Fillyjonk, Friday Fluff, Self-Image

Friday semi-fluff: Thoughts on tattoos

I have a tattoo appointment tonight, after putting it off for about two years. This is pretty much how I operate with ink; I get an idea in my head, I sit on it forever, and then I suddenly get a bug up my butt to get it done RIGHT RIGHT NOW. (“Right right now” in this case has taken over a week because I actually know who I want the artist to be and I’m working around his schedule.)

I realized recently, when thinking about how remiss I usually am in scrupulously researching tattoo artists, that tattoos for me have never been about art per se. In fact I’d go so far as to say that most people fall into one of two groups in terms of their relationship to ink: it’s about art, or it’s about marking. Art people’s tattoos may be heavily invested with meaning and symbolism, but aesthetics are the primary concern; a piece that’s not beautiful is an inferior piece, even if the meaning is the same. For marking people, like me, it’s the tattoo’s symbolic meaning that’s important — the ink is almost like a hobo sign, there to convey encoded information but not necessarily to be beautiful. An imperfect piece is acceptable in this case; it still serves the purpose. Like any “two kinds of people” theory this one breaks down almost instantly, as most people have elements of both. But I feel like it’s a productive or at least interesting way of thinking about it.

As a “marking” person, whose tattoos have primarily semiotic value, it’s appropriate that my new piece will be a word. I’m taking part in a living story that’s being published as tattoos, and I am insanely excited. And in a sense my word (“away,”) ties together all my other tattoos, which I realized recently are essentially all “back off” symbols, like a poisonous frog’s bright colors. One is an alchemical symbol for vitriol (on my writing hand, of course). Two have to do with Britomart, the chaste and therefore unapproachable heroine of Book 3 of Spenser’s Faerie Queene; one’s a portrait, and the other one comes from a passage describing her as “a vermeill rose / To which sharpe thornes and breres the way forestall.” (Yeah, it’s a fucking tramp stamp with a rose and thorns, but it’s the marking that’s important, the symbol, remember?) My ink is about keeping people at arm’s length, and possibly punishing them if they don’t get the message. The story of my word, the story of “away,” starts there — as part of a collection of warning signs.

It also starts as a musing about body image. I thought from the beginning that I would get my word on my ankle, but I wavered, because my ankles aren’t particularly “nice.” You know how a lot of fat girls have beautiful shapely lower legs? Yeah, I’m not one of them. I’ve got big thick shtetl ankles, like a lot of the women on both sides of my family, and I retain water like nobody’s business. If I believed in such things I would say that my ankles were ugly. But of course once I realized that I was thinking this way, it was over — I had to get the ink on my ankle, there was no other choice. I had to mark the parts of me I didn’t like, in order to bring them in as part of the whole. (Shaminey at No Breakable Thing has more thoughts on tattoos, women’s bodies, and adorning the parts of you that you find unacceptable — it’s well worth a read.)

Do you have tattoos? Why or why not? If you do, are you more about art or marking? How did you choose where to place them, and how did it affect or stem from your body image? Do your tattoos tell a story about you — maybe even one you didn’t notice for a long time, like mine? If you don’t have tattoos, do you want one? Where would you put it? What would you want?

179 thoughts on “Friday semi-fluff: Thoughts on tattoos”

  1. Not now, not ever.

    I don’t understand either of the esthetics in your “two kinds” dichotomy. I never have.

    My esthetic is that I’m part of nature, always changing, even decaying, and I don’t need adornment or memorials.

  2. I think I straddle the art/marking divide. My tattoo — my one and only tattoo — is a rather artistic rendering of olive branches, about six inches long, 3 inches wide, and takes up a good portion of my inner left forearm. An obvious, and obviously fleshy, spot. Like you, I thought about it for a long time and like you, one day I simply had to have it on me, now, RIGHT NOW.

    The choice of the art, for me, was obvious: I’ll be looking at it every day, I rely heavily on aesthetics, and it’s important to me to share in the process of art-making with the tattoo artist. Hence the art side. However, I did feel, and still do, the need to intentionally mark myself. The olive branches represented not only my French family but my decision NOT to go live in France — to stay stateside. And it’s on my arm — on a place that I feel is my “fat barometer” (is it too fleshy? not fleshy enough). And since my body identity ties in largely to my French identity (namely, “shouldn’t French girls be skinny”?), I had to have them both synthesized and visible. And beautiful.

