Why Marilyn Rondon Wrote a Book Called ‘Why Does Mommy Have Tattoos?’
After publishing three photo zines and writing a memoir, multidisciplinary artist Marilyn Rondon is set to release her very first children’s book titled, Why Does Mommy Have Tattoos?
The book, full of original illustrations by Marilyn herself, will teach kids one big lesson — “that tattoos don’t make people bad, they’re just art.” And Marilyn, with her own beautiful collection of tattoos, feels it’s important to let her baby readers know just that: “I think children need to be exposed to these kinds of subjects at a young age so they don’t create these prejudices that unfortunately still exist,” she said. “It’s already so difficult being human, and why do we make it harder?” Good question.
Photography, painting, writing, zine productions, and more, Marilyn shares her creative work on both Instagram (@calientechica) and her personal website (totallystokedonyou.com). But with her willingness to let her social media followers into her life, Marilyn has also experienced criticism throughout her career.
Born in Venezuela, Marilyn moved to Miami as an undocumented immigrant — something her followers would never know from looking at her Instagram. Because of this, Marilyn has struggled with how others perceive her on the internet. “Having a big social media following gives people a false idea of who I am, and creates so much expectation as well when it comes to my work situations,” she revealed.
After years of being misjudged for her appearance and work, Marilyn knows it might not be any different with her children’s book, but this time around, she’s not afraid to find out. “I know my intentions behind my work are pure. Every single page of my book is my original artwork,” she said. “I wrote the entire thing and I have nothing to fear.”
In the interview below, Marilyn explains more of her intention behind Why Does Mommy Have Tattoos? and opens up about the struggles of being a female artist.
I guess to start off, why a children’s book? Not even this one, why a children’s book in general?
It’s funny, but as long as I can remember, and ever since I started drawing characters, I always thought it would be great to illustrate a children’s book. My writing hasn’t always been the best, so I knew the writing would be the challenge when creating a book for children. But even as a teen, I always liked books with illustrations in them and wanted to myself, one day, write and illustrate a children’s book. Here I am now, publishing my very first, of many books for the youth. It almost feels surreal.
“We should try to understand one another instead of judge based on fear.”
How did you come up with the idea for “Why Does Mommy Have Tattoos?”
About four years ago, I was wrapping up an art benefit that my friends and I were curating for relief for Hurricane Sandy, and I was waiting for an elevator with my friend when he mentioned to me that he really loved what my illustrations were beginning to evolve into. He was like, “You should write a children’s book,” and I was like, “Yeah dude! I really want to.” I’m pretty sure at the same time we both said “about tattoos!” So, we quickly Googled “why does mommy have tattoos” and nothing came up, and it was that exact moment that I realized “this is why I’m here, this is why I’m alive, I gotta be the one to do it.”
What do you think that children will take away from your book? What about the parents reading it to them?
I was actually a nanny for a two year old while I created half of this book. After completing a page, she would go “ooooo.” One page specifically, I will never forget her reaction! It’s the spread of the girl with a rose tattoo on her neck, like the one I have on mine, and she pointed at the drawing and then pointed at me and said, “oh like wowo!” Wowo is what she called me and I almost started crying. It was such a special moment where her little mind linked the tattooed drawing to someone she knows.
Her father is pretty heavily tattooed and her mom has quite a nice collection of tattoos as well, not to mention her nanny with face tattoos, so this little girl had already been exposed to individuals with tattoos, and didn’t see them as anything other than drawings. She would point to my tattoos on my legs and look confused with her hands up. I would make some silly story up about how I used to have a pet horse who ran away when I was 10 years old and that’s why I got the horse on my leg. She would just start laughing! This was also around the same time that she was learning how to talk, so it was fun. She couldn’t say full words but she would make noises. It was such an inspiration to be around someone that tiny while writing a book for someone that tiny.
I think half of the kids that read my book will probably learn something, I’m hoping that at most, it’ll just teach kids that tattoos don’t make people bad, they’re just art. Same with parents. We should try to understand one another instead of judge based on fear.
“I’m sure there will be the ultra conservative parents that are going to bash me and hate me for creating such a book for children; like the ignorant people on the internet and streets that look at me and tell me I ruined my beautiful body by putting such stupid tattoos on myself.”
I think it’s important that kids are given the opportunity to see everything in the world in the most normal way possible from an early age! That’s how I think, but it’s definitely not how everyone feels. What are some of the struggles you think you might face in regards to how people or parents react to this project?
I come from a pretty conservative Venezuelan Catholic background, it took my mom a while to accept my tattoos. I think like any art or writing project that any artist or writer creates, they have to face the sweet and unfortunately… the sour. I get it. I’m sure there will be the ultra conservative parents that are going to bash me and hate me for creating such a book for children; like the ignorant people on the internet and streets that look at me and tell me I ruined my beautiful body by putting such stupid tattoos on myself.
That always makes me laugh because the art work I’ve accumulated has been done by some of the best tattooers in the country, in my honest opinion. But really, that’s all it is. Everyone has a different opinion and why should I lose sleep because someone doesn’t like me or my work? It is what it is. Someone is going to see something that makes them uncomfortable and instead of questioning their feelings, they’ll throw all of the hate they have within their being and try to bring that person down. If I get bad reviews, so be it. I’ve accomplish my biggest goal yet, so no bad review or opinion can take that away from me.
“I find that my work ethic is the one thing no one could possibly question about me.”
How do you use your Latina roots in your work or even your work ethic/process?
Everything I’ve had to do in my life I’ve had to work extremely hard for. It’s part of being a first generation immigrant. I was actually an undocumented immigrant up until two years ago when I was approved for the Dream Act, and was finally given the opportunity to work legally in the U.S. I moved here when I was five, so I unfortunately don’t have the privileges most Americans have. Obtaining a bank account was difficult, with cellphones I always had to be on someone’s family plan. But the most difficult was finding work under the table. I’ve worked as a porter at a bar, a bar back, a food runner, a dish washer, a waitress, worked in thrift shops, worked at tattoo shops as a shop girl, I mean, I’ve worked 3-4 jobs at a time making less than minimum wage to get by. I feel like that held me back so much.
But I made it out of that, and every single thing in my life, I earned and worked for till my feet bled. I’m just determined as hell, I haven’t had a choice but to be this way. When you go 3-4 days without eating because you can’t afford food, you do every single thing possible to get the hell away from that lifestyle and bust your ass off in the process. I find that my work ethic is the one thing no one could possibly question about me. Sure you can say you find me unattractive, or you don’t like my art, or this or that about me, but you know someone is lying when they say I have bad work ethic, because I sure as hell don’t.
What do you think are some of the biggest struggles that come with being an artist who has a big social media following? Do you ever feel like sometimes it hurts more than helps?
I think a lot of the time people see that number and think, “Oh, she’s famous,” or this, or that, and it’s like, no, these are people from all over the world that are watching me, not just one area. I think as an artist it’s also a platform for people to steal from you; your ideas, your image, the style of your work. That’s extremely unfortunate.
Also, people seem to forget that I am still a human with a full time job and a part time job aside from my career. I barely make money off my art. I use my social media audience as a place for performance art and also as a platform to promote positivity and send a message that the body you live in should be loved and treated as such.
What’s your favorite project to look at that you made, yourself?
Defiantly my book. I poured years of my life into this project and to watch it materialize is still absolutely incredible.
“I use my social media audience as a place for performance art and also as a platform to promote positivity and send a message that the body you live in should be loved and treated as such.”
As an artist, are you always proud of what you make?
Yeah, not even on some cocky type of ish. I just am. I don’t just make work for the sake of making it. I make it for myself and thats what’s really special. I create art as therapy, it’s my safe place. It makes me forget everything terrible going on in the world. It’s an escape. Each painting is a little world in it’s own, and although they just look like the same thing to an outsider, my works are all little universes. I can look at a painting I did from a year ago and still remember what I was feeling while I painted it. Same as my photos or even my zines. I document what I want to remember. I create to release energy or just to remember.
“I think one of the struggles I deal with is that I mainly get asked to participate in all female art shows.”
What are your 3 favorite verbs?
Communicate. Resolve. Experiment.
What are some of the struggles you face as a female artist? How do you face that?
I think one of the struggles I deal with is that I mainly get asked to participate in all female art shows. Which is cool, but why does it have to be like that? I feel I have as much to offer as a male artist, sure my paintings are very bright and colorful, but I can list over ten male painters who paint the same. That’s one thing that kind of irks me. But don’t get me wrong, I am always honored to be asked to participate in group shows, I just feel I get lumped into the “female feminist artist” category and I am more than just that. I try to not think of my gender when creating, but I guess it’s very obvious that I am a woman. Being a woman does work in my advantage when it comes to shooting other women though. It makes them feel a lot more comfortable. A lot of my subjects are like sisters to me, so that’s cool.
“I don’t understand why anyone would think it’s ok to just grab and touch a stranger. It makes me feel violated and objectified.”
Men think they can talk about a woman’s tattoos and actually use them to hit on her, people judge women with tattoos for all sorts of reasons. I’d imagine that’s been something you have to deal with. I guess, if there was one thing people misunderstand about you that you would want them to understand, what would it be?
I just really wish people would refrain from touching me, period. Lately, more than in the past, I’ve had people just grab me and touch me to look at my tattoos. I don’t understand why anyone would think it’s ok to just grab and touch a stranger. It makes me feel violated and objectified. I wish people could just always keep their hands to themselves. I don’t care if this makes me sound neurotic, but just don’t touch me. You don’t own me, so don’t touch me just because you think my tattoos are cool. I don’t mind the compliments, and questions, it comes with the territory, but there is absolutely no excuse to touch me, unless I’m crossing the street into traffic and you’re trying to save my life. I should just get a tattoo that says “do not touch” [Laughs].
Why Does Mommy Have Tattoos is available May 3rd on BarnesandNoble.com!