Tattooed Body and Soul

 

I got my first tattoo when I was 16 years old. Not in a tattoo shop. At a kitchen table by another teenager who used a sewing needle and a bottle of black Indian ink. Thank God I didn’t get an infection, but I did get a crappy tattoo that years later I would have covered up by a real tattoo artist.

Underneath all those swirls is a misfit tattoo

There’s a whole lot more to that tattoo story about adolescence, troubled girlhood and rogue boyfriends. For now, I’ll just say that getting a tattoo at 16 is not advised. Especially at a kitchen table from some guy named Eddie.

Despite my rocky beginning with the art form of tattooing, I quickly become a skin art lover. There was something about decorating the body with unique images that intrigued me. Tattooed skin was beautiful skin.  Breathing,  living, illustrated canvases of imagery that I found beautiful. It would be several more years before I finally got a real tattoo in a real tattoo shop by a real tattoo artist, one that I didn’t feel embarrassed about, one that helped cover up the muck-up of kitchen table DIY tattoo art.  (so not recommended!)

More than a decade would have to pass before I ventured towards getting another tattoo piece. I always wanted more, but social convention in the circles I ran with frowned upon tattoos of any kind, even pretty ones, especially on women. They were  viewed as unseemly, uncomely, unlovely and…unladylike.  But like a piece of sparkly jewelry a woman just has to have,  I began to get  tattoos jewelried on my body to enhance my body image. For my whole life to this very day, I have had a difficult relationship with by body. A very difficult relationship.  I could write an entire book about the drama and trauma of being housed in this body and the things I have done to her  and she has done to me.

One of my best tattoos is this paisley vine that runs along my right arm. Before too long, I'll be getting more added to it for there is too much blank skin there begging to be artified.

Tattoos are illustrated stories and illustrating my body at all is a story in itself, for it is the story of how a curvy, pocked complexion female found a way to at least like her skin which in turn helped her like herself a wee bit more. Superficial? Maybe, but it’s my story and it’s what I gotta own.

Tattooing myself has definitely lent to the process of owning my body. This is my skin. I get to do with it what I want.  These are the scars I choose, beautiful, colorful, swirling images of vibrant hues and delicate lines. I didn’t want those other scars on my body. They came unbidden. The scar on the wrist from a bad cut on the playground. The surgery scar from when I was four years old. The acne scars from my youth. The scar on my finger from a cutting accident.  All scars have stories. 

A tattoo is an affirmation: that this body is yours to have and to enjoy while you’re here. Nobody else can control what you do with it. ― Don Ed Hardy

I know my troubled relationship with my body is not unique. Just about everybody has something that they don’t like about their physical appearance or physical limitations.  Blogger and author Rachel Held Evans recently described why she didn’t want to exercise in public due to her body’s labored response:

Anyway, before signing up for the Y, I had carefully arranged my exercise routine around maintaining strict privacy. I’d get on my creaky old treadmill… in the basement….put on my earphones, and spend some quality alone-time with Florence & The Machine. When friends invited me to run with them, I declined. When Dan asked me to join him in his morning exercise routine, I refused. I didn’t want anyone else smelling my sweat, or critiquing my form, or keeping me accountable, or seeing me jiggle, or hearing me breathe like an overheated rhinoceros. Struggling is something I prefer to do alone; vulnerability is an individual sport.  - Rachel Held Evans

I know about vulnerability. Emotional, spiritual….but it is physical vulnerability that makes me the most anxious. And sometimes just doing something physical–like an exercise class!– can bring up a heaving, pulsing mass of body issues that lie in wait in the bones beneath my scarred up skin. There is a force of body shame that lies in wait to rise up like a Dementor from a Harry Potter novel to suck the life out of my identity. Such is the nature of the volatile relationship I carry on with this meat sack known as My Body.

Arting up my skin has been a kind of elixir for my soul. It is my declaration that I am more than flesh and bone and that I will own this body. It will not own me. Tattoos are my badges of identity.

