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Black Women Taking Back Body Ink in 2024


LA resident Kendra Okereke flouts her ink.

I grew up in a Pentecostal household with a West Indian mother. We didn’t play around when it came to “purity”. My church fed me certain notions about “whiteness” and “virtue,” and I, too, learned how to mete out harsh scrutiny of other religions and “unconventional practices” at a young age. At home, I learned how to stay under the radar as a Black girl in suburbia and not draw attention to myself. This blend of social politics manifested in many ways, one of which was how I viewed tattoos.


Body modifications were widely celebrated and revered in pre-colonized Africa. ... European beauty standards demonized our ancestors’ values and deemed them savage.

 

A sign of rebellion against both my own body and God, tattoos were considered masculine and alien, and it took me years to dismantle those notions as not only incorrect but saturated with white supremacy. Body modifications were widely celebrated and revered in pre-colonized Africa and often used to showcase one’s tribe, ancestral lineage, accomplishments, or for simple beautification. 



European beauty standards demonized our ancestors’ values and deemed them savage. This included our bodies, hair, and personal and religious practices. The demonization is still in place almost 500 years after the arrival of America’s first slave ship, and not just in white culture. It infiltrates the Black community.

 

“Like many individuals, I was raised with the belief that tattoos were unprofessional, unladylike, and ungodly,” says Noderea John, founder of North Node Therapy, a collective of Black therapists specializing in racially competent therapy for Black clients.


John says she was discouraged from getting tattoos because of how they might affect her career. For years she was led to believe most people grew to resent the permanent art as they matured, but her attitude began to shift after seeing the wild variety of artistry within the tattoo space and learning the intimate stories behind some of the art.

 




“The shift in my perspective became more pronounced after becoming a mother and undergoing c-sections, which left me feeling self-conscious about my scars,” John says. “I made a deliberate choice to get a tattoo to cover up my scar, providing me with a renewed sense of confidence, particularly when wearing swimwear. To this day, I have yet to regret this decision, as it has empowered me to embrace my body and the choices I make about self-expression.”


Kendra Okereke is a Los Angeles-based talent producer and travel influencer with more than 350,000 TikTok and Instagram followers. Growing up with a love for rap and hip-hop, Okereke says her first tattoo wasn’t a matter of “if” but “when.” The “when” heralded a tragedy that shook the nation.

 

“My first ever tattoo is a small hummingbird on my wrist with the initials ‘T.M.’ in a heart right next to it,” Okereke says. “I got this tattoo in June 2015, right after the verdict for the death of Trayvon Martin … Most people don’t know that hummingbirds have a very short lifespan, about 2-3 years. I got the hummingbird to represent Trayvon’s short lifespan and his initials in a heart to never forget him or the astonishing number of young Black men that have met the same fate.”

 

Okereke currently has 27 tattoos, ranging from images and themes from favorite cinematic works to scripture. She collected many of her tattoos while solo traveling across the world, from tattoos artists in Ireland, Portugal, Colombia, Mongolia, Indonesia, Belgium, Spain and other places. Okereke decorates her outside with the vibrancy and light she has on the inside.

 

However, there was a time when she was hesitant about getting a tattoo.

 

“I was fearful that getting a tattoo would negatively affect my employment, that I wouldn’t get hired for roles. [Also] my parents are immigrants and traditionally very opposed to ink, which is why I waited until I was an adult, out of college and making my own money to start getting them.”

 

The sentiment, she admits, is not only antiquated, but also particularly untrue for people who work in the entertainment industry, like herself.

 

Social politics and taboos come into play when Black women get ink. Decades of hyper-masculinization and hyper-sexualization pigeonhole tattooed Black women as too sexual, unprofessional, rebellious, or even dangerous. And stereotypes can damage both career and romance.


Tattoo ink recommended for the author's individual skin tone include warm pigments like "Burnt Orange," "Dulce De Leche" and "Chocolate."

Idiot prejudice joins generational aversion, religious disapproval, familial and parental expectations, professional discrimination and, of course, colorism to discourage even the most curious Black women. Still, many women, myself included, are reclaiming the proper definition of beauty and autonomy.

 

John recommends helping us take back our bodies and our minds—and help society evolve—by increasing conversation, spreading education, and presenting bold representation.

 

Challenging enduring stereotypes takes open and honest dialogue with people of different ages and socioeconomic status. That means creating more inclusive contexts for tattoos by holding space for ideas and experiences outside of people’s comfort zones, deep in unfamiliar social circles.

 

Kendra Okereke proudly reclaims both art and legacy.

Additionally, educating yourself and others about pre-colonial ancestral history helps people ditch negative biases against traditional African practices, including body modification. Finally, when professionals proudly sport their own tattoos and advocate for more representation of tattooed people, particularly Black women, in leadership positions, they are taking pivotal action that normalizes something that should have never been abnormal.


“This […] transforms the perception of professionalism but also creates opportunities for highly qualified individuals to display their talents and advance their careers,” John says.

 

As for me, I will be celebrating the beginning of 2024 with a new tattoo honoring my accomplishments over 2023—which include living in Mexico and Spain and creating a healthy relationship with dating. The tattoos I’ve collected over the years tell a story uniquely mine and can be read like artwork. I’m excited to see how my story and my tattoos unfold in 2024.




Shayna Conde is a Food, Beverage, and Travel Journalist and

Creator of Cosmic Traveler, the Astrology-Meets-Travel Platform. Catch her on her website, as well as Instagram, TikTok and YouTube



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