Why I love getting tattooed
(Disclaimer for my parents: I don't have as many tattoos as this title makes it sound!)
Over the past month, I've had about five different ideas for my next blog post. But instead of choosing & committing to one, I've almost helplessly mulled over all of them at once. Last week, I decided to focus on disordered eating, but this has been even harder to write about than anticipated.
So for now, here is a somewhat-rambly piece about why I love getting tattooed.
(For those of you who read the longer piece I wrote in May, which mined the inner turmoil that propelled me to get my first tattoos — this is more light-hearted!)
Some time has passed since I dipped a toe into the world of tattooing — since I overcame any stigma towards them, experienced the process of getting one, & began to feel more like myself with them.
Some time has passed and yet, so little.
A year and a half ago, getting tattooed couldn't have been farther from my mind. I associated tattoos with a lack of direction, of decency & respect for one's body. I considered them hyper-focused on outer change as opposed to inner.
Today, they are one of the most powerful forms of self-expression I've experienced.
Getting tattooed has taught me about the fragility of life. The pain whisks me beyond the bubble of my lived experience. The healing process reminds me of patience; the resulting permanence is both exhilarating and sobering.
Physically, tattoos become part of you. For those of us who have struggled viscerally with body image, we become tattooed to add more beauty — more art, more stories, more visual expression — to our bodies.
We become an embodied expression of how a human person is not a collection of parts, but a text in constant translation, a painting in motion, a coalescence of worlds.
Like music & creative writing, tattoos are a bridge between the worlds inside & around me.
Amid increased isolation, the experience of getting tattooed shatters barriers to intimacy — physical intimacy, as your skin becomes a canvas under the artist's hands, but also emotional intimacy. Often, over the course of an appointment, the artist changes from a total stranger to a human who generously opens part of their life story to me & allows me to do the same (to the extent that I can speak through the pain).
"When are you going to stop getting tattooed?" my family may wonder. Maybe tomorrow, maybe years from now. Regardless, for me tattoos are an outer expression of the self as an ongoing piece of art, as never quite finished.
All of my tattoos are easy to hide. But even if my family dislikes them, at the end of the day, they are nothing worse than ink upon my skin. And they aren't impossible to remove.
Ultimately, being tattooed symbolizes a certain lightness of heart that only working part-time in food service — despite having graduated from a prestigious college — could have taught me.
"Is that from the bakery?" my dad asked the first time I came home with tattoos. "No," I said defensively, not wanting to reduce my romanticized relationship with tattooing to his somewhat disdainful view of my occupation in food service. But the answer was yes. In an unapologetic, beautiful way — yes.
For one, my shifts with tattooed coworkers erased the stigma I had towards them. On a practical level, I’ve paid for my tattoos almost exclusively with cash tips from the bakery counter.
On another level, working there cultivated a desire to live with a sense of abandonment, even if others mistake this as recklessness.
When I've left my job at the bakery, when my 20s have long passed, I hope these tattoos remind me of the sheer expansiveness — shattering of barriers, breathtaking wilderness of possibility — that I've tasted in pursuing a career as an independent creative. I hope they will remind me of how life felt then.
Without over-romanticizing instability, I hope to preserve what being unmoored has given me.
Decades from now, if I age into a woman who’s inclined to frown upon instability, I hope these tattoos evoke how I'm living the same life that felt iridescent even amid a pandemic — when many of us have not only shed blinders towards death, but learned more about despair.
Like the explosion of colors on my back, I hope being tattooed remains one of my doorways to a deep well of joy — of radical openness to wonder, of unfettered creativity & the ability to revel in simply being alive.