On Tattoos and Taste


(The Root) — I'm actually a pretty big fan of tattoos. I've dated more than a few guys with them. I have one. I even tried to convince my mom to get one once, but she politely declined. Said it wouldn't go with her age.

Tattoos can be spiritual. They can, as in the case of Rihanna's latest ink in honor of her grandmother who passed away, indelibly mark the spot where someone touched your life, like the big "X" on a treasure map. Or they can be rooted in nothing save a spontaneous decision made in one's youth. In either extreme, I'm a fan.


What I'm not a big fan of, ever, are micro-aggressive tattoos, a term I've just invented that so far has two possible celebrity poster boys: Chris Brown and Chad "Ochocinco" Johnson. Recently both men permanently inked themselves with the faces (or, in Chris Brown's case, the likeness) of women whom they've abused physically.

Johnson's estranged wife, reality star Evelyn Lozada, filed for divorce in August after a domestic violence incident in which Johnson head-butted Lozada after an argument. Last week he posted pictures of a large tattoo of what appears to be Lozada's face covering most of his right calf. Underneath the portrait of Lozada reads "Eve," making the connection even clearer.

There's no word yet how the soon-to-be-former Mrs. Johnson feels about the ink on her abuser's leg, but I would guess that she's less than honored. According to reports, she's still moving forward with the divorce. She told ABC's Nightline, "It's the hardest thing in the world to walk away from someone that you really love. But you have to walk away because I have to protect myself."

When one of Johnson's Twitter followers asked, perhaps rhetorically, why the football player would get a tattoo of Lozada post-divorce, he replied almost flippantly, "Divorce? Child please," and "That's my WIFE." According to reports, Johnson still refuses to sign the divorce papers filed by Lozada. Florida is a no-fault divorce state, meaning that either spouse can prove that the marriage is "irretrievably broken."

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. 

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.