Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The Tattooed Doula

I like tattoos. Always have, always will. I can't tell you when my appreciation began but the fact is that I now have three and will have more. The first two I have are small black and grey and not very "conspicuous" you might say, but they are very meaningful. For my 40th Birthday I decided to get the tattoo I have wanted for a very long time. I found an artist I felt good about, put much thought into the design and now I have a beautiful coloured half sleeve that I love.

I never felt much either way about how people might perceive me knowing I had tattoos. I mean I understand that for years people associated them with "bikers" and other wild personalities, but honestly they really have become mainstream by now with so many people getting them these days it is hardly shocking to see.

The funny thing about getting a tattoo of this size is how much of a social experiment it can be. I mean people that already knew me for awhile were not at all shocked, but it took others by surprise. These were mainly customers at the store and other people that I knew but didn't see often. The typical reaction was "Wow, you have a tattoo?" and the facial expressions were mixed. Would they think differently about me now? I could have had the tattoo for years for all they knew, but somehow "seeing" it potentially put me into a different light. The large majority of them were very positive though.

For people that like tattoos or had their own it served as a discussion point. They would admire the work, ask about the design etc. and talk about their own tattoo story. Other people commented on how I didn't seem like the type to have a tattoo, whatever that means and others would notice it and look visibly uncomfortable. I generally accept that people are curious, and yes there are those that just don't appreciate the art, but I have never felt "judged" by my tattoo. That is until a recent trip to Las Vegas for the ABC kids expo. Now it wasn't dramatic or blatant or anything just that I was a little more aware of what having a large tattoo means as far as the attention is gets.

As I went from booth to booth chatting with vendors and looking at the products I began to see a pattern. As I approached, one of two things happened depending in whether or not they noticed the tattoo before we started chatting or during our conversation. For those that noticed it right off they would either continue to initiate the conversation and as we chatted get warmer or they would be very short in conversation and not put out warm vibes so to speak. The rudest were the ones who noticed the tattoo and lacked the social etiquette to hide their reaction to it ( body language wise if you know what I mean). Let's just say those conversations were short. For those that noticed it well into our conversation it didn't seem to affect our interaction very much. Some would carry on like nothing and others would ask me about it.

This experience got me thinking about how one's appearance has the potential to affect their work life. It reminded me of when was younger and decided to get my nose pierced over 20 years ago now. I was told in dental assisting school that I would have to remove it or no dentist would hire me. Not wanting to reduce my chances for a job I obliged. I wonder if that still holds true today? Tattoos and piercings are fashionable now with many people sporting skin art and body jewelry. I bet plenty are dentists. Well, maybe not "plenty". The question is how does this affect peoples perceptions. Does the number of tattoos or piercings play a role and if so, what is considered acceptable?

I wonder if a tattooed doula could potentially not be hired because of her skin art? I mean imagine having a long telephone conversation with a women discussing her wishes and how they can work together to make the birth as positive as possible. The woman feels very comfortable with her philosophy and experience and is confident in her abilities and then she meets her face to face. Tattoos can be visible or invisible depending on the location of the tattoo and what you are wearing, but let's just say that at least a few are obvious in this example. Can you imagine how sad it would be if this initially positive relationship ended due to the appearance of the doula. A warm, competent doula who happens to sport tattoos might not be hired due to her appearance.

Okay I know that first impressions are important, but if the first impression over the phone was excellent then I guess there is very much a difference between first impressions and "visual" first impressions. It just got me wondering about my doula colleagues with tattoos and what their experiences might be. I have had plenty of client's with tattoos over the years and more than a few with various piercings. I can safely say that even if I didn't appreciate tattoos it wouldn't have meant anything either way about how I felt about them personally. With any luck a good match between a tattooed doula and her potential client's will be the same. I know plenty of beautiful tattooed doulas who Iwould welcome at my birth.

