November 3, 2012 8:37 AM   Subscribe

How do I tell my mom to lay off my appearance in a lighthearted way?

So I'm 28. I have a house, two kids, husband, and we own a bike shop. I just graduated with a BA after 6 years of plugging away at it while breastfeeding and working. Since I now work for myself, I dyed my hair pink, got a lip ring a few years back, and just pierced my nose. I amassed 5 or so tattoos from ages 18-20, then I stopped until last year, when I got a few more. I have a plan to get another tattoo of very neon colorful stars across the front of my chest near my armpit.

My mother was very upset (like, cried when she saw it) with the last tattoo I got, which was our bike logo on my arm, just low enough to be seen with a short sleeve shirt on. The rest of my tattoos, including the one I have planned, are covered up easily in professional settings. I have no doubt I'll one day get a professional office job again, so I don't want to tank my job prospects, but also want to look the way I want to look for now. Shoot, all the kids at preschool think I'm AWESOME.

She just sent me a facebook message that said "for the love of god, please think about stopping your body decorations! you have enough!"

I need some lighthearted comebacks. She knows full well I'm an adult. I'm of the mindset that it's no longer her business, she ought to be glad I'm happy and living the life I love and not making meth in her basement.

So far I said "When you stop posting political things on facebook, I'll stop getting tattoos!" (Ironically we're both huge flaming liberals.) I also sent her the xkcd ball pit comic.

Anything else like that I can keep in the arsenal for these arguments? She allllways does this (she nagged me about education for years), and usually I finally get to a breaking point and yell at her, and then she cries and just says she cares too much. Infuriating! So being strict with her doesn't work - the best I can do is just joke about it and then drop it. She's not unbearable, just really irritating about it.
posted by kpht to Human Relations (42 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Honestly, I think the easiest thing to do would be completely ignore those type of comments altogether. If they're online, don't respond. If in person, change the subject. You don't need to defend yourself and once you stop engaging, she will probably give up trying to discuss it.
posted by something something at 8:49 AM on November 3, 2012 [6 favorites]

I think the problem is actually approaching this in a lighthearted way. That will continue the discussion, which doesn't sound like your goal. Kindly, but forcefully, addressing this without giving her any suggestion that it's a discussion, conversation, debate, is what I'd suggest.
posted by odinsdream at 8:54 AM on November 3, 2012 [3 favorites]

"Ok, I'll think about it. ... There, thought about it. Decided to keep doing what makes me happy."
posted by supercres at 8:54 AM on November 3, 2012 [20 favorites]

A parent's job is to look out for all of their child's future options and possibilities, many of them unforeseen and surprising, because it's a young person's job to pursue their passions even if they are whimsical. To your parent, visible tattoos are a way of saying "I know right now that I will never want to play a whole range of roles in society for which evidence of my carefulness and caution and deliberation are required. Thanks for your higher hopes Mom, but I hereby throw away whole futures." That can be hard to hear, so maybe cut her some slack.
posted by nicwolff at 9:00 AM on November 3, 2012 [6 favorites]

Yeah, responding in kind only perpetuates the current mode of interaction.

Rise above her remarks, ignore when appropriate and continue to love her for caring about you.
posted by Aquaman at 9:03 AM on November 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

Another approach would be to try to get closer rather than push back. You're a mom too, maybe there's a way to say something like "You know, I can't even imagine what Baby khpt is going to do in 20 years to make me crazy, but I'm sure s/he will. I hope that I can be supportive of those choices, just like I know you want to support me even though you disagree with my choices." It might give you a place to connect.
posted by judith at 9:04 AM on November 3, 2012 [8 favorites]

Your feelings about your tattoos will always trump whatever argument she has against them, and I would try to make this clear by not arguing with her, or being cute or clever with different comebacks, but just bore her to death with the same line over and over again until she grows tired of trying to sway you.

If you want to keep it lighthearted, I would pick a neutral/positive line that will work with whatever nagging comment she makes, and just stick to that and repeat it whenever she brings the topic up.

