Every tattoo I have had inked onto my body is a reflection of a moment or experience in my life. When I look at my body and see the ink, it is a reminder of who I am and where I have been or hope to go. I love my ink. And I know I am not unique in this way. That is why I have asked a number of people to share about their body art with me here. First, let me set a tone of respect. These folks are sharing their bodies and stories with us (thank you). Be kind. Be respectful.Also, just be those things in general. But for anyone that has ever wondered- why get a tattoo? Or- I wonder what that tattoo means to them! Now is your chance for some answers. It’s also a chance for all my fellow ink-lovers out there to sit back and marvel at some beauty.
*Grabs popcorn and opens Pinterest tattoo board for ideas*
Me first. Of course I can’t do a post about tattoos and NOT share about my own. I have four tattoos, each special to me in a unique way. I am just going to share about one for now.
This is a photo of my most recent tattoo. The photo was taken the same day I had it done, so it is still a tad red and sore. This was my first fully color tattoo and I couldn’t adore it more. As you can likely tell, it is lavender. And lavender is very precious to me. I have struggled with anxiety for my entire life (runs in the good ol’ fam). When my anxiety was at an all-time high, I decided to see a therapist. One of the best suggestions she gave me was to find a scent that calms you and keep it near you. When you’re feeling particularly anxious, smell it/rub some of that scent of lotion on you/burn a candle of that scent/etc. I didn’t recognize this until that moment, but lavender had already become that for me. I keep a dried bouquet at the entrance of my apartment; I use lavender essential oils (a LOT)- my mom got me this necklace that has a little fabric pad you can drop an essential oil on to calm you throughout the day. I use lavender lotion, have a lavender eye mask…it goes on. I really wish my tattoo could have been a scratch and sniff (LOL…maybe one day?!). But the mere image of lavender does bring me peace. It serves as a reminder to breath in, stay calm, and seek peace.
This was my very first tattoo, and I contemplated what I wanted for quite a few years before actually taking the plunge. It says “to be ransomed” in Greek. The idea first developed back in early 2011 during a sermon at Flatirons church that was really life-changing for me. Disclaimer – my stance on Christianity has changed since this time, but I’m going to write about this tattoo from my experience of it at the time I got it J The sermon series was called Ransom, and went through the story of Moses, in short. Our word “redemption” comes from this word “ransom.” Redemption is defined as the recovery of what was once lost, but ransom goes much deeper than this. A ransom is a price paid for the release of a slave (or POW or condemned criminal). It’s recovering your freedom, your life, and not of your own will, but as a result of someone else paying the price for it. In the story of Moses, God ransomed the Israelites when they were enslaved by the Egyptians for over 400 years. They had been begging and crying and pleading with God to be set free, and for 400 years God had not answered their prayer. Their spirits were broken because of this harsh slavery and they had lost hope that God would free them. When God finally sent Moses to lead them to freedom, the Israelites didn’t listen because of their broken spirit and harsh slavery. And I can’t say I blame them! But more on that later. Slavery can be defined as being controlled by another for their benefit and having your freedom either very restricted or completely taken away. Someone or something else is running your life. And when you’ve been begging for freedom for so long with no answer, all hope begins to fade. I have no doubt that we all have people or things we are slaves to, but let me tell you my story.
At this time in my life I felt as if the traumatic experiences I had faced were running my life. I was bound by the memories, the nightmares, the flashbacks, the anxiety. Additionally, both of my grandmothers had just passed away within a 2 month time frame, and my cousin had just been rushed to the hospital with meningitis and was found brain-dead. I had been crawling through the last year of my life as I tried to begin working through my trauma, and as the effects were worsening, I suddenly had to deal with these new losses. I was broken. I’d lost hope and wanted to give up. I turned to cutting. I cut my arms and my thighs because it was a way to let the pain escape. It also helped to bring me to the present when I was panicking. It helped, a lot, for a time. Eventually I attempted suicide and wound up hospitalized and in a partial hospitalization program, which was helping me cope a great deal. But I was really hurting. I was facing the battle alone – I was afraid to tell anyone about what had happened, so I shoved the pain down and pretended like I was ok.
