The 'Tramp Stamp' Story

Is lower-back ink sexy or slutty?

By Amy Saltzman
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 18 | Posted May. 12, 2009

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With all due respect to tramping and stamping in other contexts, I can’t help but be intrigued by the fuss over the tattoo on the lower back—the kind that sits right above the waistline of a pair of jeans.

The so-called tramp stamp is considered alternately sexy or vulgar, depending on who’s looking at it. Sometimes it’s seen as scandalous: Dancing With the Stars contestant Melissa Rycroft’s back tattoo was covered with tacky, sequined stickers on the show so people wouldn’t see it. There are aggressive Facebook groups with titles like “‘Is that a bedsore, Grandma?’ ‘No, sweetie, it’s my tramp stamp’” and “Tramp Stamps are the mark of the Beast.”

Why the special term? And why the fuss?

Tracy Messina, a resident of Queen Village whose squid tattoo straddles the tramp stamp region, suggests that lower back tattoos have become pick-up lines in their own right, riding the waves of today’s fashion trends.

“I think it has a lot to do with low-rise pants,” says Messina. “It’s a good opportunity for women to flirt and be coy about it.”

Charles D. Brank, CEO of the tattoo magazine Prick, says, “It went from being something that crude men tagged on as a catchy phrase for what the tattoo is, to something that women almost embrace at this point.”

Websites like Trampstampnation.net project pride in body ink and encourage members to sign up and post their personal tramp-stamp photos. There’s even a shout-out to “those of us that might be a little conservative” to join the website and live vicariously through proud tramp-stamp owners.

But for Fishtown resident Jen Spencer, the tattoo’s slang name brought up a different emotion: horror.

“I thought, ‘Oh my god. My dad is gonna hear that name and he knows I have a lower back tattoo,’” says Spencer, who wasn’t aware of the term “tramp stamp” until after she got inked there.

While in cases like Spencer’s, tattoo terminology might cause a harmless misunderstanding, there is such a thing as trying to strike gold a little too young. Mattel came under fire in early March of this year for releasing a Totally Stylin’ Tattoos Barbie doll that came with more than 40 temporary tattoos. Yet that’s nothing compared to Dolltattoos.com, which customizes tattoos for Barbie and Ken. And yes, the site has 15 varieties of classic “tramp stamp” designs, labeled as such.

Jessica Sweeney of Chalfont got her lower back tattoo when she was 17, but has some reservations about whether she would allow her child to get a tattoo that young.

“I don’t know if I would do it again, honestly,” Sweeney says. “But at the same time it represents that time in my life, so I can accept it.”

Maybe there is some legitimacy to the arguments of concerned parents whose little girls can’t quite figure out their multiplication tables yet but have somehow managed to tattoo a butterfly on their backs. After all, a back tattoo on that smooth, wide slope of undisturbed epidermis can be quite suggestive.

“I’ve seen women that have tattooed instructions there,” says Brank. “You know—‘Property of ... ’ with somebody’s name there.”

For Messina, her sea creature tattoo—inspired by the Clive Barker book Arabat—was a matter of artistic convenience rather than sex appeal. Since the tentacles of her squid spread out horizontally, the lower back seemed like the most logical place to get it.

Whatever the choice, most tattoo artists have seen it all, and when it comes to tramp stamps, they’re not out to judge.

“I think there are a lot of worse things that girls can do these days when it comes to tattoos,” says Don “MF” Juan, a tattoo artist at Philadelphia Eddie’s Tattoo Haven. And having an understanding artist can make all the difference.

“I tend to judge other people’s tattoos because they don’t do enough research about it and don’t think about it enough,” says Messina, who has gotten seven of her eight tattoos done by the same tattoo artist. “I don’t think anybody should just walk into the nearest tattoo parlor without knowing the person.”

Yet Spencer, who got her tattoo on a whim after quitting a job she hated, describes the experience as “liberating” and doesn’t regret her quick decision. Under the orchid tattoo on her back, Spencer chose to include the Chinese characters that symbolize “free spirit.”

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COMMENTS

Comments 1 - 18 of 18
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1. Anonymous said... on May 13, 2009 at 10:32AM

“Hilarious and true! Very well written!”

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2. S Crow said... on May 13, 2009 at 11:49AM

“this is M-azing”

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3. S Crow said... on May 13, 2009 at 11:49AM

“this is M-azing”

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4. Anonymous said... on May 13, 2009 at 08:23PM

“i loved it!”

