On a recent episode of Real Housewives of New York, new addition Leah McSweeney found herself vehemently defending her tattoos to a group of women who have never in their lives had tattoos nor considered them. Though the Chanel logo that McSweeney has on her hand is clearly the most egregious of all her work, the housewives were the most upset by her lower back tattoo, which reads “LEAH” in all-capital letters. As a tattoo choice, this is not the most inspired, but the brouhaha that resulted from this revelation is worth further consideration. The lower back tattoo has persisted as a source of embarrassment and secret shame for years, but now, maybe it’s time to bring it back.
Logistically, a lower back tattoo makes sense. Not everyone wants to advertise the fact that they have tattoos, nor do they want to have their first be enormous or entirely visible. The bold who walk among us may enter a tattoo shop completely unadorned and exit with the beginnings of a full sleeve, but for everyone else who wants to just get a music note or some butterflies or whatever inked on their body permanently for funsies, the lower back is a good a place as any? There’s a lot of real estate there, and aesthetically, it’s a nice spot. Imagine, if you will, the delicate arch of a bower of roses spreading over the low back, brushing the neighborhood of your booty cheeks. It’s somehow less obvious than the arm, the leg, or the ribcage, and therefore, sort of fun. If we’re going to dredge up every terrible trend from the late ’90s, like square-toed sandals, then we might as well go all the way, baby, and get “carpe diem” inked on the bod permanently for some, but not all, to see.
The popularity of the tramp stamp and its dubious rise to infamy is linked to another nefarious trend, the low-rise pant, which is attempting to make a comeback. Tattoo trends as of late have skewed towards the dainty and the delicate—flowers, cursive, hazy triangles, evil eyes. But a lower back tattoo of any sort, in 2020, is more transgressive than a regular tattoo precisely because of its declassé origins—a very Female Chauvinist Pigs repsonse to something that doesn’t really matter, but is still worth your consideration.
An essay in Racked written in 2015 argues that the lower back tattoo paved the way for larger, mainstream tattoo acceptance, while stating that the patriarchy is the real reason for any attendant shame. For a long time, lower back tattoos were seen as shorthand for promiscuity or sexual availability: a bullseye for potential lovers at best and an embarrassment at worst. But the lower back tattoo’s implications are all the more reason to just get one if that’s what you want, because I’d like to think that we have moved past this sort of insipid shaming and that those that walk amongst us with a tribal tattoo spreading their rebellious antlers over the small of the back have gotten over themselves and have moved on to other, more pressing matters.
Reclaiming the lower back tattoo is, for me, an acceptable way of processing the miasma of performative and false horniness that currently subsumes the culture. Everyone wants to fuck and seemingly can’t stop talking about it, but if a lower back tattoo is a tacit advertisement of that fact, why not just embrace it? Say what you will about the sartorial stylings of the contestants of Rock of Love, but do not overlook the fact that those women had a sense of fun and adventure that was evidenced both in their wardrobe choices and their decision to appear on a reality show competing for the leathery hand of Bret Michaels. That’s the sort of verve I want to take into whatever garbage this world will throw at me, and I suggest embodying some of that spirit whenever you’re able.
But really, a lower back tattoo is a nice fuck-you to any preconcieved sense of propriety and taste! If the tattoo of your dreams is a photorealistic Cellino and Barnes billboard that spans the breadth of your lower back, just a few inches above the crack, go forth. Maybe, now, a lower back tattoo doesn’t scream ‘CUM ON MY BACK’ and instead, whispers, “I truly don’t care.”