And then, on this Saturday night in July, I heard this sermon. I broke down, realizing as the pastor spoke that I didn’t have to be a slave to my past, to the trauma and the actions of another human being. What happened was not my fault, and I didn’t have to continue to carry it the way I had been. “The Lord will fight for you, you need only to be still” (Exodus 14:14). My freedom from this pain, my rescue, my RANSOM – it had already been paid for. There was literally nothing I could do in order to lead God to ransom me. It was based on ZERO merit f my own. It’s by grace alone that I am ransomed. I prayed and cried and literally felt the chains falling from my body. But slavery is simple and predictable. Freedom is neither of those things. I now had no idea whattomorrow would bring – but in my head I felt like everything would be easier. It wasn’t. Tomorrow brought anxiety, anger and fear. When I had panic attacks, I wanted to cut so badly. And sometimes I did. It helped for a minute, and then I just felt ashamed of going back to that. I thought I was free from this, but it had chased me back down and caught up to me again. Sort of like how the Israelites thought they were free until the Egyptian army changed their mind and came running after them. But God destroyed the Egyptians. And he could destroy my master too, even when I began to believe that my “master” was the one that could take care of me and give me what I needed. Many slaves return to their masters because it’s safe, it’s what they’ve always known. They might even love their master and fight to defend their master – the very thing destroying their lives – instead of living in freedom. “It is for FREEDOM that Christ set you free” (Galatians 5:1). I wasn’t living in freedom, I was still living in bondage.
Slowly I began to realize that I didn’t need it – I could be completely free if I had faith and hope in the Lord. The road wasn’t easy and I wanted to give up a lot, but eventually with the His strength, I was able to work past the trauma and through the need to cut. I went back to that sermon a lot during this time, finding comfort in the idea that I wasn’t alone. Today, I can truly say that the sexual and emotional abuse I suffered at the hands of my abusers no longer runs my life. I’ve replaced cutting with healthier coping mechanisms. And for the 1-year anniversary of giving up cutting and truly being able to say that I could finally live without feeling chained to my abuse and abusers, I went to the tattoo parlor and got this tattoo on my left wrist, where a lot of the cutting happened. It is a reminder to me every single day that I am not a slave, but a ransomed woman living in freedom.
Long after my first tattoo, the phrase “Be Free” was something by which I tried to define my life. A lot of my tattoos are centered around this theme of freedom, including this one, obviously. When I look in the mirror and see my reflection and feel down on myself, I see those words reflected back to me: be free. I’m reminded that so many things that I begin to let define me don’t actually define me. The societal role I’m supposed to take as a woman and the image I’m supposed to project does not define me. What my family and parents believe and say does not define me. What happened in my past doesn’t define me. Only I define me. I don’t have to fit into the box that other people want me to climb into – I am more than that. Sometimes the influence of others can be so powerful, and this tattoo is a reminder that I am free of all of these constraints.
Alyssa (3). Sticking with the freedom theme, I actually stole this tattoo idea from Pinterest – I’m definitely not cool enough to come up with that on my own! The image of the dandelion, seeds blowing away and transforming into birds mid-flight, resonated with me as a metaphorical image of my own experience. In the same way that a dandelion is plucked from its roots, I felt like I had been pulled from my previously “normal” childhood, and thrown into a world in which I was not my own. I was used over and over again, physically and emotionally, for the pleasure of someone else; I was entirely powerless and had done nothing to deserve it. My simultaneously stable and fragile life was uprooted, much like the dandelion in this image, and my heart and my identity were split into a million little pieces, as the dandelion is when its seeds are blown away. In my tattoo, those seeds, having been forcefully removed from their little place of existence, don’t simply shrivel up and die but instead transform into birds and fly away. They take what was forced upon them, having been used for the delight of someone else, and turn it in to something beautiful. In a nutshell, this is the legacy I hope to one day leave behind.
