Drawing on Skin

I got my first tattoo the day I turned 18. It was nerve-wracking. I approached the small basement parlor with apprehension as to how much pain I would be in, how long it would take, and how much I would like the tattoo after it was already etched into my skin. Despite any misgivings I might have originally had about the concept or experience, I never changed my mind in the course of the evening. Obtaining the tattoo, a relatively recent desire (four months in the making), was never called into question.

Thankfully, I didn’t have to resort to covert operations to obtain this inky desire. And, thankfully, my mother had the same ambitions as I when it came to acquiring meaningful art on our bodies.

“Wear your heart on your skin in this life.” ― Sylvia Plath

The majority of tattoos have a story behind them, even if that story is one of a reckless, spur-of-the-moment longing to have something represented on one’s body permanently. There’s power in the decision to get a tattoo, and a vulnerability—as if you are deliberately displaying an aspect of your personality for the whole world to see and comprehend.

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My first tattoo doesn’t hold personal significance in the general sense. It’s not a meaningful quote or a picture I drew myself, but it’s a design that I found online that encased my heart in craving. And, it was worth every minute in the black leather chair engulfed in the buzz of the needle as it curved and the feeling of traced lines over my shoulder blade, which sometimes drew close to my bone intensifying the pain just enough to remind me that it wasn’t someone pretending to draw on my skin.

“My body is my journal, and my tattoos are my story.” ― Johnny Depp

In time, the evolution of the open book morphing into a distant flock of birds did gain personal meaning for me. Now, it represents my love of books and how they can take you to far off places, how I wanted to fly away, and how I longed for an escape from life throughout my childhood and teenage years. And, it also represents this obsession that’s started. Not long after I achieved this tattoo, I wanted another.

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This time I got a coffee cup, to represent my obsession with coffee, and how much it’s gotten me through: early mornings my senior year of high school, long stretches of writing papers in college, and a warm comforts whenever I needed them. Tattoos are reflections of you, of your life, and a window into the mind of an individual which you cannot normally reach. It’s a shame that they have such a critical reputation in our society.

But, as more and more people acquire them, the stereotype seems to be lifting somewhat (at least…I hope). More workplaces are allowing display of tasteful tattoos, even though they are still largely a stigma in the corporate world. (My dad reminds me to keep them covered for interviews.) But I’m proud of them. They represent the struggles I suffered and freedoms I gained over the years. They are also becoming more popular among survivors of traumatic experiences, taking their scars and turning them into works of art. In the name of self-esteem, tattoos look to be a contributing factor of confidence and appreciation for one’s body, a source of positivity. I believe the world could use a little more of that.

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