Essentially something like - "That's true, but I like my tattoos!" or to use your example, "Yes, I can see how some people might think I have enough tattoos, but....I like my tattoos!"

Or to use an argument against tattoos from my mom's own books.... "Yes mom, my tattoos will probably not look as nice when I'm 80 years old and wrinkly, but.....I like my tattoos!"

By doing it this way, you're acknowledging that while her viewpoint may have validity, it's not as important to you as your reason for having tattoos (that you just like them, or whatever!).

The key is to just not engage if she tries to argue with you about it and stick to repeating essentially the same argument.
posted by Squee at 9:04 AM on November 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

I second everyone who says to tell her, "This is how it is. I'm not going to debate it anymore, but thanks for your concern."

My mom is a similar kind of person (although she never minded me dying my hair all sorts of colors, and she's never cried about any of it). I just didn't discuss my tattoos for several years. When I finally did, I made it clear that I liked them, it was too late to do anything about it, and that I didn't plan on talking about it anymore. The end. No more discussion after that.

Eventually, Mom told me about her favorite waitress, who she described as being an adorable young woman with full sleeves. That's when I knew she had managed to integrate the concept of tattoos, with the concept of "nice people". We still don't talk about it, but it's not a problem anymore.

nicwolff's advice is bad, unkind, and inaccurate regarding your future prospects. Disregard it.
posted by Coatlicue at 9:04 AM on November 3, 2012 [4 favorites]

When I pierced my nose in college my mom made a few unpleasant remarks about it [including passing on the "wisdom" from my grandmother who, when horrified at my Mom's piercing her ears in college said "The next thing you know you will be sticking bones through your nose"] wrapping up with "Well *I* don't think it's attractive..." and I just politely told her "That is good news mom because I am not try to date you or even people like you." and then ignored any further comments or just repeated this message. Obviously you're married and this doesn't directly translate but maybe something along those lines.

It's always a weird shift when parents realize that their advice and personal preferences about their adult children are not just unhelpful but sometimes actively unwanted. Your mom is welcome to care about your appearance, she just may have to work out her own mixed feelings about them on her own time and not with you. If she's liberal you may be able to call her out about body policing you, but I think you'll have to consider whether you want a witty retort or whether you want the conversation to STOP which is what it sounds like.

Alternately: "Every new remark you make about my appearance is one more tattoo I will be getting. Every time I ask you to stop and you don't is one more piercing I will get. Appealing to god again will make me get these tattoos ON MY FACE, Mom. I love you but think about me for a change."
posted by jessamyn at 9:05 AM on November 3, 2012 [6 favorites]

Answering the question: start encouraging her to start body modding.

"Mom, guess what this new piercing studio has a seniors rate on Tuesdays!"

"Join in the fun mom, how about you get -ourbabies- handprint tattooed?"
posted by Iteki at 9:07 AM on November 3, 2012 [5 favorites]

nicwolff's advice is bad, unkind, and inaccurate regarding your future prospects. Disregard it.

nicwolff was describing what might be going through the OPs mother's head, not giving that advice. Read it again, slowly.

My mom had similar feelings, and Iteki's advice -- along with flat-out tabling any serious discussion -- actually worked. She eventually figured out from general observation that The World We Live In was different from The World She Grew Up In...and even got a small tattoo on her foot. But it took a long time.
posted by gnomeloaf at 9:24 AM on November 3, 2012 [5 favorites]

Hi, can we be friends?

I'm a self-employed heavily tattooed person with wacky hair, too. And my mom loves to make comments about my tattoos, not just on facebook, but in person, too (ranging from "yuck" to ridiculous criticisms of the specific tattoos, like that the anchor on my chest looks like a cross and oh noooes what if people think I'm Christian). All this, in spite of the fact that she's a liberal old hippie who grew her hair to her waist in the 60s and has a small tattoo herself. To be fair, my tattoos are bigger and in places not easily hidden--I have a full chestpiece, for instance. But you know what? I don't want to be fair about it. It's my body and they make me happy--make me feel like more of myself. I'm sure you understand.

