Photography by Damari McBride Photography
The sun was barely up when Krista arrived at the studio on a cold Monday morning. A bioarchaeologist and college student working towards her Ph.D., she greeted me with a big hug, even though this was our first time meeting. Her, then, chin length hair and glasses appeared conservative and studious, but her smile was warm and friendly. She pulled off her coat, as she explained that the outfit she picked for the day was what she wore when she wanted to look intelligent and professional, but also like an adventurous archaeologist. Her choice of words had already begun to reveal that she knew “intelligent and professional” women had a certain look, and she did not want to disappoint.
Of Belizean and Mexican descent, Krista mentioned that she finds it difficult to constrain her personal identity within a few words.
“If I want to be fair to myself, I’d go with Latina Bibliophilic Feminist Bioarchaeologist, but even that seems to box me in. I am a proud Latina of Central American blood, and I’m a proud archaeologist, an aggressive reader who loves the Smashing Pumpkins and also smashing the patriarchy. I don’t think about my identity in terms of my gender or sexuality. I don’t think we should feel pressured to use that as a defining characteristic unless we want to”.
Aware of the constraints that she may face as a woman of color, Krista is also very open and proud of her heritage. In fact, she wears her culture on her body. She changed into a black sleeveless dress that revealed the numerous colorful tattoos that represent her culture, favorite childhood stories, political support, and memorials of friends. Her tattoos speak of her experience and, in many ways, are both sacred and profane. However, even in a world where tattoos seem everywhere, in western society, tattoos are still met with a certain type of resistance. Professor Marc Blanchard, who wrote about the social and cultural significance of tattoos, notes “that tattooing, working itself back from the margins of society into the reaches of middle-class suburbia, is one of the prime examples of the role of the body and certain forms of body art in negotiating the acceptability of deviant forms representation…”
Even so, visible tattoos may still cost you a job opportunity or may cause someone to question one’s background, education, and credibility. The early criminologist, Cesare Lombroso, popularized the idea that there was a link between excessive tattooing, the criminal mind, and the social deviant. Although his claims were made in the 1800s and have long since been refuted, they still have had a tremendous influence in pop culture.
“I love my tattoos, but I’m hardly a criminal,” Krista laughs. “I don’t feel the pressure to look a certain way in order to be an academic. Tragically, I worry more that my gender and ethnicity will hold me back. Let me rephrase that because nothing can hold ME back. I worry that someone will choose another person over me because I am a woman of color. I don’t worry my tattoos will be an issue.”
According to a 2015 Harris Poll, 3 in 10 U.S. adults have at least one tattoo, and nearly half of Millennials have them. Yet, as an academic professional, Krista may still be considered an outsider. In an article featured in The Chronicle of Higher Education, Professor Monica R. Miller remarked that her tattoos are “a conversation and a dilemma very much wrapped up in a politics of respectability, ‘deviance,’ gender nonconformity, heteronormativity, and even class tensions.” She also noted having been made to feel unwelcome in certain academic circles.
“The Latina Bibliophilic Feminist Bioarchaeologist”
*These interviews happened last year, so here is a brief update about Krista. She has since been accepted to University College of London’s MSc Anthropology program and will start next year, has attended field school in Romania, completed several research projects and is set to graduate with her BA this Spring. She also has a blog called Trowel and Bone. We have also become really good friends, presented together at the American Anthropology Association Annual Conference, and she came to my dog’s birthday party.