Leaving a mark

I got my first tattoo when I was in my early 20s. I began dreaming of having tattoos when I was 18 or 19. The ideas I had for tattoos then were awful. While my husband and I were walking around the neighbourhood a few weeks ago, I told him about some of the plans I had–a kiss mark on my ass cheek, guns tattooed to my hips like they were holstered. My first love and I had even talked about getting matching tattoos (koi fish like the ones on Incubus’s Morning View album). Thankfully I didn’t act on any of those ideas. In my 20s I got an antique fork permanently added to my body, and it began a chain reaction. With the tattoo I got on Sunday, I hit double digits for the number of tattoos I have.

The reasons I get tattoos are varied and change for each piece, but one of the overarching motivations for marking my body in this way has to do with control. When I was recently reading Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls by Mary Pipher for research for my book, I was reminded that she wrote that piercing and tattooing culture were manifestations of a desire to mutilate the body. I’ve read the section a couple times now, and both times, I got angry. That someone would look at my body with its tattoos and see mutilation, made me judge my body and my choices for tattooing my body. This made me even angrier because the reason I got tattooed in the first place was an effort to reclaim control over my body.

Like many teen girls, when puberty started it felt like my body and I were in a battle. The struggle with my body began as a kid (the reality for many girls) when a boy began bullying me and calling me fat. As I became a teenager and the world (with pop culture as reinforcement) reminded me that what mattered most was my body and beauty. And beauty had (and continues to have) a very limited definition and it was represented in the women on my favourite TV shows and movies, and the Barbies I played with as a kid. It felt like sometimes my body wasn’t my own. Diet culture reminded me of what I should eat and how I should move my body. Pop culture and religion reminded me of how I should enjoy my body. And the news reminded me that the world was always ready to harm or hurt the bodies of women. When I got tattooed for the first time it was a choice I made for myself. That fork represented my love for food and eating (which felt subversive in itself because women aren’t supposed to love food), and it was a small step towards reclaiming my body and starting the journey to appreciate my body, maybe for the first time.

I don’t know how much control I really have over things, especially in a world that somedays seems like a flaming dumpster fire, but I feel more at home in my body today than I did in my early 20s when I started getting tattooed. There might have been a way to get to this point without spending money on tattoos and all the pain of needles, but I love the way my body looks with these images that mean something to me and remind me of the life I’ve lived. This body has been on a journey and there’s still a long road to go, and likely many more tattoos.

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