'I own my tramp stamp': Why the lower back tattoo is no longer considered 'trashy'

Lower back tattoos have made their way back into fashion. (Photo: Getty)
Lower back tattoos have made their way back into fashion. (Photo: Getty)

Whether it be a huge butterfly, a collection of hearts or anything in between, a certain image is sure to come to mind when you hear the words "tramp stamp."

The tattoo style of the late ’90s and early 2000s has become synonymous with low-rise jeans, visible G-strings and all things Y2K.

But during its heyday, lower back tattoos quickly became associated with implications of "promiscuity" and "trashiness," becoming the butt of many misogynistic jokes.

But as is the case with the ebbs and flows of most fashion trends of the early aughts, tramp stamps have made their way back into the zeitgeist.

This is largely thanks to the notably more progressive and increasingly nostalgic nature of Gen Z. Now, many past trends, previously wrought with sexist connotations, have been reclaimed as empowering statements rather than regrettable markings, say tattoo artists.

"People just don't care anymore," Carisa Fitoussi, a Toronto-based tattoo artist who has noticed a recent rise of lower back tattoo requests, tells Yahoo Life.

"In the last two, three years, a lot of people have been getting them. I've always loved them, regardless of the stereotype behind them. So l was always open to doing them. I think it's so cute," says Fitoussi, who specializes in early 2000s-era ink. "I lean more toward that since I grew up seeing my mom dressed a certain way so I love everything Y2K."

Most women who are getting lower back tattoos today are well aware of the connotations that may come with the ink, but don't find the opinions of naysayers to be a hindrance.

"A lot of my clients that come and get sexually liberating tattoos like that, they know people around them judge. But, it doesn't matter. Because regardless of what you do, you're gonna get judged. So if it's something that makes you feel good, makes you feel more sexy, you might as well just get it," says Fitoussi.

The location of tramp stamps plays a large role in the less-than-stellar associations the body art has earned over the years, but according to Fitoussi, the discreet placement makes it a perfect place for a "big" tattoo novice.

"When there's a person that wants a bigger tattoo, but they don't want it to be seen all the time because [of] work or something, I always encourage people to get tramp stamps because it is a perfect placement to do a big tattoo and not feel too much regret because it's not covering an important part of your body. But you could still appreciate it," says Fitoussi.

It can be nerve-racking to get any sort of "trendy" tattoo as you run the risk of having an "outdated" sign of the times permanently etched onto your body. But Fitoussi says that is all the more reason to make sure you pick a tattoo you genuinely want because you like it, not because it is popular.

"Tramp stamps are 'in' right now. But I bet you in like a year or two, it's gonna go back down to like, people not really liking it, and then pick back up again. But I always encourage, if you know that you're gonna like it, then that's all that matters. You don't really have to fit into the fads of what's going on or what's in and what's not," says Fitoussi.

For some, lower back tattoos are about more than just a risqué body marking.

"I have a disease called Graves disease, so basically, I had an overactive thyroid, and they removed it. And the thyroid gland is also referred to as a butterfly gland because it's shaped [like] a butterfly, Jassma'ray Johnson, a small business owner and senior at Iowa State University, tells Yahoo Life.

Johnson got her lower back butterfly in March 2022 to commemorate her battle with the illness. But even though she was sure of her decision to get the tattoo, she was admittedly nervous to see what her family would think.

"I was like, 'My mom was gonna kill me,' but it was just so cute," says Johnson.

She shared her experience getting the tattoo in a TikTok video that raked in more than 140,000 views.

The comments section of her post was filled with users expressing their admiration for the tattoo, with many saying Johnson's video was their sign to get a tramp stamp of their own.

"This just told me to JUST DO IT ! Yours is soooo[fire]," shared one user.

"This is my sign," shared another.

Even though she ranks the pain of getting tattooed a solid "32/10," she says she couldn't be happier with how the artwork turned out.

"There's a lot of different things that we're supposed to be afraid of or ashamed about, but I own my tramp stamp. I think it's really pretty so whatever history there may be behind it, I think it's cute and I definitely show it off in pictures and I'm taking that power back," says Johnson.

But what do the OGs of the trend think about the resurgence of lower back tattoos?

"I think it's cool because I always thought [they] looked nice. I love the location," says Kelly Cunningham, who got her tramp stamp as an 18th birthday gift in 2002 when the trend was in its initial heyday.

"It was actually a gift from my dad," says Cunningham, recalling the one-size-fits-all nostalgia of picking her tattoo out of a book of pre-drawn designs.

"This is how it used to be done. You go into the tattoo shop, they have these giant books that you would look through, you'd pick out the tattoo you like, and they do it. So with that, though, then you run into other people that have the same tattoo as you," Cunningham says, noting this bares a stark difference to the prevalence of custom artwork for tattoos today.

"Recently I was in a tattoo shop for an old cover-up and they don't have the books anymore. I just thought that that was weird, I guess because that's what I was kind of used to," she says.

Kelly Cunningham got her lower back tattooed in 2002. (Photo: Kelly Cunningham)
Kelly Cunningham got her lower back tattooed in 2002. (Photo: Kelly Cunningham)

Shortly after Cunningham got her tramp stamp, however, she says the pendulum for the lower back art began swinging from trendy to "trashy."

"It kind of stunk, that not too long after I had got mine is when that sort of, like negative stigma behind them came in that if you had one, you were trashy," she says.

But this never faltered Cunningham's love for the piece. Now, she loves seeing the tattoo placement get the praise it deserves.

"I never went through a phase of being embarrassed by it or wanting to cover it up. I've always thought they look really nice in that spot and I still wouldn't change it," says Cunningham.

Wellness, parenting, body image and more: Get to know the who behind the hoo with Yahoo Life's newsletter. Sign up here.