Tatted Up

Guys, I’ve been thinking about my mom so much lately. The reasons are many and varied. But I was talking to a friend about tattoos, explaining the ink I want to get for my Mom one day. The thing is, my mother hates all of my tattoos and would really not appreciate anymore on my body, even and especially one in tribute to her.

My mom and I have had many uncomfortable discussions about body art, and I hid a lot of my tattoos from both of my parents for a long time. It was exhausting. I finally completed a project, a creative non-fiction piece, about my tattoos in my senior year of undergrad. I sent it to my mom to read. I wanted her to hear, in my voice, why I continued to undergo this painful process and mark up my body, which in her eyes (I am her one and only child) is perfect. Here is just a snippet from that paper:

And tattoos are sexy. Or they should be. There are days when I think my tattoos are the sexiest thing about me. This forbidden, subversive art form has always had a touch of danger and mystery. And its permanence lends it immediate recognition as important. My tattoos are illustrations of my life story. They exist only in the context of my history. They are part of what makes me unique because they are not just words or images or melodies, they are moments. When a person sees me undress for the first time, they are looking at symbols that can reveal to  them major events in my life, and bare the feelings I had in the minutes and hours surrounding my visits to the parlors. If you really look at them, and if you take pause to ask, you could learn everything you need to know about me.  When I’m naked, I am even more exposed than if my skin was unmarked. Vulnerable, but also powerful in my expression. It’s not just that I let my guard down, it’s also that I command you to see.

This contradiction is necessary in a world where my naked body is never detached from a political state of being. When claiming sexual assertiveness you run the risk of claiming labels like bitch, slut, dyke and whore. Independence is not always lauded or encouraged. Adding art to my skin is a way to assert my ownership over it. To make it even more valuable, more of a sight to drink in. I politicize in on my own terms. I get a rush when I see another person’s eyes light up with surprise and discovery. Nothing nourishes intimacy like the possession of a secret. A women’s body has always been said to possess secrets, and by adding tattoos I have added more secrets. Asserted more control. Declared myself beautiful.

Typical of me, making everything feminist. But honestly, writing that paper made me see just how strongly I felt about feminism, and my body, and my freedom of expression. I did not begin knowing that I’d end up where I did. It was illuminating, that writing process.

And now I’m in the midst of another writing process, this time about food but really about my Mom. Honestly, it’s been really super hard. But I am grateful that I can use words to make sense of my past, and of how the world interacts with my emotional landscape. Basically, I’m glad I can write, because otherwise my life would make a lot less sense. And I think that reading that paper, my Mom made some kind of peace with my ink. At least, I think she gets my point of view now, though I know we’ll never really agree. But I’m hooked. I’ve been hooked since my first tattoo on 4th street that first autumn, 17 and silly and unafraid of so many things.

back of my neck, just below the hairline

I’m not sure how to end this post. I guess I just wanted to say that expressing yourself honestly can happen a variety of ways, and that it can be hard. Especially in a society that dictates who gets to be loud and who should be quiet, who gets to run wild and who needs to be contained. It’s hard when you want to say things that people don’t really want to hear, especially if those people are close to you. But if you feel, like I do, that it’s life or death, then being who you are and saying what you mean have got to be the paramount occasions in your day. Thats why I’ve been sitting in a coffee shop all day writing and researching. Just trying to use the platforms at my disposal to say something worthwhile.


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