  3. I have no tattoos, but I love how you’ve written about yours — and how “away” ties them all together. It’s worth thinking about what one word I would put on my body, and where I would put it. My most conflicted body part is my belly, and I have a scar from an appendectomy that would serve as a nice underline for a tattoo. Now, what word would I want underlined? And a belly’s a tough place for a tattoo, I imagine, sensitive and ever-changing. Hmmmm.

  4. I’ve never gotten a permanent tattoo, but I’ve thought about it a whole lot. When my mom died last year, I considered getting a corinthian column down my spine to remind myself that I could be a pillar. I’ve considered a lot of others (a specific vine of roses to remember my grandmother and of course, penguins). The thing that is stopping me is that I’m a perfectionist, and if I am putting something permanently on my body, it had better be goddamned PERFECT.

    Marking can be non-permanent though. I adore mendhi and have done that done several times. The last time was pretty special; a friend had a baby shower where all the ladies decorated her belly and legs with (special, non-toxic) henna. She said when she gave birth, it was empowering to know that all these women were spiritually with her at the time.

  5. Hmmm, I’m more of a marking person I think because neither of my tattoos are particularly beautiful and for the first one that I got when I was 18 I really planned out but the second one I was just walking by my local tattoo parlor and I thought “hey, I need a new tattoo, I should go in”

    They are also both sort of “get back” tats, the first is the chinese symbol for power/strength and it is indeed a tramp stamp, but I got it before they were called that people, for real. The second is a skull & cross bones which is actually a symbol of my sorority and was an inside joke among my friends (also, for real this was before pirates were everywhere, I’m an early adopter yo) and it is um… on my uppper thigh, very very upper thigh.

    When I was getting it the tattoo artist asked if he should pencil in “Trespassers wil be executed” around it, which would have been funny I must admit.

    I want a third one but I want it to be FREAKING AWESEOME and so I ponder and ponder.

  6. Of course I can’t see a thread about tattoos without linking to Mark Doty’s poem “My Tattoo.”

    His dreaming needle
    was beside the point;
    don’t I already bear

    the etched and flaring marks
    of an inky trade?
    What once was skin

    has turned to something
    made; written and revised
    beneath these sleeves:

    hearts and banners,
    daggers and flowers and names.

    I’ve known I wanted a poetry tattoo for a long long time, but I could never decide what I wanted it to be, since I definitely am on the “marking” side of the spectrum and therefore wanted the mark to be absolutely appropriate. I think I’ve finally decided I want three blackberries — a rather literal representation of a line from one of my favorite poems.

  7. I’m the tattooed lady. Well, not really, but that’s what the BF calls me. I have a sleeve, a half-sleeve, a chest piece, two on my back, and one from knee to hip on the outside of my right thigh. Most of them are heavily imbued with meaning and are very artistic. It helps that the guy that did most of them for me was an amazing artist and a great friend. He has since passed away. The one that isn’t as artistically motivated is the HUGE one on my thigh – an incredibly aggressive and sexy looking Wonder Woman. Sort of an impulse tattoo, but whatever.

    Since my friend/tattoo artist passed away, my tattoos have grown more meaningful to me. There’s the lotus flower in flames (from a Paul Simon lyric: “Somebody could walk into this room and say your life is on fire”), the Geisha (meaning “woman of art”), the cherry tree with the Chinese characters for “strength of spirit”, the matching tree on the other arm – it’s the fall version of the cherry tree. One with blossoms and in full color, one leaf-less and all in black and gray. Both trees have a bird sitting in them – the same bird in different colors – in the fall version it’s red and yellow – very vibrant. In the summer version it’s gray and purple. All those are heavily Asian influenced as my artist was Asian and wanted to go with that style. The chest piece is one I got after he died. It’s a sacred heart with a banner that reads “We shall all be healed”.

    And I have to say, while I love that people get tattoos for whatever their reasons may be, I am a little biased about the tattoo for the sake of a tattoo people. It turns me off. But, I worked in a tattoo shop for several years and saw A LOT of people making awful choices, so maybe that’s where it comes from.

  8. It’s worth thinking about what one word I would put on my body, and where I would put it.

    Just to be clear about the project, I didn’t get to pick “away,”. That’s why it’s so amazing that it fits in so well (and even illuminates my other ink). (But this is still a good exercise!)

  9. First of all, I’m in love with you over Britomart, although Amoret fascinates me more. :)

    I don’t have ink yet. I keep thinking about it, although part of my problem is that I don’t yet have a concrete design. For me, it’s both art and marking, art and symbols. I should have a coyote somewhere, and I’ve recently thought about a spider dangling from the moon. But it just hasn’t been time yet.

  10. That project sounds incredible, seriously!
    I like the idea of getting a tattoo on a maligned part of a body. I’d have patchwork thighs. Although really I want a red tree on my calf. It’s a sort of inspirational slogan in code, ‘trees can be red’ is the name of a book I got when I was first smearing acrylic paint around as an introduction to the possibilities of art. It would have to be beautiful though, to me it would feel like carrying a picture hung crooked around otherwise.

  11. Oh man I love love that project of being part of a living book. I’m freaked out by needles otherwise I would do it.

  12. Great post. I only have two, but have been pondering several others for years. I love tattoos and am always interested in other people’s. I am particularly fond of black over color, but have seen some beautifully colored ones.

    The first one I got is a symbol of my zodiac sign, Gemini. It is two mystical women (twins), sitting back to back, wearing long, flowy dresses and each holding a crystal ball. Their hair is long and braided together. They are beautiful and imperfect, kinda like me. It’s on my left shoulder.

    My second one is a vine of hibiscus and leaves around my right arm. I love it not only because it is beautiful art and symbolic of my love of nature, but also because it goes all the way around my arm…something I don’t see often. I think most people stop halfway round or so because of the searing pain the needle causes in that fleshy area. So, for me, it is also a symbol of my strength.

    My next two, at least, will be on my foot and along my wrist/forearm. I think I’m more of a marker.

  13. I don’t have any tattoos although I do want one. My mom even said she’d go with me and get one done herself. I would choose something small, like a butterfly (I like butterflies, they symbolize grace and freedom to me) and it would be purple, because that is my favorite color. Or maybe the Aquarius sign of the three water waves, because I’m an Aquarius.

    I also have thick ankles and swollen feet, but that’s where I’d put the tattoo. I know inkers have seen worse!

  14. Ah, tattoos!!

    I have two and want several, several more. I fall pretty squarely in the marking category of your dichotomy, and most of my tattoo longings are for words and phrases and are pretty heavy on the Latin, even though I don’t have any real connection to the language.

    I have an “A” on my left wrist, which stood for ascetic when I had it put on because I wanted to be more ascetic and thought that there was some kind of holiness which could be gained through suffering, in an old men of the desert sense. Its meaning has shifted so that it now stands more for anarchy, and I am happy that it is flexible and will probably keep up with my ever changing world view.

    I also have “Vita est en animo” on the back of my neck in this gorgeous Willie Wonka font- it was put on by this awesome guy who had flames tattooed where his eyebrows should have been. It means either life is in the mind or life is in the spirit, depending on the translation, and I think both are true and important.

    I am wanting a few more right now, with a couple of images, for a change. I want “Momento Mori” which means “Remember you will die” and a Day of the Dead sugar skull perhaps on my ankle or the top of my foot, and I want an old school sparrow holding a banner that says: In the way that birds fly put on my shoulder.

    But I’m with fillyjonk, it takes years of thinking about a tattoo before I actually get it, and I am glad of that. When I was younger and angrier I wanted to get the word “Belligerent” across my shoulders in an Old English-y font, and while I still appreciate the sentiment I am very glad that I don’t have to confront a permanent reminder of it in the mirror.

  15. I have two, a fairy on my back which makes me cringe a bit but is a great reminder of who I was when I was 17, and a big crop circle design in blue which I had done earlier this year. I would say I am more of a marking person, I love piercings as well and will often do them on the spur of the moment. I think body modification is a great way of reclaiming your body and recconecting with yourself. My tatts and piercings are my favorite things about my body!

