I have a fair amount of tattoos. I’m not covered, but I have them scattered all over my body. My tattoos tell the story of who I was when I got them. There’s the crucified snake on my shoulder memorializing my insane freshman year at college when I was a drunk religious studies major. There’s the Chinese symbol for love on my ribs I got the day after my first wedding. My ex husband still has the matching tattoo on his neck. There’s the robin on my ankle that I got when I turned 18, and the rose I added to that tattoo so my sister and I could have matching tattoos representing our names: Robin and Rosie. And so many more. Each represents an important vignette in the story of my life.
I always wanted a half sleeve. Even before I knew what I’d put there I always knew I wanted one. For years I put off getting a tattoo on my upper arm because I hated my upper arms. Today I can say hated because I don’t hate them anymore, but I will be honest that my upper arms are still one of my least liked body parts. I always said I’d get the half sleeve when I “got more toned” when I “lost X amount of pounds” when “my arms look a little better” and for years I just denied myself because I couldn’t accept my arms.
Earlier this year I finally decided to get a tattoo on my upper arm. For some reason I felt compelled to do it; like it would be a huge step in my recovery. So I started thinking about ideas. I couldn’t come up with a picture, but I came up with a story that I wanted the tattoo to represent. I imagined a little girl in the woods who feels like she’s being followed by a monster. The monster shows itself and she’s afraid that the monster will consume her, but in the end, the monster turns out to be her friend and they walk away together. For me, it was a metaphor for all my fears. I worry that my fear will consume me, but when my fear is exposed it’s actually the information I need to get past that fear. When I see fear for what it really is, it transforms in to a friend that will guide me to the light.
I told this story to my tattoo artist and expected kind of a blank stare and the question “how do I turn that in to a picture?” Instead his face lit up and he told me he’d email me a sketch. When he did I was amazed at what he’d come up with. His sketch captured my story perfectly. The featured image is the tattoo right after it was finished. It’s my favorite to date because it means so much to me. The tattoo tells the story of my battle with fear and it represents my willingness to not let negative body image rule my life.
The other day I went to this super indie cafe to write. I was wearing a tank top, which I am always hesitant to do because of the amount of arm exposure. The super hipster chick making my iced latte suddenly exclaimed “Oh my god I love your tattoo. Can I look closer?” I nodded and she leaned over the counter to closely examine my arm. It was then that I realized she literally didn’t see the size of my arms. She didn’t think they were fat as I have on so many occasions. She didn’t see anything but an amazing piece of artwork. This incident helped me realize that people probably aren’t moving through this world analyzing perceived flaws on others’ bodies. People just see people, and when people are covered in amazing artwork they see artwork.
So, if tattoos are your thing then I say go ahead and get that tattoo in that place you never thought you could! It may help you come to terms with the parts you don’t like very much. It’s hard to hate something covered in beautiful art.