Tattoo.

The mere word provokes a reaction; no visual is needed. Say it. And the comments follow. Everyone has an opinion. They’re quick to share. And those that judge are even quicker to do so.

Well… Feel free to sit over there full of your opinions. I’ll be over here, not apologizing to you for part of my body. I wouldn’t apologize for any other part of it, so why should I apologize for the (uh-oh, that word again!) tattoos?

I shouldn’t. That’s the thing. They aren’t for you; they’re for me.

It’s not so different from you carrying a Bible or wearing a wedding ring or hanging a graduation tassel from the rear-view mirror of your car. Those things are important to you and you like to keep them close, right? Well, these things are important to me and I like to keep them close – I just keep my important things a little closer…

They represent the best parts of me, all the wild things I keep locked up inside – so I remember to be them with every single breath. So I remember to open my hands, release everything I am tempted to cling to and make space for the world to perch on my palm.

I chose my tattoos carefully, put them in places that make me feel feminine and beautiful, that are associated with some level of intimacy. I put them in places that are exposed most often when I’m alone, changing or showering or lolling around the house half-dressed – so, if my mind is tempted to wander into those old familiar rooms of fear or loneliness or self-deprecation and no one is around to distract me, I will see my tattoos. I will remember why I put them there in the first place.

They aren’t body art. They aren’t the results of youthful whims or drunken dares. They are etchings of grief and hope, missteps and courage, reminders of who I was and who I strive to be every day.

Like scars or freckles or wrinkles, we acquire things as we live that we were not born with, but they become part of us. It’s the same with my tattoos. They may have been more intentional than the wear on the body that comes with living, yes – but they reflect the wear on my soul. And, more importantly, the healing of my soul.

This kind of soul painting is an ancient art. Ainu women received tattoos to bless their marriages. Hawaiians donned tattoos to protect their health and spiritual well-being. Polynesians believed tattoos were a display of the wearer’s life force. Egyptians, Indians, Africans, the Chinese and the Celts all tattooed – for fertility, health, marriage, tribal roles, religious rites…

Now, unfortunately, tattooing is largely viewed as pop culture. And for many, it is.

But for me, each tattoo has been the shedding of an old self, the painting on of a new mantra, another lesson learned and cherished. I know it’s the same with many others.

As with anything else you see, you can look at a tattoo and choose to dismiss it because it doesn’t align with your tastes or values. You can view it as pop culture or a colorful whim. But you may be wrong. That tattoo may tell a whole story, one that, if you asked, would tell you much more about the wearer than an hour of introductory conversation could. You’ll never know if you don’t ask, if you don’t seek the story before you pass judgment…

Maybe you’ll ask and you won’t like the answers. Maybe you’ll keep holding fast to your opinions and judgments. I prefer to hold fast to the belief that there are other people out there like me, stumbling and learning and loving and painting their way through life, and sometimes a tattoo or a necklace or a whispered word is a tiny clue to the stories they carry within. It’s a nice idea, right?

(And, no, you can’t see my tattoos.)

 

CLICK HERE to learn more about the history of tattoos

 

TALK: Are you for or against tattoos? Why?

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