Alyssa (4). First of all, I love roses. A lot. I own a million things with roses on them as well as another million fake roses as décor. I think I got the rose gene from my grandma who also loved them. She and I were very very close. When she passed away, I didn’t really have the chance to go through her belongings because my family had already done most of it by the time I got there. (I was delayed because I had to take the GRE. Gross.) But there were a few things leftover in a donation box, including 4 fake roses in different colors. I snatched those right up, along with a beautiful glass vase, and have had them positioned prominently in my apartment ever since. They remind me of her daily, and they are beautiful, too. A mere six weeks later, my other grandmother passed away as well, followed by my 19-year old cousin a couple months after. So much loss in such a short time was devastating to me and my family. I decided on these three roses – one for each of them – as a less literal tribute to their lives and the impact they had on mine. I hope to one day add more to my shoulder and arm to expand this, but for now I’m incredibly happy with my artist’s work on this tattoo!!
Shay. Growing up, I begged my parents to get me a golden retriever puppy. That’s all I asked for every Christmas, every birthday, and almost every other day of the year too. Finally, in 2004, at 10 years old, I got my wish. A six-week-old golden, who would soon be known to me as Nellie. Over the years, Nellie truly became my best friend in every sense of the phrase. She was my confidant, my actual shoulder to cry on, and my cuddle buddy. I slept with her every night, she comforted me when I was bullied at school, and I couldn’t have asked for a better companion during my teenage years. Nellie had her fair share of medical problems from the time she was a pup (including epilepsy and 2 ACL tears), but when she was 9-years-old we discovered she had 2 forms of cancer. In December of 2013, Nellie had her spleen removed and she spent Christmas in the hospital. Without cancer treatment, she was only expected to last a couple months. With treatment but without a guarantee, the best case scenario would be that she had a year left. We went for the treatment despite astronomical vet bills, but sadly we had to put Nellie down on June 30, 2014, just eleven days after her tenth birthday. We were able to spend a few hours outside with her that evening before she was put down, and it was then that the thoughts of getting a tattoo that I had been toying with since her cancer diagnosis became a reality. I knew I wanted to commemorate my bond with her, something that I still feel very strongly even though she is not physically here with me. So, on my 22nd birthday in 2016, I got the tattoo. My tattoo is on my right foot and says “I’ll never walk alone”-a reminder that Nellie is alongside me on my life journey, whether it be tugging on her leash to chase after squirrels, or sitting in the passenger seat of my car with the windows rolled down. Although a tattoo in memory of a pet may seem silly to some people, it’s a way for me to remember her in my day-to-day life, and I am comforted by the idea of Nellie still listening to me and being there for me on my hard days. This tattoo is important to me, and I look forward to displaying it proudly for the rest of my life.
Sarah. I originally started with the birds flying out of the birdcage. So much of my life had been rules and legality — and in my adulthood I am finally finding freedom in every aspect of my life. The most peaceful place I’ve ever been is in the mountains (I’ve only been to U.S. mountains)– so I added birds flying to the mountains. I love color and being bold, so there was some color added (I might have that edited). I recently added wildflowers over my collarbone and shoulder – I love that they’re
a flower, but kind of do their own thing, grow where they want, and are still regarded as beautiful. Needless to say, I want more I will likely add more to this piece – perhaps more wildflowers. Or a tree! I am loving this nature theme.
Paige (1). Ever since I can remember, the two most important people in my life have been my mom and my grandmother (gramma). In lieu of a present father figure growing up (with the exception of my gramps, who is without a doubt one of the best people I know), both of these women did, and continue to do, everything in their power to make sure that I never felt unloved or unwanted. Both my mom and my gramma have worked relentlessly for their entire lives and serve as unparalleled examples of strong, independent, self-sufficient women; qualities that I have grown to love in myself. The two of them have supported me, loved me, and put me at the forefront of their lives even when I didn’t deserve it. Anyways, both of them have rose tattoos that were completely unrelated, both from when they were young. Knowing this, I wanted a rose tattoo to signify how much they meant to me. Roses aren’t particularly my favorite of flowers, but I like their symbolism. Roses are classic: people give them as gifts in happy times and as a good gesture in bad times. They’re beautiful, but not without thorns and flaws. And, most importantly, the remind me of the two most beautiful things in my life, my mom and gramma. The idea ended up evolving into 3 roses on a vine, all in different stages of life, but somehow it still didn’t capture the meaning that I wanted the tattoo to have. So, I had the roses placed on an unfinished puzzle. To me, the puzzle signifies my life: somewhat a mystery and not completely put together- but built upon a good foundation. Even to this day, when I look at it, I am grateful for where I came from and for having two women in my life that gave me a heart that is so unapologetically my own.