  16. I have just one tattoo, of eight inch-long red and black ants crawling in a spiral up my left leg. The front one carries a leaf as a flag for her sisters behind. I’ve had it for about eight years now, and have never regretted it, nor do I think I ever will.

    I’m like you, fillyjonk, I plan and plan before I get one. The one I have evolved in my head for about six years before I got the “bug” (haha) to get it done. I think that is why I love it so much and don’t regret it…it was already a part of me before the needle even settled on my skin. The tattoo itself just made that part of my mind visible to everybody.

    I’ve always wanted to get another one, but for a long time I couldn’t evolve any new ideas. I didn’t want to get a tattoo just to have one, I wanted it to be like the first–simply a natural extension of myself. At this point I have at least two ideas swirling around, waiting to come to fruition–a honeycomb with bees (either on my leg or shoulder), or mosquitoes on my feet.

    I just found out my little sister got a tattoo (her first) of a hornet, to remind her of me. That almost made me cry. :*)

  17. Just to clarify, that’s “eight, inch-long” ants, not “eight-inch long” ants. I’d have to have amazingly tall legs to pull that off!

    :) :) :)

  18. I totally read “eight-inch-long ants” originally, too!

    I take it you’re an entomologist? I love scientists who get science tattoos — these always make me insanely jealous (both of the tattoos and of the scientists… if anything makes me go back to school in a science field, this might be it).

  19. Bellacoker, I love your text tattoo ideas. :) I don’t have any, and I don’t really plan to get any, but I do like words.

    Just remember that it’s “memento”, not “momento.” Nobody needs a typo on them permanently. LOL :D

  20. As for entomologist, hells to the yeah. ;)

    I love those science tattoos…some of them are so original and awesome and geeky and make me super jealous. I always thought of sending in a pic of mine to ol’ CZ, but I didn’t know if it would “count” as sciency enough. Maybe I’m just self-refuting? ;)

  21. It would totally count, there’s a zoologist with a lizard on the front page right now.

    My mom wanted me to send in my alchemical symbol, but that? I am pretty sure would not count.

    I can only look at a couple pages of that site at a time because it starts making my head hurt that I never went into science.

  22. I struggle with the idea of getting a tattoo. After 4/16/07, I toyed with the idea of getting a real mark to match the one that had been indelibly engraved on my psyche.

    In the end, rationality and possibly paranoia won out. I don’t want something that I would come to regret later (i.e. I finally move on, and now I have a permanent reminder). I also have no idea where I would put the thing. I’m too much of a weenie to get it on my back or shoulder.

  23. i am in love with you for saying “shtetl ankles.” my family has always commented that my ankles are just like my bubbe’s, whose background is of course “eastern european shtetl jew,” but your phrasing makes the whole thing fabulously more reclaimable.

  24. I’m torn over getting a tattoo. I see people every day with them and I’m always in awe of their beauty. My friend has one that she got after her mother died and it is so meaningful, that has made me decide that if I were to get one, it’d have to have meaning. But I don’t know what I want, or where I’d put it. Then there is my thought of, do I want something that is that permanent on my body? Do I want to be an old lady in a nursing home with a tattoo?

  25. first, thanks so much for the link.

    I’m with you on an “in between” category. The art and the meaning find a way to work together for me. (generally cause I leave the art to the experts).

    I’m taking a page out of your book, and tattooing my belly.

    I had to mark the parts of me I didn’t like, in order to bring them in as part of the whole.


  26. I have one tattoo that I have had worked on over three separate sessions. I drew the sketch for the original myself; it is a dancing orange tabby cat modeled after one of the many cats that have been or are now part of my life. I am still working on the sketch for the dog that will be the companion piece. The cat is on the outer part of my calf, and I am not one of the fortunate women with beautiful calves, I have legs like tree stumps. I chose the location because it was some place I could see, it was a place that wasn’t likely to sag a whole lot as I aged, and it was a place I could cover with dress slacks for corporate or other formal occasions. I don’t wear dresses much, see “tree stumps” reference above.

