Tramp stamps

and odalisques (with their erotic lumbar regions, aka lower backs) and rhyming disparagements (like tramp stamp and slag tag). It starts with the Zits comic strip of 3/26:

(#1) The rhyming (and disparaging) idiom tramp stamp had passed by in the fringes of my consciousness, but this strip foregrounds it

Tramp stamps. From Wikipedia:

A lower-back [or lumbar] tattoo (colloquially called a tramp stamp or slag tag) is a tattoo that became popular in the late 1990s and early 2000s and gained a reputation for its erotic appeal. They are sometimes accentuated by low-rise jeans and crop tops.

[History:] Although historically in the western world men have been the majority of tattoo recipients, in the early 1990s the practice gained popularity among women. Prior to the late 20th century, women with tattoos were heavily stigmatized, and were rarely found in middle-class society. Lower-back tattoos were popularized in the early 2000s, in part owing to the influence of female celebrities, including Britney Spears, Aaliyah, Christina Ricci and Pamela Anderson. The popularity of low-rise jeans and crop tops may have also spurred the increase in lower-back tattoos. Another appeal of tattooing the lower back is that there is little fat there, lessening the chance that images will become misshapen over time. Also, the lower back is often concealed, providing women the choice of when to reveal their tattoo. Although some males have lower-back tattoos, including some celebrities, they are generally not acquired by men.

(#2) SuicideGirl Papina, naked, with a lower-back tattoo, washing up (photo: SuicideGirls from Los Angeles)

[Perception:] Women’s lower backs are often viewed by people as an erotic body part, leading to the association of lower-back tattoos with sexuality. Lower-back tattoos are also perceived as an indication of promiscuity by some, possibly owing to media portrayals of women with tattoos. [AZ: In general, a woman who  freely displays her body is likely to be taken to be not only sexually active, but in fact promiscuous.] A 2011 study of media stereotypes criticized media portrayals of lower-back tattoos, arguing that they are unfairly cast as a symbol of promiscuity. There are a number of pejorative nicknames for lower-back tattoos, including “tramp stamp”, “slag tag”, “bulls-eye”, and “target”. The show Saturday Night Live seems to at least have partially played a role in bringing prejudice and shaming to the placement of the tattoo. For instance, the term “tramp stamp” started gaining widespread popularity after being used in one of their May 2004 skits.

There’s been no widespread fashion for lumbar tattoos in men, and most of ones you can find on the net are dedicated to family members or sports figures, but there are some explicitly gay ones (a triangle pointing down to the bearer’s ass cleft; a tattooed star, which often serves as a declaration of homosexuality) and this bit of body art in the middle of a three-part tattoo — a top design (covering the right half of the man’s back, from shoulder to lower back), the lumbar design, and a black panther on his right buttock:

(#3) 0n the Tattoo Ideas site from 3/2019 on “Men Ass Tattoo”; unfortunately, the site tells us nothing about the man with the tats

The erotic potential of the lower back. The lumbar region is a gentle concavity (so potentially sexually metaphorical on its own) immediately adjacent to the buttocks and so potentially metonymically  associable with the female genitals or with the anus as a sexual organ (in either sex).

The erotic potential of the lower back is exploited in a genre of female nudes in western art (in paintings, drawings, photographs, and sculptures). In particular, it’s one of the three central features (the others being  the face and the buttocks) in depictions of odalisques.

Etymological background, from NOAD:

noun odalisque (also odalisk): historical a female slave or concubine in a harem, especially one in the seraglio of the Sultan of Turkey.

And then the artistic development, from Wikipedia:

[quoting Joan DelPlato:] By the eighteenth century the term odalisque referred to the eroticized artistic genre in which a nominally eastern woman lies on her side on display for the spectator.

(#4) Portrait of Marie-Louise O’Murphy (aka The Blonde Odalisque or Resting Girl) by François Boucher (1752)

During the 19th century, odalisques became common fantasy figures in the artistic movement known as Orientalism, being featured in many erotic paintings from that era.

(#5) Grande Odalisque by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres (1814)

Rhyme as a vehicle of disparagement. In tramp stamp and slag tag. Rhyming in (two-word) formulaic expressions can be used to convey (or, more often, reinforce) disparagement in varying degrees, as in

fag hag, rich bitch, boy toy, blue flu, fruit loop, rom com, chick flick, peter meter, pass gas, man tan, dick pic, bed head, airy-fairy, cock-block, shit fit

The expressive uses of rhyme (and, similarly, alliteration and assonance) are many (note rhyming insults like Roses are red, violets are blue, with a face like yours, you should sit in a zoo), as are the patterns in which these uses occur (note fixed binomials, with conjunctions, like wear and tear, wine and dine, make or break); the effect is to ostentatiously call attention to the expressive nature of certain phrases.

One Response to “Tramp stamps”

  1. Robert Southwick Richmond Says:

    I’m for whatever enables women to display their fanny cleavage, their reverse decolleté. A sun dress enabling such a display should be called a moon dress. These usages belong in the English language, and the display belongs in the Saturday afternoon shopping mall.

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