They say our body is a temple, and thus we need to keep it pure, clean, and untainted. I find myself subscribing to a significantly different thought. I believe that your body is akin to an art museum — every little scar has a story attached to it, and every freckle, every single art inscribed (see: tattoos) contributes to making your body uniquely yours.
As I peer at my reflection in the mirror, I see the tattoos I’ve collected over the years staring back at me. A poem from Kill Your Darlings on my inner forearm: “You who have suffered find where love hides. Give, share, lose — lest we die unbloomed.” A crescent moon next to two butterflies on my arm. An angel with a shotgun on my inner biceps. The word ‘control’ and ‘chaos’ on each of my thighs respectively.
I know. That’s quite a lot of tattoos.
The Me Before Tattoos
If you were to meet virgin skin me and the me now, not only will you be dumbfounded by my now immensely inked exterior, you would also notice how different my disposition is then versus now.
It could be because when I was younger, I was basically the antonym of ‘beautiful’ personified. I was overweight, I didn’t know how to use makeup, and I sported a unibrow. And you know how teenagers are like, they can get pretty insensitive and even outright mean sometimes, and I found myself becoming the target for ridicule. Just when I thought things couldn’t get any worse, my family and relatives also added to the flame, commenting hurtful things about the way I looked: “you’re so fat and ugly, how could anyone ever love you?”
Needless to say, all of these eroded my self-esteem and body image. I became so obsessed with my body, to the point where it was detrimental towards my mental and physical health. I turned to destructive (albeit maladaptive) coping mechanisms – smoking, self-harming, starving, bingeing and purging – all because I hated the way my body looked.
Even after I finally fit into society’s notion of beauty, I was exasperated to find that I still felt like I wasn’t good enough somehow. Instead, I was beyond miserable.
That’s when I decided something’s got to give.
Reclaiming My Body With Tattoos
You know the saying “once you hit rock bottom, there’s nowhere to go but up”? Well, I’m not sure if it stemmed from the immense anger I’ve internalised or just plain wilfulness, but I remember having this epiphany one night — why am I torturing myself just to look like (and please) everyone else around me? I owe it to myself to take care of my body and to do what makes me happy.
I guess this shift in mindset acted as a catalyst for me to finally start viewing my body as something that’s really personal, something that is mine and only mine. It hit me that no one else will ever be able to care for my body as much as I can for myself. Most of all, no one else should have a hold (or say) over your body, no one except for yourself. Of course, that’s easier said than done.
For me, getting tattoos just seemed like the perfect way for me to start embracing my body. I’ve always had a fond appreciation for the arts — books, music, films and photography. So it came as no surprise that tattoos too intrigued me and I viewed it as another means of self-expression, an art form more than anything else.
There’s just something so enthralling and intimate about “decorating” your body and personalising it. Plus, that feeling of having something so close to your heart being brought to existence by having it etched onto your skin? Ineffable.
My Very First Tattoo
Even now, reminiscing about my very first tattoo experience fills me with awe — mostly because it was a quote from Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar and also because I was only 17 (I was really young, I know) and this isn’t a novel that most seventeen-year-olds would pick up and read, much less get a tattoo of. If you’ve read Plath’s work, you’ll get what I mean.
Now before you write it all off as me just being young and reckless, I need to preface that I actually wrote my parents a three-pages long essay detailing why I wanted to get a tattoo, specifically that quote from The Bell Jar. Sadly I don’t have a copy of that essay on hand, so you’ll just have to take my word for this. I do hope that my Dad has it stashed away somewhere though, just for keepsake, but I digress.
I had promised my Dad that it would be my first and only tattoo (oops), but after my very first ink, there set in an increased yearning to accessorise my skin with even more tattoos.
The way I see it, my body is a canvas, and the tattoos you see are the expressions of my soul, a true reflection of who I really am.
Wearing My Soul On My Skin
Getting tattooed also provides me with solace and a semblance of control. While there’s only so much that I can do about my face, weight and height; in terms of my looks, tattoos give me free rein on how I wish to beautify my appearance.
Each and every single tattoo is of significance, and even if there isn’t a “meaning” behind it, there’s always a story or feeling attached to it. But most importantly, my tattoos make me feel more me. My body now acts as a visual expression of my soul, making it so much easier for me to embrace (And even love!) myself.
There’s no sugarcoating it. Self-love is and always will be something that all of us will struggle with now and then. Blessed are those who realise the beauty and value that resides in them. In a society that profits from your self-doubt, loving yourself (through your own unique way) is the greatest act of rebellion and one that more of us should embrace. My act of self-love just happens to be beautifying my body with tattoos. And I’m not ashamed of it, regardless of what others might think.
And I hope that you too will find something that helps you embrace all that you are and remind you just how much of a beautiful being you are — for you are alive, and you are you, and that’s something you should be proud of.
With love always,