Frankly, I don't think this is a place to be lighthearted, and I can see that the conflict with my mother is all about her feelings of ownership over my body. Which weirds me out. I don't know if that's the case with your mom, but I've had the best results just shutting the conversation down. "Thanks for the input, but I'm happy with my tattoos" is usually along the lines of what I tell her. Then I change the subject toward things we share, like the latest episode of Fringe or how Obama is doing in the election. I don't threaten or discuss plans about future tattoos because it's none of her business and I don't want her to feel like the conversation is open and something she can influence. Maybe it makes me an asshole, but it's kind of an asshole move to call your [successful! happily married! adult!] kid up and give them shit about something they do to their body that makes them happy.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:35 AM on November 3, 2012 [12 favorites]

If your grandmother is alive, talk to her. No doubt your mom had a very similar experience with her mom. Equally there is a very good chance that at some point you will tell your daughter something similar to what your mom is telling you.

Perhaps remind your mom she fought to be the person she wanted to me and not the image her parents wanted her to be. Remind her that you are her daughter and you are just as independent as she was when she was 28.
posted by 2manyusernames at 9:36 AM on November 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Left field suggestion: If your mom is from my mom's generation, I feel for you (I only have one, but my mother always rolls her eyes when it slips into view.) For older generations, tattooed people used to be a sideshow at the circus - now we see them all the time. Perhaps your mom would be open to watching a few episodes of the many tattoo tv shows like LA Ink and Miami Ink. I think they've really helped change the opinion of "tattooed people" by showing why people get the tattoos they do. Pretty much every episode has 3-4 people coming into the shop and telling why they are getting the tattoo they are getting. Most of them are pretty much "normal" people who just want to memorialize, pay tribute, remember something, or have something with them that provides inspiration. Have a tissue handy though, because some of the stories are heartbreaking, but the people who lived through them want something to take with them to remember that experience and that they made it through.

Have you ever sat down and explained to your mother why you got the tattoos you did and why they are important to you? Maybe get one that reminds you of her?
posted by NoraCharles at 9:39 AM on November 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

"You know, I can't even imagine what Baby khpt is going to do in 20 years to make me crazy, but I'm sure s/he will.

She'll say, "For the love of God, Mom, please think about stopping your body decorations! you have enough!"
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 9:40 AM on November 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

"I love you, Mom."
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:45 AM on November 3, 2012 [5 favorites]

(Lest anyone think that is a joke answer, it's not. If you're not going to take her advice, and you're not wanting to open up another discussion where she gives you the saaaame advice over and over etc, just say, "I know Mom, I love ya" or similar. That's really all there is to say. You appreciate that she's coming from a place of concern for you, but you're going to do your thing.)
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:54 AM on November 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

"for the love of god, mom, please love me for who I am! you have harassed me enough!"
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 9:56 AM on November 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

You have been very careful to maintain the option of a clean cut professional appearance, and have pointed that out to us. Have you made sure that she knows it too? As a mom, it is helpful for me to remind myself that the haircut will grow out, the tattoo is not visible without a swimsuit on, etc., and to be reminded that my child is still the same person, no matter the haircut.
posted by SLC Mom at 9:56 AM on November 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

So I'm 28. I have a house, two kids, husband, and we own a bike shop. I just graduated with a BA after 6 years of plugging away at it while breastfeeding and working.

Whenever your mother makes a negative remark about choices you have made in your life, repeat the above and tell her, "Aren't you proud to have raised a daughter that is strong, independent and successful? When you says thing such as,'for the love of god, please think about stopping your body decorations! you have enough!' you are undermining me as a person. Are you trying to make me feel bad about myself? Because that is what you are doing."