Tattoo by Aaron Goodrich of www.newrosetattoo.com

Like my Beloved tattoo. A few years ago I decided I needed a gorgeous rose tattoo with a banner blazing  the triumphant cheer, Beloved. I had been going through a lot of positive changes  discovering that those who loved me superceded the self-hatred I am  prone to. My husband loves me. My children love me. My parents love me. My friends love me. My Creator loves me. I struggle with loving me, but nonetheless I am a loved woman. I am Beloved.  I found a great artist from a shop here in Portland to art it for me. It’s a great piece of imagery on my body, a means of  marking my physical territory from the Dementor of body shame. Does this cure my soul? No. Having Beloved tattooed on my body does not end the lifetime battle with self-loathing. But it is a vivid, daily reminder that I am loved with a no-matter-what kind of love.

I have often been misjudged based on my appearance. Being a tattooed woman in Portland is usually not a big deal, since we are one of the top ten most tattooed cities in America, yet still I often get misread just because I wear my stories on my skin. Mindful of this, it is sometimes prudent that I cover up in certain situations. Like job interviews and family reunions where the older generation  would prefer not to  have tattooed female relatives in the group photo.

My friend Vivian and I. She is one of my favorite tattooed friends!

Many of my friends have tattoos. We celebrate one another’s Tattoo Days with luncheons and lots of photos. No covering up here! My daughter just got her first tattoo, something I blogged about not too long ago.  I felt a surge of pride as the needle pricked her skin and she did not so much as grimace. It was like a ritual as she in her own way was declaring ownership over her 18- year old body.

Tattoos are stories, illustrations of something else going on beneath the surface. Beauty is skin deep, but tattooed skin is  beauty found in a hidden spring deep inside a dark forest. – Pam Hogeweide

Somebody once asked me, “Pam, when are you gonna stop getting tattoos? Don’t you have enough?”

Well, I don’t know. I guess I’ll stop when the stories stop coming or when my body stops trying to storify my physical flaws as truths.  I suppose that day might not come til the other side. But if there’s tattoo art in  the hereafter, well I guess you’ll know where to find me.

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** Here’s a link to the companion article to this blog post, Tattooed Christian Women and the Husbands Who Love Them

**Here’s a link to an old blog post about the story of my Cherry tattoo

Have any tattoos? Any tattoo stories? Body image confessions?  Let me hear ‘em! Link to photos if you have any of your skin art you want to share. I’d love to see ‘em.

 

 

 

 

 



Comments

Tattooed Body and Soul — 27 Comments

  1. My husband jokes that while it was 5 years between his first and second tattoos, it was only about 5 months between mine! We ran a marathon together this past January, so we both got our own style of the 26.2. 5 months later, we were married and got our rings tattooed on!

    I’m not sure what, when or where my next tattoo will be, but I do love my first two, and how they look. I’ve definitely felt like I’ve found my stride and confidence as a twenty-something, so to make a decision about my body and absolutely love the result is very freeing!

    I will have to figure out how to post pictures!

    • Hi Emily, thanks for reading and commenting. Love your tattoo stories! Jerry and I celebrate 25 years of marriage next year. I am thinking it’s time to get matching tattoos…not sure what just yet.

      And yes, when you have a link for your pic (picasa through google or flickr are good online photo host sites) for sure come back and drop the link off. I want to see your ink!

  2. by the way I am glad that helped you with your body struggles, I am obesse currenlty and my own family and freidns have bullied me because of it-yes MY family bullied me because of it, cuase I am the only fat family member they know and I am a girl, latinamerican women are expected to be thin and pretty but I don`t care. I hope I one day may feel as loved by the Creator as you do to go ahead and get a tattoo and learn to truly love myself I am in the process :)

    • I’m sorry to hear you’ve had family and friends bully you just because of your size. Ugh.Ugh. Ugh. So not cool on any level of any kind. Women come in all sizes. I just started reading a book called WOMANSIZE: The Tyranny of Slenderness. It’s an older book and the author writes about culture obsession with keeping women tiny and childlike in our bodies and mannerisms. Mature, curvy women seem to present a threat to the patriarchal powers that run the show.

