In Defense of The 2000s Tramp Stamp: A Short Essay

The writer's conspicuous "tramp stamp."

The writer's conspicuous "tramp stamp."

When I got this tattoo 17 years ago, there was no such thing as a "tramp stamp." Instead, there was wisdom—pick a place that won't stretch or spread as your body changes. If you can't see the tattoo every day, you won’t get sick of it. Make sure it's meaningful to you. Check, check, check.

At the time, pre-Yelp—pre-internet really—it was a whispered secret. I remember clutching a bar napkin in my hand as I walked down the cobblestone streets in the weird time machine maze that are the streets adjacent to the French Quarter. I remember fingering what I hoped would be enough cash, hard-earned babysitting money tucked into a baby backpack (like, an original.) I remember talking to the artist, the way his old-fashioned ink pen scratched the design onto the transfer paper. 

I also remember skipping the infamous Tri-Delt "red tide" foam/jello/punch party, for fear of infecting my healing skin.*

I know I was aware of the shift in the cultural gestalt towards this concept of "tramp stamp," even if back then I was too wrapped up in my own 18-year-old self-esteem problems to truly dissect where the feelings were coming from. Never a thong fan, my "whale tail" was etched forever onto my skin, constantly peeking out from the micro-rise jeans we favored in the early aughts and how suddenly that became an invitation.

I remember blushing as I tried to justify my choice to strange men who viewed it as a target sign on my ass.

I remember learning with my tall, busty frame that I could wear dresses from Forever 21 as shirts so that nobody could ever see it. 


If I take the "connotations" of the lower back placement out of the equation, I think it perfectly suits the curves of my body. I do not see it as erotic, but more like something watching over and protecting me from the base of my spine, the place through which my spine extends upward to hold my head high. Unlike some people who imagine wings extending from their shoulder blades, I always felt like if I really wanted to fly, I'd want my wings placed someplace more central, like at the place where I bend when I fold myself into a stretch. 

I hid the tattoo for close to two decades because I didn't feel like offering up something that would make the target on my body even larger. I even went so far as to photoshop it out of photos.

And then someone took this picture of me, and I decided basically, fu*k it. 

There is nothing that I can put onto or take off my body that implies "trampiness" (what does this even mean? Easy? I am definitely not easy). If there is any part of my body that should express sexual willingness it should be my mouth, with my words. This place where I took the picture above is ridiculously beautiful. The whole canyon echoes with the sound of a crashing river. The 2001 Comic Sans website proudly proclaims that the water is not colored or enhanced. That its bright blue hue is all natural. It can be bought all over the country in bottles, and swimming in it is as sweet and clear and blue as anything you could find). Here is where I take my stand. 


* Still pretty proud of this decision to this day. 

Dena Smith is the creator of Leo Oil and a beauty blogger on her blog, Leo with Cancer. Diagnosed with cancer at the age of 28, Dena writes about "beauty" from a place of balance, care, and science. She's written for and been featured in Into the GlossLenny LetterRefinery 29People, and Self