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Feminspire | April 17, 2014

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“Skank Flanks” – Another Way to Disapprove of Women’s Bodies

“Skank Flanks” – Another Way to Disapprove of Women’s Bodies

A new phrase that shames women’s bodies is in circulation. As if the term “tramp stamp,” used to describe a tattoo on a woman’s lower back, hadn’t done enough damage, the words “skank flank” are now being used to describe tattoos on women’s ribcages. Just in case you had forgotten that when a trend springs up among young women, or when many young women do or take part in something they enjoy, that trend or activity has to be demonized.

“Skank flank” is problematic in all kinds of ways, and you’ll be surprised to hear that my first issue is not with “skank” but “flank.” A flank is a cut of meat, a word we use for cows and horses. Anatomically, it’s not even correct: the flank is the part of the side of your body between your last rib and your hips, not your ribcage. If you check now, you’ll find that human bodies, especially women’s bodies, don’t really have very sizeable flanks. Mine is shorter than my hand. That’s why we use the word “flank” to describe animals and very rarely to describe women.

The “skank” part of the equation barely deserves my attention. There is no logical continuation between the definition of skank – supposedly a sexually promiscuous woman – and a tattoo on a discreet part of a woman’s body that will never affect her professional life and will only be seen by those she chooses to reveal it to. There is no place on her body a woman could get a tattoo that would justify assumptions about her sexual habits.

I am the proud owner of this ribcage tattoo, which I got in Barcelona on my 18th birthday during my summer travelling around Europe. It represents my nomadic lifestyle, which has seen me move city or country every three years and attend six schools. It represents my itchy feet and my sea legs, which have taken me to Los Angeles where I met Rhiannon and first discussed Feminspire, to Rwanda, all over Europe, to the Philippines, and to New Zealand in a few short weeks. It represents my desire to see and learn from the world, my inability to stay in one place, my fear of the phrase “settle down.” It does not represent my sexual behaviour, or any need to justify that behaviour to the chauvinists who promote body-shaming just to see women squirm.

How many parts of the female body does society need to criminalize before we are erased altogether? Even as a child, I “knew” that a tattoo on a woman’s lower back marked her out as a “tramp.” When I started to consider tattoos for myself, I never considered that part of my body as a potential site for art. But looking at it in the mirror now, I realise that the small of my back is actually a beautiful part of my body. It’s smooth, it twists as I move. It’s my core, supporting the rest of me. It’s where my boyfriend puts his hand when he wants to reassure me, or when I don’t know where I’m going. The small of my back is beautiful, but I will never be able to decorate it because I fear society’s censure.

Here is a picture of all the women with rib tattoos who care that there are some other women with rib tattoos.

Some women got their ribcage tattoo as a totally original, inspired thought with no input from anyone else, because they live in a vacuum. Some women saw a rib tattoo on the internet, or on another girl, and decided they liked how it looked and wanted their tattoo there too. We all buy clothes we like even though there’s one exactly the same behind it on the rack. I refuse to be told that my appreciation of my tattoo is “skanky” just because other women like it too.

As far as I’m aware, there is no demeaning phrase to describe the common tribal sleeve tattoo sported by many men. My boyfriend has a tattoo of a scorpion on his lower back, which no one has ever referred to as a “tramp stamp.” Only women’s bodies are subjected to the scrutiny and disapproval that results in these phrases.

Written by Abbey Lewis
Follow her on Twitter!

  • Alysa E Friesen

    I wonder which asshole came up with this one.
    I love your tattoo! It’s beautiful <3

    • Abigail Lewis

      Thank you so much! I love it too :)

  • Rozzy Moriarty

    I have considered getting a tattoo on my ribcage for my 18th birthday. The reason I considered that part of my body is because it’s close to my heart, and the tattoo I’m considering is a quote from a song which I use as my mantra. And I like the fact that it will be relatively hidden. It just makes sense to get it there.
    If the idea of me wanting to get a tattoo in a meaningful and personal place makes me a ‘skank’ or demotes that part of my body to a piece of meat in the eyes of some misogynists, fuck them! It’s my body, and I will not be forced to feel shame about it.

    • Abigail Lewis

      I love this attitude! And I love your tattoo idea – words look really good on ribs!

  • Ariana Brinckerhoff

    Luckily, I hadn’t heard this term, but now that I have it fills me with rage. Like you, I have a word on my ribs and it’s incredibly meaningful to me, and I got it there BECAUSE it’s private. What the hell.

  • Sahra

    your tattoo is gorgeous! I had never heard the term before but I DO NOT like it. And I have both ribs tattooed so like. if someone tries to tell me that to my face? I will be very upset.
    why can’t people stop belittling every aspect of people with tattoos?

  • Lauren Slavin

    When it comes to tattoos, you used to only have to be afraid of needles. Now you have to be scared of name calling?

    What’s next? Tribal Trollop? Wrist Whore? Behind the Ear Girl-Who-goes-Down-On-Dudes-In-Public-Restrooms?

    All the above are copyright pending.

  • Rhiannon Payne

    So good.

  • Jonsan van Johnson

    For real though, there needs to be a name for tribal armbands on dudes. Besides “that stupid shit on your arm”, of course.

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  • Mosses979_211

    I love how this article just screams of fake outrage, keep up the wonderful work!

  • Kinsley

    If you have a tattoo of any kind, you will probably have your virtue questioned.

    Tattoos for the most part are for the low class and poor. I live in Nantucket, attended both day and boarding schools, and am now at a little Ivey. No one I know has a tattoo.

    It is my opinion that “skank flanks” are the new “tramp stamp” and are a way for the lower classes to signal each other. Think about it, when was the last time you were at a nice private pool and saw a single tattoo?

    • Sarah

      I work at a private school, one of the highest regarded in the country, and many of the teachers have tattoos. Not only that, but some of the top students have tattoos. This is a school where the most financially privileged children go. You are completely wrong and your behavior is disgusting.

  • Aaron

    This article has overly sensitive feminist liberal written all over it. Either that, or it’s just some lame way for you to show off your “classy” rib tattoo.

  • orange70383 .

    It represents her nomadic skanky lifestyle. Just keep your thoughts to yourself, nobody gives a sheet of how you see yourself. She sounded about 12-years old. This article was embarrassing. Do people really think of themselves like this, wow delusional immature female..