About Pam Collage Art by Pam Writing Life Manifesto

My latest tattoo, one more session and it will be finished. Artist is Nate Luna of The Hive Tattoo in Portland, OR

“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.tattooquote

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).

paintedhandsThe 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. 


To Be Really Real in my Tattooed Skin — 17 Comments

    • HI Sonja !!!! SO GOOD to see your lovely presence stop by the blog digs. Thank you !! I look forward to hearing your thoughts on posts in the future. You and I have some years of history in the blogosphere !

  1. This is awesome!! I’m SO glad you are back to sharing your life with us!!
    Here’s to tattoo’s … and more of them!!

  2. Love this! Love you! All of you!! Thankful you put words to my heart stuff too… Gonna share now!

    PS what a freakin jerk that guy in the hospital! Im praying he changes cause that way of life – his interior soul that would EVER think its ok to say that – is gross!

    • Vivian, my tattooed creative soul sister !

      Yes, that guy was a jerk for saying that though he probably thought he was encouraging me. Ergh…. he is probably dead by now. That happened almost a half century ago….GAG, I am getting up in my years!!

      miss you much!

      hey airfares are getting super affordable this spring. come up and see us… or maybe i’ll come down and see you !

  3. My sister…. you are Beloved!!!
    i am planning my second tattoo this year (10 years after the first one at age 39 which was a full-top-back tattoo) .
    i always think of it as this… I’m an artist; and there is nothing more sacred than the canvas of my body to display my work.
    You; are a museum of stories… and beauty… BEAUUUUUUUUUUUUTY!!!
    mary margaret

    • Mary Margaret ! Wow, a full-top back tattoo. I’d love to see it. Would you email me a picture? (which i am thinking i may need to figure out a little mini tattoo convention for a future blog post and invite readers like you to email me pics of your tattoos and we can have a little mini tattoo art fest… hmmm… creative juices are brewing!)

      nothing more sacred than the canvas of my body to display my work.

      Amen Sister !

      Love how you say it…. thanks for adding your thoughts!

  4. I’m with Ya! I made the decision in my 20s: I can either be the girl who saves up for overpriced uncomfortable shoes so that I can feel noticed and pretty … or I can be the girl that saves up for tattoos that serve as reminders, stories, affirmations and nudges toward bravery! Marking my body came with a price in my ultra-conservative family, but it brought the inner independence out and built my character, too! When I see a fellow tattooed woman like you I see DEPTH, CREATIVITY, and RESILIENCE! It’s like a beautiful, permanent way to identify your tribe!

    • I love everything you wrote here, but especially this part :

      When I see a fellow tattooed woman like you I see DEPTH, CREATIVITY, and RESILIENCE!

      Meaning that wow, yeah, I never thought of it that way before. I mostly just thought of tattoos as art and self-expression. Resiliance… oh my Lord that word has become the word of the hour for me. SO MUCH to catch up on with you. Are you still home with the baby? I’m gonna text you and MAKE IT HAPPEN so I can see your tattooed skin and meet your little one and talk, talk, talk ! MISS YOU much Olga. Thanks for adding your insightful comment, as always!

  5. 1. I never knew a nurse said that to you. Do you remember which hospital. Was it the one in Bilouxi?

    2. Sandy, Pam’s mom here. Have your son’s doctor rule out cancer. Pam can explain.

    • Hi Mom 🙂

      I don’t know who he was. I remember he was a young man wearing white hospital clothes, like an orderly. It is an old, old memory and to this day I can’t fathom that someone would say that and maybe I misunderstood him… I was in the hospital after all, so maybe I was sedated when he came in ??? But whatever really happened, my four year old brain remembers it that way. Sorry it took this many years for you to know about that!!! It must have been Biloxi cuz I was 4 when I had that surgery.

  6. Isn’t it sick how a woman is valued by what’s on the outside? A man can be brilliant or funny or talented, but a woman – even if she is all of these things – is still judged by how she wears her hair, or how much cleavage she has on display. On the one side are those who frown on cleavage, on the other those who desire her because of it. Both attitudes (which are perpetuated by men and women) are objectifying. How sad that we even objectify ourselves.
    PS Any advice for a mother of a teenage son who is unwell? We don’t know what’s wrong but it is so hard not to worry, especially when he’s in a lot of pain 🙁

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