I always loved a tattoo on the lower back. The way it curved across the edge of hips, peeking out from beneath a too-tight t-shirt or brazen along the edge of a bikini bottom. It seemed like every time I saw one, it was whimsical—a fairy or a collection of stars twinkling, butterflies or flowers, occasionally a tribal design. I thought they were sexy. I kind of wanted one. Then, I started hearing this phrase, “tramp stamp.” What did it mean?
Those tattoos I loved across the lower back—perfectly hidden from parents until a trip to the beach—those were considered slutty, a sign of promiscuity and a need to be desired. And, clearly, based on the way the phrase was tossed around, it wasn’t OK to have one—a tramp stamp.
And that, well, it pissed me off. Yeah, I thought, whenever women start to feel a little power, connection even, let’s knock ‘em down. So what if fairies and butterflies and flowers were cliché? Who cares if the tats peeked out when women bent over at the bar on Friday night? But just as I began to get all militant about the rights of women to bare the tramp stamp, and who gives a shit if someone’s a “tramp” anyway, I realized something else: The tramp stamp was for skinny women. Whole websites sprung up to post pictures of fat asses, and berating tramp stamps on fat sluts was part of it. Your fairy would not look good if she was stretched with girth. Flowers would span an ass crack and look more like a blob of color. Tribal tattoos looked good encircling muscle or bone, not stretch marks. Tramp stamps were bad, but a tramp stamp on a fat girl was far worse.
That’s when I got my idea. I would get a tramp stamp. Not a fairy or a butterfly, not a rose garden across the top of my ass. No, I would get a big, fat, pink encased, cherry-on-top cupcake; a fat girl’s tramp stamp.
I started looking for pictures of cupcakes. I was obsessed. One was too cartoon-like, another too fluffy-looking, a third just not pink enough. I googled cupcake pictures all day long. I saw cupcakes with sprinkles, with swirled frosting, with no frosting, with hearts in the frosting, stars sprinkled around the edges, with sayings (“life is sweet”), with names for kids and even one with a unicorn standing nearby. I loved them all. And I just couldn’t decide. I have lots of tattoos, but my fat girl tramp stamp was eluding me, it seemed like it mattered so much. I would be challenging not only fat phobia, but slut-shaming, too. It had to be perfect.
In the meantime, I went with my partner to a tattoo shop. On his inner right forearm, he has a beautiful depiction of Jesus with a crown of thorns, a remnant of his Catholic guilt. It’s surrounded by vines and flowers and he wanted to add a big red beating heart close to his wrist. I was to sign my name. It would be inked in his skin forever, right there with Jesus. It turned me on.
But not as much as my tramp stamp cupcake.
Sitting on the stool in the tattoo shop, practicing my signature for the heart, I started talking with the artist about tramp stamps. “What do you think about tattoos on the lower back? On women?”
He smirked and said, “Yeah, the tramp stamp. They’re always butterflies, or fucking Tinker Bell.”
I blurted, “Well, I’m going to get one. A cupcake. A fat girl’s tramp stamp.”
He laughed long and loud. “That is AWESOME. That’s the best one ever. Bad ass. If I don’t do it, I want a picture. Turn the tramp stamp on its head. Yes!”
I liked his reaction. But I was still nervous, and I still hadn’t found the right picture. I was now obsessed with the baking cup. Should it be the same color as the cake or stand out on its own? Pastel or bright? Would my ass crack look like it was eating the cupcake? I didn’t want that. The cupcake had to be either perfectly straight or crooked enough that it was clearly not being consumed. Did skinny girls wonder about the placement of Tinker Bell? Did they worry that she would look like she was being eaten by their asses? I lay awake at night questioning every aspect of the tattoo and its meaning. After reading In the Night Kitchen to my kid one night, I dreamed of a troop of fat women marching across the night sky, cupcakes shining above their butts.
I started telling friends my idea. Everybody loved it, the play on the tramp stamp, confronting sexuality, fatness, and the idea of the slut. I always laughed, but I was starting to feel a little weird about the laughter, too. Why was it so funny that a fat woman could be sexual? Was it that strange that we could like sex? Be sluts even? The fat-girl tramp stamp was challenging layers of thinking and since I would be getting inked permanently, I wanted to get my thoughts together.
I asked my best friend what she thought. She’s fat too, and she likes sex and cupcakes.
She smiled and said, “I like it. Who the fuck says we can’t be sexy? Trampy, even? Or just have a pretty cupcake above our ass? It’s all a fucking double standard. Men can have sex with whoever they want—still. But girls, if they have a tattoo on their lower back, they’re whores? I love the idea of settling in on all fours for a little romp and getting that cupcake kissed. So much better than some fairy in a field of flowers. Food is love, baby.” She looked me in the eyes as she said that last part. “You heard me,” she said. “Get that cupcake. Love your body. Paint your curves. Fuck what anybody thinks. I’ll get one, too.”
I started laughing. Imagine. A revolution of sluts (and former sluts) with cupcake tramp stamps, fat girls all. The skinny tramp stamp aficionados would have to face their fears of fat. The tattoo parlors would have to rethink their go-to for the stereotype. And the idea of fat and sex and tattoos and cupcakes would forever be intertwined on my ass. Sounded like fun. But there was one problem. I still had to find the perfect cupcake.
Shell Feijo’s first book, Pigs are People Too: Experiences of a Fat Woman in America, is forthcoming this year. Reprinted from Hip Mama (Issue 54: The Relaunch), a quarterly magazine featuring political commentary and ribald tales from the front lines of motherhood.