    I was on the fence for a long time about a tattoo and didn’t have the first iteration of this one applied until I was in my mid forties. By then I was stretchmarked from two pregnancies; tiny invisible beauty-mark moles were turning into gross middle-aged moles, and to complete the picture I have a large pale strawberry birthmark covering much of one thigh – I figured the almighty had already provided me with plenty of natural tattoos and I might as well get one I chose to go with them.

    There is also the long background about the bet and the treadmill and the younger (male) child, where we agreed that the first one who went on the treadmill every day for a year could get a tattoo – but that’s all tied up in the before-FA version of the woman here at the keyboard.

  27. I have two, both are commemoration of important parts of my life.

    The first, a red rose on my ankle, is the official flower of Sigma Alpha Iota, which I was a member of in college.

    The second is the Chinese symbol for “Year of the Pig” on my wrist, which, aside from being the year I was born, memorializes my trip to China two years ago.

    I’m starting to get the itch for another, but I’m waiting until I decide on a location and picture that really mean something to me.

  28. A cautionary tale from moi:

    I have two (one inspired by marking, the other by a combo of the art/marking impulses.)

    The first I got when I was 20, and it’s a quarter-sized pair of 16th notes about halfway up my right thigh, on the front. It’s just simple black ink.

    The second I got a year later, and it was intended to be a pair of comedy/tragedy masks on a ribbon, with the ribbon held up on the bottom hook of a treble clef. I couldn’t afford to get it fully colored in at the time, so I just went with a black outline.

    Unfortunately, I chose to get this one on my left asscheek. At age 21, my left asscheek, while round, was nonetheless perky.

    Now, at age 37? Not so perky. And a lot larger than what it was at 21. The tat? A horrible, unrecognizable, blurry mess. So much for art.

    The tat on my thigh is also somewhat stretched out and faded, but it’s at least recognizable.

    Never, ever get a tat on a body part that is likely to grow, stretch, sag or in any way change over time. Especially don’t get them on skin that’s prone to stretch marks. (This is also why it’s dumb to get tats when you’re young and not done growing, yet.)

  29. I’ve always wondered about getting a tattoo, but most of the ideas I have are to do with pop culture, shows and books and such that I’m into at the moment, and I worry I’ll “go off” them after a year and be left with a tattoo that means nothing to me.

  30. Never, ever get a tat on a body part that is likely to grow, stretch, sag or in any way change over time.

    Or do it on purpose, with the knowledge that the tattoo will change as you do.

  31. My tattoo is totally a marking tattoo, though I don’t mind that it’s pretty.

    It used to be a small black capricorn symbol on my upper left arm. When I was 18, astrology was important to me. Then four years ago I got it incorporated into a much larger peice of the tree of knowledge, complete with snake and apple (the capricorn symbol turned into the snake).

    Image here:

    The best part is when people who know me look at it and ask “so is there a symbolic significance? Why did you pick that?” and I just look at them, like, seriously? You know my NAME, right?

  32. I’m planning one, actually. It’s not something I ever thought I’d do, but it falls into the marking camp, I think.

    (long post ahoy)

    In January of this year, I had an accident that ended up with me getting a tibial plateau fracture with a side order of compartment syndrome. I had to have a total of six surgeries on my left leg, the first one to prevent it from having to be amputated. I have large fasciotomy scars on both sides of my left calf. The outside one goes from my ankle to above my knee, and the inside one is about seven inches long. Because of the nature of the surgery, my calf muscle is pretty much permanently deformed and I have nerve damage in my leg and foot. I also have round scars from where they had the external fixator implanted in my thigh and shin. I had a total of 94 stitches.

    I was one of those big girls who had beautiful calves and ankles, by the way. No more.

    So, at some point, once I’m fairly sure of the final shape my leg will take, I am having a stylized version of the painting “Last Tears” by Hundertwasser put on that leg. My daughter is going to introduce me to a tattoo artist who can do what I want done-she has already shown him a picture of the painting so he can start getting ideas.

    I figured it would be a good way to start loving that leg again instead of hating it and fighting it every moment of every day.