Paige (2). I studied abroad summer of my junior year in undergrad. I chose Costa Rica because of their unprecedented environmentalism as a nation and their focus on real, whole food grown in ways that aren’t damaging to the extremely diverse ecosystem of Costa Rica. Upon arriving, we were taught a colloquial term that the ticas and ticos commonly used, “Pura Vida,” which, in English, translates to “Pure Life.” Natives use it in passing to acknowledge another person, to greet and to say goodbye. Not a day passed the entire time I was there that I didn’t hear someone use the phrase in some form or fashion. After volunteering on several permaculture farms and observing the culture, it became more and more apparent to me that “Pura Vida” wasn’t just a saying, it was a way of life. It dawned on me one day when my class went on a tour to a sustainable coffee farm. After exploring the farm, the farmer opened his home to us and told us his story. The farm, passed down through three generations, was originally a conventional coffee farm that used extensive fertilizer and pesticide applications (as is common in the developed world). After his father developed a neurodegenerative disease as a result of long term exposure to pesticides (aka pesticide poisoning), he decided that he was he could not be proud of his family business if it was damaging not only to the Earth, but to his family. Slowly, but surely, this man made sacrifices that I cannot even describe in order to transition his farm into a sustainable, biologically sound organism: good for the heart, the planet, and his family. My heart felt pride for him but also a sense of defeat because, as much as I believe in his cause, I would never expect others to go through trials and tribulations to that extent for the benefit of the Earth and sustainable agriculture. It was equally shattering and inspiring. I take his story with me in my heart and remember it when I want to give up; when I feel like no matter how hard I work that I will never persevere and truly make the difference I wish to see in the world. His story, and his true sense of “Pura Vida” is what keeps me fighting. This is what it means to me: “Pura Vida” – to live slowly. To have resonance. To have a purpose in life and to follow through with it, not in the name of success, but in the name of living, purely.
Jenna. This is my second tattoo and if I’m honest, one of my favorites. It’s the biggest one I have and definitely hurt the worst. It’s called a fleur-de-lis and it has a couple of meanings to me actually. The first is my love for travel. This is a very famous symbol and since I’ve gotten it I can’t help but notice it’s e v e r y w h e r e. I love to see to places and experience new cultures. The second meaning, it cheesy but simple, to always love myself like a princess. This symbol connects to French royalty and also reminds me that it’s ok to have bad days, have insecure moments, but love yourself, treat yourself as a princess. In high school I struggled the most, I constantly compared myself to others and never thought I was pretty enough- that if only I had her thighs, or those arms, imagine how pretty I could be. But I stopped comparing, I started to love what I have, and to realize each and every one of us are royalty. The third is probably the most private and one I do not tell most but in sense of treating myself like a princess, only date someone who does such. To realize what you deserve and what you’re willing to give someone; do not settle and do not accept less.
Thank you to everyone that shared their precious body art with me and the internet world. Reading and writing this piece has got me like….INK ME, BITCH. 🙂 Tattoos are such a symbol of a person and their life! Yes, they are permanent. Yes, they will be there forever. In my experience, the first one is the scariest to get. You have no idea what pain to expect, you’re scared it won’t turn out how you imagine, you may be afraid you will regret getting it. But once you get the first one, 99.9% of people I know are like—COVER MY BODY, BRUH. Because the freedom of expression is liberating and empowering.
Have any questions about getting a tattoo? Or want to share about yours? Please ask/share away in the comments!
Also, just because this made me LOL: