“You must hate your body to do that to yourself,” wrote a commentator some years ago in regards to my tattoo-adorned body.
Whoa. Did he just say that? Wtf ?
“No,” I wrote back trying to sound glib when I was actually fraught with waves of insecurity, “I just like art on my body instead of jewelry.”
What I didn’t want to tell him – which is called having a healthy emotional boundary – is that his remark became a reverberation in my confined head space. Was he right? Had I been marking up my body all these years because of body hatred? Am I that obvious?
My relationship with my skin and bones has been tumultuous since I was a little kid. I remember feeling body conscious as young as four when I had to be hospitalized for a routine surgery. A pretty little doll of a girl was in a bed across from mine in the children’s ward. A hospital staffer came in to do whatever ( I can’t remember) and he crooned over her. “You are such a pretty little girl, like a little princess. You get better now sweet pea.” As he made his way to my side of the room I expected kind words to ooze my way, too. People are generally incredibly nice to hospitalized kids.
“Well you’re not quite as pretty as she is, now are you? Maybe it will come later for you, like the story of the ugly duckling who became a swan. You’ll be pretty some day like this little princess over here.”
He said these words with such kindness that my four-year old little girl mind was confused. I smiled, but to this day I can recall the sense of shame that blushed through me as feelings of lesser than rushed through the rivers of my little human being.
I have always hated The Ugly Duckling story.
I know it is messed up on so many levels that a hospital staffer would say something like that to a little one, let alone a little girl in the hospital. I have wondered many times in my adult years if perhaps I misheard him? I will never know, but what I do know is that my four-year old heart and psyche downloaded a message of Your body is not enough as you are.
Could this be why I am intimidated by gorgeous women
who command strong sexual power?
That’s how fast I slide into the nostalgia of body shame when someone says something (even off the cuff) that has anything to do with the packaging my soul is in.
So how about those tattoos? Why do I mark up my body? As a young woman my first tattoo was motivated in part to be cool and set apart from the herd. Not many teenage girls were getting tattoos back in the 80’s. As a mature grown woman, I have collected skin art much the same way a woman fills her jewelry box. It is not to be cool (paleeze !!!) or because I hate my body … it is in spite of it. Every tattoo I lay on my skin territory is like flying a banner that says, I Get to Be Me.
There are a lot of forces at work here that have forged my identity my entire life. Societal pressures for girls to be pretty as a doll no matter their age; cultural messages that insist females decorate the body in certain ways to be desirable, and then there were the religious overtures. I cannot count how many times somebody would scripturize me over having a piece of art inked on my body. To be really real as the woman I am meant to be in body, soul and spirit – especially body – means I’ve had to revolt against the forces that would inform me of who I am supposed to be.
I am determined to Be Who I am Meant to Be, the really real me, tattoos and all.
It was years ago when that commentator questioned me about tattoos and body hatred. I’ve evolved a mile or two since then.Today, should he or someone else try to presume that I tattoo my skin out of self-hatred they would be quite far from the mark, even though such a challenge still has the potential to sting me as it stirs up the waters of my dysfunctional relationship with my body. Having said that, I am anchored in the belief that I get to do with my body and skin what I want to. I can mark it up any way I like. It’s between three people : Me, me and me. (Not even my husband gets to decide what tattoos I get or don’t get, but that’s another conversation which I blogged about a while ago which you can read here).
The thing I’ve come to realize about me, my body and tattoos is that I am a highly creative woman. I did not realize that when I was younger and found myself drawn to tattoo art during an era when tattooed women were considered scandalous. It was the notion of decorating my body with art I like that appealed to the creative energy inside of me. Now that I am a devoted mixed-media artist, I have finally connected the dots: Art is what helps me Be Really Real, on the canvas of my skin as well as upon the snow blanket of white canvases that are my privilege to art up anyway I see fit.
I didn’t want to be a fuckin’ princess anyway.