You’re a Real Piece of Art: An Open Letter About Tattoos

As I step into the tattoo shop, I feel every sweat gland in my hands activate all at once. The smell of ink and antiseptic fill my nostrils (as well as the wafting scent of cigarette smoke from the guys standing outside). The nerves never go away for me even though I’ve done this before. I always feel slightly out of place — and I’m sure it shows — but the guys never point it out.

As I sit in the chair, my mind races so fast that I can’t keep up with each individual thought. I can barely remember how to speak; and, when I do, the words pass through slightly clenched teeth and a smile that is starting to make my cheeks cramp. The cool swipe of the alcohol on my skin and the purple outline of my future tattoo make me so nervous and excited that I can barely stand up to look at the placement. For me, imagining what it’s going to look like is the hardest part. It’s just skin now, but in an hour it’ll be art — I’ll be art.

woman-314142_640As the sound of the gun permeates the shop, I have the split second urge to say, “Stop. I changed my mind,” but I never do. When it comes to tattoos, I know when my nerves are talking, or rather screaming, and I know how to control them. The deepest part of who I am wants this tattoo, and she is my favorite part of me. In this moment, she is the most alive in me, and I will not deny myself time with her. I want to become more like her: fearless, bold, self-assured, beautiful. My artist asks if I’m ready. I nod, smile, and await the bite of the needle on my skin. the sound of the gun is almost trance inducing, and if I weren’t in pain, I would probably fall asleep. But the pain is there, and it’s real. At times I forget to breathe, but the fear of passing out was greater, keeping me from giving in to the pain of the needle. Breathe in. Breathe out. Breathe in. Breathe out.

Getting a tattoo is a big deal. You are paying an artist to inflict pain on some part of your body, and it’s going to be there forever. Taking this lightly would be unwise and often bears consequences, either from yourself or from others around you. When I was first tattooed, I hurt my mother more than I knew. She couldn’t look at me eye to eye for too long or even talk to me without seeming hurt and disappointed. I didn’t get my tattoo to hurt her, but I  ended up doing just that, and I will always be sorry for it.  Despite this, however, I still want to be my own person, and that includes me making decisions about my own body.

Now, the best thing you can do as far as tattoo prep goes, is to think long and hard about your tattoo. Draw it everywhere, color it, leave it black and white, make it a temporary tattoo, and wear it for a while. Make sure it’s something that you really want, especially if it’s your first one.  Fun fact: on the way to get my first tattoo, I was still deciding what to get!  Not the best thing to do, but it happened, and it ended up being something that I’m not totally in love with. At the time it was more of a symbol to my family and to myself that I was changing, that I wanted to be seen as a different person than they always saw me as.  I wanted it to be some dramatic gesture that they would all understand and accept, but all it did was create drama. Although I am a little bit of a drama queen, I never wanted my family to question my moral character (which is what happened).

Overall, getting tattooed has changed my life. I am more comfortable with my body. Even though I try to cover my tattoos in respect for my mother, the parts of me that are tattooed are my favorite parts of me.  Becoming a piece of art has really helped me as a person. I’m a work in progress in more ways than one, and to be who I know I can be is going to take time and the right artist.

So please, whoever is reading this, think before you get tattooed. Living in the moment is an inspiring way to live, but when something is forever, give it a second thought. Also, if tattoos aren’t for you, then great! But please don’t put down others who have or want them. It’s not classy, and you are imposing on their right to be a piece of art. You don’t like tattoos? Fine, don’t get one; literally no one is making you. Be you, be lovely, and define beauty and art for yourself.

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