  33. Oh, one more. My fantasticly funny brother is putting together a cyborg tattoo for his leg. As the years go on, he plans to add rust and corrosion to it. :)

  34. My tattoos are essential to my being. They have saved my life. I might have destroyed this body without the art that resides upon it. If I had the money, I would cover nearly every inch of my flesh. – Faith

  35. My fantasticly funny brother is putting together a cyborg tattoo for his leg. As the years go on, he plans to add rust and corrosion to it. :)

    Bwah! The Robot of Dorian Gray!

  36. Faith, you might be interested to know that Shaminey is planning a teaspoon tattoo. :)

  37. I figure it’s not rational, but the older I get, the less I like tattoos. As the skin ages, the tattoo seems to blur, distort and look like a carcinoma to me.

    I loved tattoos when I was in college. I have one small one. I wish I didn’t. I have definitely “grown out” of liking them, for a lack of better words.

    My tat: A small daisy on my heel, with the word “paix” wrapping around it.

  38. I fall on the “marking” side of your dichotomy. I have four tattoos: a yellow crescent moon w/blue star on my left shoulderblade, six outlined stars on my collarbones (three on each side), a jagged black butterfly trailing blue and green stars on my right hip, and a custom red-and-black starburst tramp stamp. I didn’t plan for all my tattoos to have stars, but they do — stars are kind of a thing for me; not actual in-the-sky stars but five-pointed representational stars. The butterfly and stars on my hip are part of a set; one of my friends wears the other part on her left hip. I got the moon and star on my shoulder (my first tattoo) when I was having issues with my mom, to remind myself that I was no longer under anyone’s control but my own. The collarbone stars came out of a Chuck Palahniuk book (Lullaby) in which one of the characters has three tiny stars on one collarbone; he’s one of my favorite authors, and I thought it was a cool idea. The tramp stamp… honestly, I just liked the design once my friend drew it up, and the lower back was the best place for it.

    Will I get more? Yes. I have six more planned. Three of them involve stars, two of which have some deeper meaning to me (one for my son, one for this group I was part of way back when); one is the Greek letters for “meiosis,” a rhetorical trick of ironic understatement; one is a rainbow infinity symbol (lots of symbolism for my sexuality and spirituality and how they intertwine); the last one is a trilobyte traced in sepia tones that will probably go mid-back (homage to my early ambition to be an archaeologist).

    So… yeah. Markings. None of them are on particularly “pretty” parts of my body, and in fact I chose my hip for the butterfly and stars deliberately, because I hate my hips — I thought making them pretty would help.

  39. like many others here i think i straddle the categories.

    i think of my tattoos as maiden/mother/crone…that wasn’t deliberate, but i cut myself off after three and as the years have gone by, i’m increasingly conscious of how they represent those three stages.

    the maiden, my first tattoo. left shoulder blade. its a simple blackwork vaguely celtic design, but was drawn for me by a friend at the time…he drew it for me every couple of days for 3 weeks while i decided whether i wanted a tattoo. i still catch glimpses of it in the mirror and am surprised and delighted to see it.

    the mother: literally the japanese sign for mother, on my right ankle. But also the mother tattoo because the symbol was the wrapping on a mother’s day present from some friends.

    and my beloved crone tattoo: the centre-piece from Judy Chicago’s “Did You Know Your Mother Had a Sacred Heart”. I knew i wanted a third tattoo, but hadn’t found the right piece until i saw this in “Beyond the Flower”. Had to have it. It’s a very stylized flower/female genitalia in gorgeous gray-scale. It also carries huge memories for me (it was paid for by all my friends as a 29th birthday present, and the tattoo artist came to Ottawa to do it for me as a gift) and huge meaning (it’s on my right upper arm, and putting it on a part of my body that i didn’t love was a huge decision, as was breaking the t-shirt line…). I’m also fascinated by the way that *womyn* respond to this tattoo so differently than men.

  40. I think that the aging process of tattoos is part of what makes them so beautiful. My grandpa had a Navy tattoo on his forearm and by the time he died it was quite faded and wrinkly and such a part of his body I thought it was really beautiful.

    Of course not beautiful in the same way it probably was when it was fresh, but not many of us will look the same at 80 as we did at 21, so why should our body art?