      I hope you continue on your journey of self-acceptance and find FRIENDS who love you for who you are. Not your dress size.

      (hug!!!)

  3. Hi I love tatoos, I only have piercings right now, well actually a septum one but I wanted to get a tatoo, but it scares me the fact that apparently the Bible says God dislkikes tatoos, but at leats you trust Him enough to do it, hope one day I might, I want to get a leaf tatoo in my wrist and a pigeon and a little rose, I like small tatoos.

    • Hi Andrea,
      The thing about that pesky verse in the Old Testament about not marking your body is in the context of marking your body for an idol.

      And there is actually one verse in Isaiah that the Amplified Bible interprets as tattoo…as in GOD having a tattoo:

      Behold, I have indelibly imprinted (tattooed a picture of) you on the palm of each of My hands; [O Zion] your walls are continually before Me. (Isaiah 49:16)

      I really don’t think God is hung up on human beings decorating our bodies with piercings, hair dyes, or tattoos. It’s all about the heart.

      I think your tattoo ideas sound great!

  4. Wow, Pam, I have so much I could say here that I should/could probably start my own blog to do it (now there’s an idea). I have no tattoos myself (health issues that make me afraid to try, plus my husband believes that tattoos are mutilation of the flesh and therefore of the devil), but I have admired tattoos on others, and even have a design or two I’d put on myself if I could.

    What I can relate to is the body image/self-loathing issue. I have always taken after my mother in that I am quite slim and have a tomboyish figure. My joke is that even Olive Oyl has more curves than I do. I always felt that guys overlooked me because of that and because I am very plain of face (and that is being kind to myself). I actually have a cartoon I drew in college–in the center is a knight in shining armor. On the left is flat-chested, plain-faced Deb being devoured by a dragon, and on the right is a beautiful, curvaceous, blond-haired maiden who dropped the hem of her low-cut dress in a mudpuddle. We both cry out for the knight to help us. The knight considers and then says, “Methinks I will help the maiden in the dress…I mean distress.” Pathetic, I know, but I thought it was funny. I also went through a bit of a discussion with a guy I broke up with. He rather jokingly told me that if I’d get a breast enlargement, maybe I’d get another boyfriend. Since I was considering graduate school at the time, I joked back, “So my options are Grad School or ‘Bust.’” On the outside I was laughing, but on the inside I was devastated. I believed him, and I felt that every guy on the planet felt that way.

    Even now when I have a husband who loves me and says I’m beautiful and perfect the way I am, I still look in the mirror and hate what I see. I look at pictures of myself and hate what I see. I wonder if I’ll ever be able to see myself the way my husband sees me, or at least not hate the person in the mirror.

    • Thank you Deb for your story and vulnerability. I just finished a book about body image and the author refers to our obsession with our looks as a phobia…. Ugliphobia. She really got me thinking about how much cultural and media messages have contributed to shaping ( and damaging!!) my body image. It makes me ache for my teenage daughter with hope that she will be freer in her body acceptance than I have been able.

      It is a very personal and intimate topic and yet it is also universal. I intend to blog more frequently on it.

      Thanks again for your forthright sharing. I know that many will read it and find resonance and with that resonance will come a measure of comfort that will assure others that they are not alone in their struggle.

    • Deb – I know you and think you are beautiful the way you are – would you believe that I too have struggled with the same issues?? Many who have met me claim that they refuse to believe that as I portray a fairly confident and out-going person. But we all have the scars we try to hide and my introversion/body issues are the ones that seem to be kept fairly well-hidden by what could be called my bravado. My husband also tells me he finds me attractive and I brush him off because I just don’t believe it for myself. I can hardly wait for the day when we will stand in the presence of God and even this “dis-ease” will be taken from us as we are finally able to see ourselves through God’s eyes.

