Six years ago, a few days after my 18th birthday, I received my first tattoo. I had decided on the design and placement about a year previously and decided then it would be an 18th birthday present to myself. I chose to have ivy tattooed from my right hip bone all the way up my side to my ride shoulder blade. I was warned it would be painful as it covered a good portion of my ribs, I was warned it would take three three hour sessions to complete, I was warned it would be expensive – none of which dissuaded me. The symbol of the ivy was to represent my ability to grow over any barriers. It was a homage to my refusal to ever lie down and quit, even though my childhood had been less then easy. It was also a way to claim back my body. After years of being severely obese, I decided to take my body into my own hands when I was fifteen. This meant that my fourth year of school was consumed with desire to lose weight, and I did. The pounds melted off me with what seemed like ease to all those who watched, but was pain and willpower and starvation for all those who really knew me. Three years later, I walked into that tattoo studio and tattooed the most problematic part of my body, my stomach, and finally, I was proud of my body.
Sometimes I listen to those adds, claiming that if you get rid of your cellulite you’ll instantly have body confidence, others claim the same about yellow nails, dry hair, stubble… the list could go on forever. For me, my body confidence was gained from body modification. I was no longer self-conscious, and even better, I was interesting. I was interesting to myself. I realized very early on that beauty was in the eye of the beholder, and while the idea of being skinny had whittled its way into my brain, other conventional ideas of beauty had not. Blonde hair held little attraction to me, nor did pink clothes or fake tan. For me beauty was in someone’s style, in how they held themselves and presented themselves, and if they could do this in a way that’s all their own, for me – this was beauty. This was a person that oozed confidence, happiness, freedom. This is who I wanted to be.
So for me, tattoos represents a reclaiming of my body. It allows me to deal with issues that I have gone through in my life, while also wearing them with pride. It’s cathartic.
Recently, I acquired two new tattoos. The first I got with a wonderful friend who I met when I was 15, she
was 16, on a school trip to Paris. We hit it off instantly, two shy girls suddenly empowered by the others willingness to talk and be strange and vulnerable and praised for it all at once. We slowly developed our own click in school, one that allowed us to feel that our strangeness wasn’t a bad thing. After I dared her to come out to her parents, knowing that it was the push she needed, we’ve been inseperable. Together we got matching anchors tattooed on our feet. They represent our abilities to keep each other grounded.
The second of the tattoos I got with a friend that I only more recently got to know. This girl fleetingly weaved in and out of my life from the age of 16, yet we never really found a firm hold in each other’s lives until much later. I had been working at the local cinema when a group of the new staff walked in. Immediately I recognized her, and realizing that she was more than likely terrified with it being her first day I smiled the biggest smile I knew how and called her over. Again, we had an instant connection. Yet, it was nothing like I had with my above school friend. With her, I could be as ridiculous as my heart desired, I could shoot thunder bolts from the sky and pretend I was Thor and she’d turn around casually and suddenly beam out noises that she claimed mimicked that of Iron Man’s hand blaster (They sounded nothing like it, btw). We got matching Deathly Hallow tattoos. Eat your heart out nerds of the world!
At first I was slightly self-conscious of the idea of matching tattoos. Before, tattoos were about me, and about me claiming my individuality, so to get matching ones, well that just goes against the very idea, right? But then I started to think of what tattoos really meant: The claiming of your agency, the understanding of who you are, the power to be that person unabashedly and show the world that you are content in your own skin. It’s a personal process, a personal space. So to open that space up with another that you truly care about, to undergo that process with another person, it’s like sharing a secret that only you two can ever hold.
For me then, matching tattoos are tasteful. It’s a process in which you bind yourself to another in a small way (or big, depending on the tattoo) and open your body up for that kind of inscription, a kind of vulnerability and another type of identity.