In the last few days I met someone whose first comment to me was, “wow…tattoos….and you’re a teacher?” Said incredulously, derogatorily, and condescendingly, making me feel dirty and low, like he was touching me in an offensive way, but with his words. Taken aback, I shakily resounded with, “they tell my story.” He then laughs and says, “oh, what story?” like I was making up a comic plot line. I just calmly responded, “no, of my life”, and walked away, deeply triggered.
My tattoos are definitely more obvious in the summer, when more skin is showing. And I do get more looks with them…and depending on where I am, the looks are either warm or quizzical. And I know that they change my look from a sweet, innocent, “good girl” to who knows what all goes through peoples minds. And I struggle with that response sometimes, mostly because while I’m not looking for that attention-seeking response, I’m sure that’s how it might seem.
But this is what I know. I never wanted a tattoo, never thought I would get one. I didn’t get my first one until I was 31, as a last ditch effort to convince my ex-husband that I loved him. But they have become the story of my life in symbols, indelibly engraved as milestones, to remind me who I am when I forget, to remind me what I’ve endured when I’ve lost the words, and they root me when my vision gets blurred. To date, 17 reminders dot the landscape of my skin.
I have had almost everything I’ve ever loved and held dear taken from me at some point, most things I’ve never been given back, and others I’ve had to fight hard for. And the hardest thing I’ve had to fight for was to not lose myself. And ink can never be taken away from you. It is a permanent and constant reminder that the struggle that broke you became the substance that defined you. And the experience of getting one grounds you in a mindfulness of place, and the literal pain is a release of trauma memory, a therapy for abuse that has disassociated your body from your mind.
So I know that my ink puts some people off. Some people think I’m probably an “easy” person because of them. The irony is that I wear them like my shield of armor an protection, evidence that I’ve survived TO tell my story…and they do better what I obviously had a hard time doing with just my personality, was to keep unhealthy and often evil men away from me. Because the truth is that the man I interacted with obviously has women/tattoo issues to begin with, so his comments just revealed his character rather than carefully concealing it.
And if I was told tattoos are my vice, they are. I don’t drink, do drugs, party, sleep around, gamble, or addicted to high-adrenaline activities. I struggle at times with the way I know my identity can be judged by them before anyone even takes the time to know who I am. But then I remind myself that my identity has been swallowed, sucked dry, possessed, and all but destroyed already; at least this time, I’m the one dealing the cards.
And if someone is going to look at me, and speak to me, in ways that make me feel like they are undressing my naked body without my consent, at least their comments about my tattoos provide me with a precautionary storm warning in which to better prepare myself with. #ink #tattoos #voice #tattoo #inked