As you might imagine, tattoos were one of the big Not No But Hell Nos in my circles growing up. I never really understood the objection, even with the whole “body as temple” mindset. Doesn’t it make sense to decorate your temple as you see fit?
I got my first ink as a very generous deal a few years ago. I “donated skin” to a friend for his portfolio-building. In return for letting him tattoo me during his apprenticeship, I didn’t have to pay a dime. That took out one of my last remaining “I’d love to, but…” excuses. I brought him a drawing that resonated deeply with me, he improved it with his amazing skills, and then he put it on my skin for keeps.
I walked out of there high as a kite from the whole experience. My beloved design was turned into something beautiful by a talented artist who liked the concept (hey, validation!), and now I would get to keep it forever. It’s unique to me and speaks a big part of my truth without me having to say a word.
Tattoos help us show the world who we are, even when finding the words is hard or we’re afraid nobody would listen. They let us passively and continuously (if they’re visible) put parts of our stories “out there,” and people do respond to that!
The first time a stranger noticed my tattoo (a butterfly whose body is a treble clef), my family and I were having supper at an inexpensive restaurant not far from the house. The server came up to our table to deliver the beverages, and I reached out to help him with the kids’ cups.
“Oh, let me see your tattoo!” he said, gently taking hold of my wrist to get a better look at my arm. “I love music too!” and before I could blink, he had his sleeve rolled up to show a large bass clef on his forearm.
I was astonished by the sudden, warm blossom of “this person gets me” in my chest. If that man and I had glanced at one another on the street, we might have smiled in passing, but neither of us would ever have guessed we had much in common. He was tanned and well-muscled, with a fashionable haircut and a “too cool for school” vibe; I am overweight and pale, haven’t cut my hair in at least three years, and generally look like the mom-of-three that I am. In that moment, we were kindred.
That was just the first of many encounters over the next few months that convinced me that my tattoo artist was right, that by getting ink in an obvious place, I had “become part of the community.” It’s a very loose community, with no real parameters, mind you. But now when I see someone with tattoos, I look for the stories. Sometimes I compliment them on a particularly well-done piece or ask them where they had it done. You would not believe how many people go from “resting bitch face” to warm smiles, happily chatting about the art on their skin!
This is me we’re talking about, the me who developed considerable skill in not being noticed (despite my light red hair in a sea of brunettes where I live).
My second tattoo is a Gaelic phrase written in Ogham, so it has to be “twice translated” to make sense. It looks like a long strip of variously-angled black lines. As I suspected, it’s proving to be quite a conversation starter, with everyone from my daughter’s orthopedist to random guys walking up to me in public places. “What does that mean?”
They all seem to think it’s neat when they hear the explanation — but more importantly, my tattoos invite people to “read” my story (the parts I’ve chosen to illustrate, anyway).
How cool is that?? Anything that gets us talking to one another, anything that helps us to realize that these fellow human beings are not so Other after all, well, that’s a beautiful thing in my book. (See what I did there? You can groan. I’ll wait.)
…So yeah, I am a big fan of ink. I have a few more ideas, parts of me I’d love to wear on the outside. And when you see that beefy guy covered in ink of varying ages or that slender soccer mom sporting a tiny tattoo on her wrist, remember that those are acts of courage in a world that still punishes nonconformity. Those people have chosen to permanently wear some part of their truth for the world to see.
“To be nobody-but-yourself — in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else — means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.”