As a tattoo artist I witness the myriad reasons and kinds of people who get tattooed. I have tattooed a mourning 64-year-old-man transforming his grief, a Hasidic jew wanting to secretly express himself, a young cancer survivor during his post chemo celebration. Memorials, achievements, jokes and dares, even the most controversial of all — pure aesthetics — are all reasons people get tattooed. But the most common, and my main reason for tattooing myself, is self-reclamation.
Women especially — but most people, at one point or another — are made to feel that their body belongs to someone else. Everyone knows a woman who keeps her hair long because her man likes long hair, or a mother who is angry that her son wears a certain jacket or haircut, or a man who must stick to neutral business suits to accomodate a job, or a wife.
When it comes to tattoos, opinions get even more intense.
I felt I owed my parents my untattooed skin since they worked so hard to raise me and they have a strong distaste for tattoos. I felt I owed a specific tattoo artist the right to tattoo me since he taught me the skill to begin with. I even felt I owed my extremely open-minded husband a personal style, and tattoos, that fit his aesthetic preference. The truth is, I didn’t owe anyone. Tattooing my body made me realize that.
With each tattoo I chose for myself, I felt more self-possessed. That, in turn, made me better able to love the people who had unwittingly imposed their notions of how I should look and what I should do with my body.
Because love and ownership are two very different things.
My view is: “You are yours! Take ownership of yourself! ”