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5. Anonymous said... on May 14, 2009 at 11:31PM

“This was awesome.. so true, and amazingly written...
What else did she write”

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6. Anonymous said... on May 15, 2009 at 12:38AM

“amazingly written and soooo true”

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7. Karen Lee said... on May 16, 2009 at 10:33AM

“Great article! I have my own lower back tattoo that I had done before it was called a tramp-stamp. It took me forever to research what it would be. Then years later when someone called it a tramp-stamp, I was horrified. Mainly because a tattoo is a form of self-expression and now my tattoo was lumped into a group. Whatever. The lower back is still the best place for discreet expression. Stamp-on girlfriends!”

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8. Christina said... on May 20, 2009 at 08:19AM

“soo true. sweet job.”

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9. Tom said... on May 20, 2009 at 08:20PM

“don't worry lady everyone regrets tattoos if you waited until now to get one you would of never got one”

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10. VeraLynn said... on Jun 12, 2009 at 03:02PM

“Excellent article! I’m glad I stumbled upon it. Karen Lee, same story here!
I was actually looking on-line to see when the term “tramp stamp” came about and found this article, anyway, I’m in the office the other day when we got to talking about tattoos – when one women said how much she “hated them and talk about big non- removable regrets”, I return with, I love mine, no regrets. She proceeds to ask what and where they are, I have one on my foot and another on my lower back – she actually liked the one on my foot and before she could say anything about the one on my lower back two other “ladies” that I work with just stood there and repeated “tramp stamp” over and over like a pair of two year olds. This frustrated me, I exclaimed, the tattoo came long before the term “tramp stamp” (not sure if that is true or not, certain I didn’t start hearing the term till fairly recently). Funny enough, (to me anyway) one of them has a rose that looks like it is a rub on, on her ankle and the o”

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11. VeraLynn said... on Jun 12, 2009 at 03:08PM

“one of them has a rose that looks like it is a rub on, on her ankle and the other girl has Tweety bird in her crotch! I can’t decide witch is worse!!! I believe that the body art you chose for yourself is self expression and to each their own… but if my dolphins are trampy, what the heck is Tweety? Where is Sylvester?!?! sry the above got cut off??”

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12. VeraLynn said... on Jun 12, 2009 at 03:08PM

“one of them has a rose that looks like it is a rub on, on her ankle and the other girl has Tweety bird in her crotch! I can’t decide witch is worse!!! I believe that the body art you chose for yourself is self expression and to each their own… but if my dolphins are trampy, what the heck is Tweety? Where is Sylvester?!?! sry the above got cut off??”

Report Violation

13. VeraLynn said... on Jun 12, 2009 at 03:09PM

“one of them has a rose that looks like it is a rub on, on her ankle and the other girl has Tweety bird in her crotch! I can’t decide witch is worse!!! I believe that the body art you chose for yourself is self expression and to each their own… but if my dolphins are trampy, what the heck is Tweety? Where is Sylvester?!?!”

Report Violation

14. VeraLynn said... on Jun 12, 2009 at 03:09PM

“one of them has a rose that looks like it is a rub on, on her ankle and the other girl has Tweety bird in her crotch! I can’t decide witch is worse!!! I believe that the body art you chose for yourself is self expression and to each their own… but if my dolphins are trampy, what the heck is Tweety? Where is Sylvester?!?!”

Report Violation

15. VeraLynn said... on Jun 12, 2009 at 03:09PM

“one of them has a rose that looks like it is a rub on, on her ankle and the other girl has Tweety bird in her crotch! I can’t decide witch is worse!!! I believe that the body art you chose for yourself is self expression and to each their own… but if my dolphins are trampy, what the heck is Tweety? Where is Sylvester?!?!”

Report Violation

16. VeraLynn said... on Jun 12, 2009 at 03:09PM

“one of them has a rose that looks like it is a rub on, on her ankle and the other girl has Tweety bird in her crotch! I can’t decide witch is worse!!! I believe that the body art you chose for yourself is self expression and to each their own… but if my dolphins are trampy, what the heck is Tweety? Where is Sylvester?!?!”

Report Violation

17. VeraLynn said... on Jun 12, 2009 at 03:10PM

“one of them has a rose that looks like it is a rub on, on her ankle and the other girl has Tweety bird in her crotch! I can’t decide witch is worse!!! I believe that the body art you chose for yourself is self expression and to each their own… but if my dolphins are trampy, what the heck is Tweety? Where is Sylvester?!?!”

Report Violation

18. annette said... on Feb 7, 2012 at 06:46PM

“i still think tramp stamps r sexy;)
nd none of dis will make me change my mind..”

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