  5. I was 52 when I got my first tattoo, and got my second one for my 56th birthday! The first one is a Celtic cross with the words “Christ is risen” in Old Gaelic above it. I’m Scots-Irish on my mother’s side. The second one is a clay pot with a crack in it and a sword behind it. The full story is long, but it is the idea of being a jar of clay filled with the treasure of Jesus, along with the story of Gideon. I wrote about it at http://fredshope.blogspot.com/search/label/tattoo. The picture of the first one is at http://i286.photobucket.com/albums/ll115/fredshope/Tattoo/100_0496.jpg

    • Good for you Fred for going for it. I have heard of folks much older finally getting around to their first tattoo. It is never too late!

      Thanks for the images and stories behind your tattoos. So unique like you are. You have definitely declared ownership over your body! Appreciate you taking the time to link up your body art. I think this is morphing into a mini tattoo convention. :)

  6. I got my first tattoo at 39 years – finally felt free enough to do something I’d wanted to do for 20 years! The best was getting my fourth tattoo this year, with my bestie getting her first. We’ve been friends since we were 12 years old so was a special moment for both of us. Here’s one fresh off the needle – it has since grown down my arm;-) http://pinterest.com/pin/168744317257990878/

    • LOVE it!!!!!!! Wow, such a beautiful tattoo and it is so unique with all that blue going on. Looks so good. Thanks for posting the link. I repinned it to my Tattoo Art Pinterest board. Now I want a blue tattoo!

  7. As long as I can remember, I have wanted a tattoo! When I was younger, I always wanted it a place that could be easily hidden as I was often told it was not appropriate. But, the more I have broken away from those circles, and own who I am, I have found that I don’t care anymore, and in fact want it visible. I have plans….as soon as I save the money for myself (and a respectable artist), I will be proudly be sporting some ink!
    I loved seeing your art…thank you for sharing!

    • I didn’t start getting tattooed on my arms til after I turned 40 and had been self-employed for years. Now I work at at a hospital and have to cover my arms during work ….which is no big deal at this stage of my life.

      For sure let me know when you get your Tattoo Day so I can celebrate with you!!!

      • I will let you know for sure! I’m sure I’ll post photos on facebook too! Its one of those things that every time I have some extra money, it ends up going to something towards my kids….classic parent story. ;)

        • I know exactly what you mean… when I was a housecleaner I ended up with a few tattoo artists as clients. This made all the difference in that I was able to do some trades. And I’ve discovered that if you stick with an artist you like, your loyalty will be rewarded. Artists need to make a living and a skillful, technical tattoo is gonna cost some money, but it is worth rewarding the artist and tipping generously for what is a permanent work of art on your body. I am a good tipper. I so appreciate the artists I work with at New Rose Tattoo here in Portland. Great talent. Great warmth and good heartedness for their customers, and just all around wonderful human beings. I am so loyal to this shop that even when I think about venturing to other artists, I end up deciding, Naw, I know these folks. Been to their homes. Met their families. Why go anywhere else?

          It is worth the wait to have the money to properly pay a great artist who will provide you a lifetime art piece on your skin. Seriously. So worth it!!!

        • Oh Tiffany, I share THAT lament. :) I recently won a $25 amazon.com gift card. The whole thing went to buying video games for my kids; I didn’t even get myself anything. Ah, the sacrifices of motherhood. ;)

        • Tiffany – I also couldn’t bring myself to get one as I felt it was a waste of my husband’s hard-earned money if I didn’t spend it on the kids. But when I won $100 in a gospel-music competition I decided I had earned the privilege of spending half of it and so got my first (and so far, only) tattoo. My husband would like a tattoo as well but he is also thrifty when it comes to money. Maybe, sigh, the day will some when we can “afford” it or maybe we will decide to forgo something else in order for him to get his ink.

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