• "My parents still haven't seen my tattoos in 8 years." (Jody Phan)Source: Jody Phan
Jody Phan explains why she'll always wear jackets in front of her parents - even in the sweltering summer.
Jody Phan

18 Feb 2016 - 1:52 PM  UPDATED 18 Feb 2016 - 1:56 PM

At 19, I was chatting to my mum one day when my t-shirt sleeve crept a little too far up my left arm to reveal the huge tattoo I’d managed to keep a secret for the past 8 months. She asked, “Is that a tattoo on your arm?” My response was a mumbled “yes” as I adjusted my sleeve and quickly changed the subject. That was all that was said about it, but I knew I was in big trouble.

In the following days, almost every conversation I had with my parents was interrupted by something along the lines of, “Will you please get rid of your tattoo?” My mum would rather pay thousands of dollars for laser treatment to reverse eight hours of tattooing than have me walking around with such an abomination on my body.

“No one will marry you with tattoos.”

Despite body ink becoming more accepted in Western culture, with 14.5% of Australians having at least one tattoo and 13.6% of that being female, it's still taboo in some parts of the Vietnamese community.

To my parents and their peers, tattoos are still associated with gangsters, prisoners and delinquents. But one of Vietnam's tattoo pioneers and studio owner, Nguyen Dang Thien, says younger Vietnamese people are embracing body art as a form of self-expression thanks to pop culture. "I think the celebrities are slowly ridding the country of its bias against tattooing and our own tattoo styles and cultures are beginning to emerge," he explained.

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My parents requested that I kept the tattoo covered whenever we attended events with other Vietnamese people of their generation. I saw this as a small compromise and a sign they’d accepted my choice — even if they didn’t want their friends to know about it. 

I thought it was quite amusing, albeit frustrating, that their disapproval stemmed from their concern for my future now that I had a tattoo.

“How will you get a job?” 

“What if you don’t like it when you’re older?”

“No one will marry you with tattoos.”

My parents requested that I kept the tattoo covered whenever we attended events with other Vietnamese people of their generation.

This particular sentiment made me laugh. My dad was genuinely concerned I wouldn’t be considered marriage material because Vietnamese men are less attracted to women with tattoos. I thought this was absurd, naturally. Vietnamese pop star Thuy Tien has five tattoos and is married to one of the country's biggest soccer players. I think I'll be fine.

Fast forward eight years my parents' disapproval has been replaced with a sense of pride and comfort in the fact that I have a stable job and am in a loving relationship with someone who doesn’t think my tattoos are something to be ashamed of.

Nevertheless, I still keep my tattoos covered up with sweaters and jackets in the middle of summer every time I visit my parents. I guess old habits die hard.

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