to have multiple ear piercings? Why can some mormons get tattoos (polynesians) when others can not? One need not confess a tattoo to a bishop. A tattoo does not bar one from entering the temple. I could go on.)

What I am actually saying, is that it's nobody's business whether or not someone has a tattoo, nor should it be grounds to questions anyone's standing (present or former) in the church. And believing that God isn't stoked on tattoos is very different from the stigmatizing view that someone with a tattoo is bad, or was bad.

I am also not advocating that one must accept someone else's point of view to love them (although you must accept that they have a point of view that might be just as or more valid than your own to love them.) My entire[ly missed] point, is that other peoples' "sins" aren't anyone's damned business. You're still not a good person for not judging TMG for her past "tattoo sins," just like your not a good person for not judging anyone for anything they might have done in the past.

I also never said her husband doesn't have a right to believe the way that he does. He can believe whatever he wants, and can love his wife however he chooses. My only point, was that instead of ignoring something that is a very real part of his wife, and being an example of unconditional love for others who maybe don't fit the perfect, dogmatic, mormon cultural mold, he is perpetuating the exact thing that bothers him- that his wife's tattoos MATTER.

And as to your last comment regarding morals- this matters, because people are treated badly.

Lindsay said...

The title of your blog is “Why everyone gets tattooed mormon girl” wrong,” which intrigued me. I wondered, hmm, am I getting TMG wrong? I thought TMG was pretty straight forward. This then lead me to try to figure out how to get TMG right. I really did spend a bit of time analyzing this post trying to figure out exactly what you meant before I even responded. I’ll admit, I had some trouble identifying how to get her right. The points that I got from you were 1. Why Mormons like TMG (the point made that “anyone can be clean, repent and leave an old life of sin behind.” 2. it’s phony for a Mormon to accept someone who looks super worldly on the outside who has a strong faith (because they have the faith?). Up until this point I was very confused. I couldn’t see how that’s a phony statement, and I couldn’t figure out why you were in a rage for why Mormons like TMG. Then we get to point number 3. Even though Mormons accept TMG, they wouldn’t accept someone else with a tattoo, so therefore their acceptance of TMG is phony. Inferred that from the paragraph where you talk about how they would look at someone who made the cognitive choice to get a tattoo while fully practicing their religion. Which is where I came to the conclusion that you think that it’s phony for a Mormon to accept a Mormon who has previously gotten tattoos and has repented, but not accept an already converted Mormon’s choice in getting a tattoo. Which is why I then responded that the LDS church is in fact against getting a tattoo so it’s really not phony for them to be against someone getting a tattoo who is still “the same in every respect – spiritual, faithful, intelligent, not-super-evil.” And why would you expect the LDS church to feature a mormon getting tattoos if it’s against what they believe in. That’s why, from this post, it sounded a lot to me like you just wanted Mormons to change their beliefs and that it wasn’t enough for them to just be accepting and loving toward people with different beliefs.
As for the statement I made about disagreeing that you have to accept someone’s point of view to love them. That came from this statement “What he is in reality doing, is not completely accepting his wife for how she is. If he truly loved all of her, he would very much see them, and love them, because they are a part of her [and they are actually quite beautiful.]” So here you are literally saying that for him to “truly” love his wife then he has to love her tattoos – even though tattoos are something he’s morally against. I disagree with that, as I said before, I don’t think you have to accept someone’s point of view in order to love them. You said, “instead of ignoring something that is a very real part of his wife, and being an example of unconditional love for others who maybe don’t fit the perfect, dogmatic, Mormon cultural mold, he is perpetuating the exact thing that bothers him – that his wife’s tattoos MATTER.” You’re right, in a way he is perpetuating that his wife’s tattoos matter by addressing the issue, but the thing is it does matter. It does in a sense matter to him because of his religious beliefs, but it doesn’t matter because he knows that she’s a changed person even though she can’t make physical changes to the choices she’s made in the past.
Lastly, I know that people are treated badly, and it’s a shame. But just because people treat other people because said people don’t follow their moral code doesn’t mean that it’s impossible to still have a moral system and not treat people badly. It doesn’t make you a bad person to maintain certain beliefs.
All of this being said, I’m not really even partial to TMG I just had some thoughts about it.

Claire Valene Bagley Hayes said...

All I can think of is... Tatooine.

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