My mother would say the same types of remarks to me. Finally at the age of 38, I told my mother those exact words. It helped a lot, but did not stop her. I am 51, now my standard reply is,"Why are you trying to hurt my feelings?" There is dead silence on my side as she attempts to justify herself. Eventually she peters out and I either bring up a new subject, continue the discussion we were having before her derail, or end the conversation by cheerfully saying, "Okay mom, I've got to go now, I'll talk to you later."
posted by JujuB at 9:56 AM on November 3, 2012 [6 favorites]

My standard response when anyone makes a rude / intrusive comment or suggestion about my appearance is to act as if they just complimented me and say "Oh, how very kind of you to notice!"
posted by The Deej at 10:00 AM on November 3, 2012

It's not clear to me that you understand exactly why she doesn't like your tattoos. Is it because she thinks they ruin your professional job prospects, or because she doesn't think they are pretty in the traditional sense, or because she is from a different time when tattoos meant carnie etc? Because people unthread have given good advice about how to explain each of these to her, and maybe she will stop nagging you if you sit down and have a serious conversation with her that acknowledges her point of view, explains your own, and also tells her that her comments are hurting your feelings. This is sort of the opposite of the blasé comeback, but maybe it would stop the comments. Good luck!
posted by onlyconnect at 10:30 AM on November 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

All really great advice! My grandmother is indeed alive, and my mother always kvetches to me about her long rides up to my house where my sweet grandmother goes on about how terrible Obama is, how fast she's driving, and how "they're going to outlaw Christmas" and whatnot she's heard about on the Fox News, and she has to blow off steam by the time she reaches my house. "You're Grammying me!" might be my next comeback for when she irritates me.

I have long been just dealing with it because I've thought "hey, my mom's irritating me, but in all honesty she isn't opening credit cards in my name, destroying her financial future, or showing up at my house randomly, so it's not that bad." I'm gonna shut her down with some of these great lines, though. Thanks!

onlyconnect - she thinks my body is great as it is (Ha! I've had two kids and can't wear a two-piece, have surgery scars from a post-baby gallbladder removal, and I'm about 10lbs over my pre-kid weight), and doesn't want me changing it more. No real reason. I haven't wanted to get into a big fight about why she feels that way.
posted by kpht at 10:34 AM on November 3, 2012

I once told someone they weren't exactly my target demo, so I must be doing something right.
posted by crankyrogalsky at 10:40 AM on November 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

Send her a pack of temporary tattooes. Tell her she'd look better with a nose ring. Get her the magnetic or clip on one.
posted by discopolo at 10:57 AM on November 3, 2012 [4 favorites]

I have to side with those who say the strategy of being lighthearted with her might be the wrong one; that seems like a way to continue the cycle of having her just keep going until you actually get angry and say something that hurts her feelings that you feel bad about. Don't be lighthearted when you're not feeling lighthearted; you may mislead her into thinking it's all in good fun when it doesn't actually feel that way to you.

I really respond well to the idea of saying, "You know I love you, Mom, but when you talk like that, it makes me feel bad. It's exactly the way you feel about how Grammy talks to you. I don't want to be venting frustration about you to other people the way you vent to me about her. I know you don't like 'em, but I do, and I'm happy, so please stop."

Just be honest. Tell her it makes you feel bad, because it's the truth.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 11:20 AM on November 3, 2012 [3 favorites]

If she is worried about your future job prospects, show her a book of tattooed professionals (doctors, teachers, lawyers, etc.) I'm on mobile so can't link, but it should be easily searchable.
posted by matildaben at 11:31 AM on November 3, 2012

Trust me on this: your mom will never stop making comments about your appearance—among other things. Just smile, change the subject and move on.
posted by violetk at 12:11 PM on November 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Silence is a good way to train parents who refuse to stop telling you how to live your life.
posted by MonsieurBon at 12:30 PM on November 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

"Mom, you're turning into your mother." And done.
posted by mornie_alantie at 12:42 PM on November 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

"Wow, uh... thanks for your opinion... I guess.... [trail off, change subject]" Because, really, what can you say?

And what will your own kids be doing to torment you? Maybe bagel heads?
posted by amanda at 12:49 PM on November 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

"mom, i know this concerns you, but I'm an adult and this is my body. I'm really uncomfortable when you make comments. like this. please stop."
posted by brujita at 1:06 PM on November 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

My grandmother was always making negative comments about my hair when I peroxided the damn hell out of it (to try to get me some of Wendy James's groove).

