I’m Not A Stereotypical Persian Girl

By now, I’m sure you’ve all heard the words (if not said them), “I’m not like all Persian girls!”.  And by now, I’m sure you all know it is followed by a look or a laugh because of the statement’s ludicrous hypocrisy (plus we’ve all seen the Max video on Persian girls). I do think there’s a certain line of differentiation when it comes to people who are raised half-Persian. A.K.A …

I’m not like the stereotypical Persian girl.


When I turned 18 and tasted the wild freedom of being a legal adult, one of the first things I did was go out and get some piercings and tattoos: I got my lip pierced on my birthday; various other piercings followed suit; and within three months I had three tattoos.

I was drunk off of taking full advantage in exercising my legal power over my body in this regard.

Now at 25, I have reduced the piercings to one, and increased the tattoos to six, and they are ever evolving and coming. In general, my tattoos live on parts of my body that are easily concealable.


For as wild-spirited and defiant as I’ve always been, there is a whisper of judgment in my mind, making me feel ashamed and confused. I can’t tell whether my restraint/uncertainty about getting truly visible tattoos is because I genuinely don’t want to, or because of the influence and shame I feel would come from my family.

I’ll never forget an experience in Dubai at a cousin’s wedding. My family stated that I was to wear a shawl around my shoulders to cover my bird tattoos and to not remove it at the wedding. My “ameh” (aunt) even chastised me for taking it off during dancing. I felt uncomfortable being around a family who seemed embarrassed or ashamed of me.

It makes me saddest when it comes from my grandmother. However,

My tattoos do not define my morality as a human being.

I have heard and received negative remarks in contemptuous tones; been gawked at like a zoo animal; and have had someone turn a nose up at me and belittle me for a decision that they’ll never understand, despite any articulate explanation on my end.


As an adult, I have the right to make decisions about my body- what I put into it and onto it. I will continue to get tattoos as I see fit because I think they are beautiful, representative of our stories, pains, and legacies, and have evolved as a form of expression and communication, two things I highly value. But I feel very conflicted because of the pressures I feel from my Persian side of the family.

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  1. Thank you for writing this. I have dealt with the pressures of being tattooed myself. The number of times I’ve answered “But, WHY?!” is enough to drive anyone insane. But our bodies are our property to decorate as we wish.

    I’m also curious why common social norms dont seem to apply to tattoos. If someone in my family wore an ugly piece of clothing, I wouldnt comment on it for fear of being rude, yet my family feels it’s okay to comment on my tattoos.

    Finally, a word of advice to all people: NEVER, I repeat NEVER ask what someone’s tattoos mean. If someone cares about something enough to have it permanently inked in their body it’s likely that’s not something they want to share within moments of meeting you. Tattoos are public art, but layered with personal sentiments. So be respectful!

  2. While I do agree it is a bit off-putting to have a total stranger or acquaintance ask about my tattoos, I can still appreciate the curious sentiment, and explaining the concept and meaning behind a piece further reinforces its value in my life in addition to telling a story to a new person. I’m not entirely bothered by people asking questions, in general.

    Honest curiosity is endearing to me. I have a tattoo on my neck of a large tiger lily, done in a watercolor style, and most people I meet remark upon its beauty (the style is really unique) and I adore their positive opinions, which more often than not automatically leads me to telling the story of how and why I got it. But, pick your battles and tell your stories wisely- some drunk frat guy gazing at my neck probably doesn’t give a rat’s ass that it represents wealth, power, and beauty.

    What totally drives me nuts is when people think they can get in my bubble and touch my tattoos without my consent. If you’re a total stranger, do not lean forward to move someone’s hair aside to view their neck ink, or else trace the outline of their shoulder tattoos unless you’ve asked politely to get a better look. The body is a sacred space, and people can be curious about its modifications without needing to touch. Ask me to see the neck one, and I’ll gladly move my hair aside. But touch my hair of your own accord, and I will cut your wrist off.

    I’m glad you liked the post, and I’m thankful for your comments!


  3. Naseem, though I, myself, am not tattooed, I understand how judgmental the Persian community can be. Most of them have left a country because others were telling them what they can’t wear, who they can’t hang out with, etc. They come here and judge everyone else (“Oh, she has a boyfriend? Oh, she’s not a virgin? Oh, she’s an Art major? Oh, she has tattoos?”). It’s totally ironic.

    • Sarah,

      I never thought about that before! My fears are mostly rooted in the cultural value placed on a woman’s social standings: her purity, marriage material-ness, etc…

      It could also be that in the Western culture, tattoos and body modification are more widely prevalent, and thus possibly more “accepted”. How many tattoo parlors are there in Tehran? I think because it’s such a shockingly different cultural element not present in Iranian/Persian culture already, it becomes something both feared and unwilling to be understood. Plus, because Persian parents are always right, you can’t necessarily get them to see your point of view.

      Thanks for reading!


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