On Tattoos and Taste

This writer celebrates most ink, but here's why Chad Johnson and Chris Brown crossed a line.

The same questions can be asked of Chris Brown, who recently got a neck tattoo that some people initially believed resembled a “bruised and battered woman.” It was a knee-jerk reaction, of course, but an understandable one in Brown’s case, since the singer can never escape his once-violent relationship with fellow pop star Rihanna.

The tat outraged strangers so much that Brown’s rep had to release a statement to Gossip site TMZ.

“His tattoo is a sugar skull, associated with the Mexican celebration of the Day of the Dead, and a MAC cosmetics design he saw. It is not Rihanna or an abused woman as erroneously reported,” said a rep for Brown, who himself has smartly remained mum on the subject of his skin art.

This week, even the co-hosts of The View weighed in on Brown’s tat. “At worst it was insensitive,” said Barbara Walters of Brown’s tattoo.

Sherri Shepherd went a little bit further.

“The fact that you would make that call [to get a tattoo that even slightly resembles Rihanna], even though that wasn’t the intention, it’s what people’s perception would be,” said Shepherd.

And that’s the real kicker, isn’t? Perception versus intent. Whether or not you intend for a tattoo of a woman you once loved to be a tribute to her and your once-innocent relationship, the perception would surely be negative. Like waving a red flag in front of an angry bull or poking a wasps’ nest with a pointy stick, some actions have very certain consequences.

For me, the idea that a man would tattoo the image of a woman he’s beaten — whether she looks picture-perfect in ink or like a crazed half-zombie — simply doubles down on the abuse. Following up the physical with the psychological is a practiced tactic among abusers. And ignoring the implications of that practiced tactic is a go-to mechanism of self-protection for the abused. It’s a dangerous symbiosis. So whether Brown’s or Johnson’s intent is to find forgiveness or if neither one of them even cares, I’d have to say I’m not a fan.

Helena Andrews is a contributing editor at The Root and author of Bitch Is the New Black, a memoir in essays. Follow her on Twitter. 

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