I put up with it for ages, made quips etc then one day asked her sweetly, but also very seriously, if she wouldn't mind just keeping a record of her thoughts about my hair in her diary instead if telling me about them. (I told her that's where I put my critiques of her hair colourings and she was welcome to read the relevant pages if she was ever seized by a desire to know my thoughts.)
posted by honey-barbara at 1:07 PM on November 3, 2012 [4 favorites]

You might try showing up to meet her a couple-few times in office job drag -- put in retainers for the piercings and an elbow length shirt which covers the tattoos, and just demonstrate for her visually that yes, you *are* thinking about your future prospects, that you want to be able to pass in the professional world and you're being thoughtful about the choices you're making with your body.*

Or, you could just shamu her.

*I don't want to imply that people who make a permanent commitment to visible body-mod aren't making thoughtful choices; or indeed that the thoughtful choice is the more conservative one, but rather that you're making choices in line with your own goals and your understanding of what you need to do to accomplish them.
posted by endless_forms at 2:44 PM on November 3, 2012

It doesn't precisely apply, and it might be too crass but this KXCD chestnut is close.

"Mom, life is for living. I am living it to the fullest with my beautiful family, my wonderful business and my kick-ass tattoos. To not live my life now just so I can more easily fit into some hypothetical future situation where I would by design live even less fully is just nutty. No way!

...and all the other kids are doing it!"
posted by dirtdirt at 2:51 PM on November 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

Just talk up the neck/face/hand tattoos you want. Then a simple, easily covered, chest piece is SO MUCH NICER, RIGHT MA?

(I get this from dad, not mum, and I just ignore it - he is coming from an irritating place of ownership but it just isn't his place so I ignore it.)
posted by geek anachronism at 3:05 PM on November 3, 2012

I'm a Mom, and I encouraged my son to wait until he found a tattoo he really, really wanted on his body for the rest of his life. Talk to your Mom, and ask her why it bugs her so much. Really listen, and try to understand. Maybe you can address her concerns, maybe not. In the future, respond with I know you don't like my tattoos, and you know I do like them. It doesn't change the way I love you. and Got it, Mom, now let's talk about ... {insert topical discussion point} whether Obama's going to win.
posted by theora55 at 4:13 PM on November 3, 2012

My brother-in-law and mother-in-law have this same conversation. At this point he just laughs, says, "It's my body," and leaves the room. Sometimes when MIL notices a new tattoo he says, "That's not new, that's been there forever!" He has so many that it's hard to keep them straight.

Both approaches seem to work for them.
posted by christinetheslp at 6:00 PM on November 3, 2012

One data point: My wife and her business partner Sara are both tattooed, Sara heavily. In addition to running her small business, Sara works full time, in a managerial role in an office environment. She is a consumate professional, and deals with the public regularly. It has not been an issue for her, and she doesn't cover her tattoos at work.

Another - I work for a video game company. Our executive producer is tattooed with a full sleeve, is again a consumate professional, and does regular media appearances repping the game and the company.

Personally, I am completely un-inked, but I have my shit way less together than either of these people.

Tattoos are increasingly prevalent, and not subject to the same stigma they may have had in the past.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 6:42 PM on November 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

"How old do I have to be before you can stop being critical of my adult choices or I get to start being critical of yours?"
posted by DarlingBri at 4:17 AM on November 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Seconding LobsterMitten, above.

My Mom does this to me too (although I don't have tattoos, it's more about my hairstyles, clothing, the fact that I don't wear makeup). We used to fight about it a LOT. She's a worrier and always thinks of the worst thing that could happen.

I don't remember where I heard/read about it, but the gist of it was that when Mom says things like "I wish you wouldn't wear your hair like that" or "you'd look so much nicer with some lipstick" what she really means is "you're my daughter, and I love you, and I'll never stop worrying about you and wanting the best for you." So now I just say "I love you too, Mom," and change the subject.
posted by mon-ma-tron at 8:55 PM on November 4, 2012

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