Peace Out,



  1. I know I have hear "I didn't know people like you could be good mothers" and from the ER receptionist, checking me in with pre-term labour "How are You going to kiss your baby with that thing in your lip?"
    So I know the rudeness and misjudgment abounds. I have also hear from well meaning friends, "I don't even notice the stuff in your face anymore..."
    So welcome to the club, I guess.
    As far as the doula perception goes, we all make a mental picture of people we first meet over the phone, and sometimes the phone pic doesn't match what's in our heads. Will that sometimes break the relationship, maybe. It could be tattoos, or age, or manner of dress.
    But I love your tattoo Tracey and nuts to the small minded who can't get over themselves to meet the person under the art!

  2. Lee-Ann my tattoo hasn't affected me personally, but I often wonder if it could have when I was working full time as a doula.

    It isn't always visible so often people don't even know about it until I wear a short sleeve shirt.

    Funny how people lack the intelligence to edit before they open their mouths. "How are you going to kiss your baby with that thing in your lip" honestly!!

    The impression someone has over the phone can perhaps be over ridden by the visual appearance of a person. It is kind of sad.

  3. Hey Tracey. Judgement just speaks to the ignorance of so many. As you know, tatoos are such a rite of passage and honor to so many in the world.
    As far as the phone conversation scenario, as a visible minority Doula I live that experience everyday, but I have come to realize that when an expectant mom "connects" with you through phone conversation, something magical takes place. You could be pink with blue polka dots and it wouldn't matter!
    Great article!

  4. Monica, has your doula work been affected by your skin colour? I have heard stories about American doulas experiencing discrimination.

    Well, you and I both know the connection is either there or it is not no matter what. This is the most important thing :)

  5. Interesting reading your post. I personally would refuse to be treated by a dentist or dental assistant with facial piercings becasue to me that says you like pain. I also plain and simple, get grossed out by them and will not pat to get an up close view of them for the duration of my teethg cleaning. On theat same note, I would not see a dentist or hygenist who has a full beard, grosses me out, triggers me. MY choice. My values. Becasue I am paying, I get to choose who I hire.

    I vehemently support your right to have all the tattoos that you want but you also have to understand that other have the right to express thier opinion based on their feelings and comfort level. It's not necesasrily being small minded or judgemental, it's just personal comfort. I don't like seeing you slam others for not accepting you and you are doing the same to them. You like tattoos, they don't; what makes you more right? You don't want anyone telling you what to do with your body, why should you set the parameters for others? What sense of entitlement gives you this "right"? Comparing being rejected for tattoo's to skin colour is way off target and rites of passage in other countries is really moot unless you come from those other countries.

    I would also never hire anyone with tattoos that cannot be consealed during work hours. As my employee, you represent me and my company and directly impact the success or lack of same. Becasue I cannot tell one employee that the cute daisy is Ok and tell the next that the grim reaper or the LOVE/ HATE knuckles are not I keep a single standard. Getting tattoos is a choice; you have one and so does everyone else in how they accept/deal with you. The statement you are making may not be something others want to hear; and that is theri choice which I fully support. It is a beautiful tat : ).

  6. Hi JLB,

    Thanks for your insight into this question, it offers another perspective that I think many people would share with you.

    Absolutely it is everyone's right to choose who they want to work with for whatever reason they choose. Ideally both are comfortable.

    Regarding your comment: "I don't like seeing you slam others for not accepting you and you are doing the same to them. You like tattoos, they don't; what makes you more right? You don't want anyone telling you what to do with your body, why should you set the parameters for others? What sense of entitlement gives you this "right"?

    I didn't slam anyone in my post, suggest any parameters for anyone or call anyone small minded, just pondering based on my recent experience is all.

    The question really is... people can like a person and feel good about them and if they discover they have tattoos does that change?

  7. I find tattoos a beautiful expression and would feel very comfortable with a tattood doula. Specifically I feel doulas are still on the "cutting edge" of birth/woman care (although y understanding of the practice is that it is ancient). Being cutting edge, to me, means you think outside the box, the norm, the standard... tattoos reflect that to me - they tell me you are comfortable with expression and with your body. Two important things I need from my doula.

    The bond I form, or my decision to hire a doula would not be negatively impacted by tattoos. It may, rather, solidify my decision to hire her.


  8. I would hire a tattooed doula. I'm pretty sure the fact that I have a tattoo doesn't influence that decision, it would be more about who I meshed with the doula and how passionate she was about birth and supporting my decisions/plans etc.