    Just my opinion of course, ymmv

  41. Actually, I wonder if one’s opinion on tattoos changing ties in with where one falls on the art/marking spectrum.

  42. I think I’m mostly of the ‘marking’ kind. I got the tattoo that I have between my shoulderblades when I was 18 years old, recovering from a major bout with EDs and breaking free from an overprotective mother. At the time, it symbolized my newfound inner strength and still serves as a commemoration of obstacles overcome.

    Oh, and it’s a slightly unconventional but simple black dragon with spiky wings up top and a long tail winding its way down my spine…

  43. Wow Eden that’s a pretty impressive tattoo there it’s gorgeous and I do love it…

    But I love tattoos. I only have 2 right now, mostly for finacial restraints though I have the next too drawn. I guess for me it’s a mixture of both, though people would look at them and say artistic but they mean something very deep to me.

    My first tattoo I got is a butterfly, it served the purpose of 1. marking my come into adulthood I got it at 18 when I thought I knew everything and thought I was just going to fly away and 2. Covered up a horrible mistake made at 16(note do not ever tattoo a name on you unless it’s your childs… period) it’s on my right leg

    My second tattoo I got a little over 6 months ago, after I left my abusive prick ex. It’s an ankle chain on my left leg… it’s really beautiful flowers and vine work. We were going to do broke chains on it BUT I thought it was too much, so decided on this with a bit of “tearing” of the vines in the back, to symbolize breaking away from the bad situation… this one is very important to me, when he sweet talks me and I feel the urge to come back I look at the tattoo and remember why I got it, what it means and I feel stronger to him again.(It also helps now to have an amazing man I share my life with, who reminds me I don’t have to hurt physically or emotionally to feel love)

    The 2 that I’m working on is getting my daughters hand print on my back… and the kanji for “The best way to prepare for life is to begin to live.” down my spine. Also there is a plan to get matching tattoos on the wrist of me and my sisters.

    And of course there was the joke about me getting a yellow brick road tattooed down my belly…

  44. Do I want to be an old lady in a nursing home with a tattoo?

    hells to the yeah!

    i’m with you on the whole “bringing the shtetl ankles into the fold”. when i got my first tattoo, which was below my collarbone and, at the time above my (barely existent and then hated) boob, it was kind of, well shit, i need to have something on my chest that i like. it’s a skull and a big flower… and i also didn’t want to have a tattoo ON my breast so i put it directly above.
    then i went on the pill and my breasts plumped up like ballpark franks, then i gained weight…so now it is kind of on the breast. oh well.
    i also have a 3/4 sleeve of a bird and some scandinavian flowers. on the other upper arm an artistic tat about the kids’ book GoodNight Moon, and on my shoulder blade is the crudely drawn record player from bikini kill’s “the singles” album.
    i don’t know what of the 2 categories i fall in…

  45. For some reason, the phrase “tramp stamp” just rubs me the wrong way. It seems like just another negative evaluation of women who, you know, like sex.

    Anyway, I have two tats. I got one when I was 18 (a small star on my ankle) and another when I was 21 (a crescent moon surrounded by music notes above my left boob). I am a total “marker”. I have been thinking about another tatoo for a long while, and I actually think I want the tree from cggirl’s “Eat” on my back…

  46. I forgot to mention why I got mine in my previous (and incredibly long) post.

    I was raped and then in an abusive relationship as a teenager. I started getting tattoos after that relationship ended as a way of reclaiming my body, beautifying what I saw as ugly and destructive, and, though I didn’t realize this until later, making myself appear tougher. While a lot of people have tattoos now, I still think the heavily tattooed always look a little tougher and a little stronger than everyone else. I think that subconsciously informed my decisions to cover my arms and chest. And really, it works. People always think I’m stronger and meaner than I actually am :)

  47. For some reason, the phrase “tramp stamp” just rubs me the wrong way.

    Yeah, it’s pretty awful. Shaminey goes into that too. I was using it ironically, which I hope was clear.

  48. I didn’t mention in my note above, but I think I have a foot firmly in both the “marking” and “art” camps.

  49. Love the Britomart ideas. As someone who just got a Ph.D. in English Renaissance Lit, that appeals.

    However, I have no tattoos and no plans to get one.

    I have always wondered about other people’s reasons for getting them since they have become so commonplace, so it was interesting reading the comments and your post. I had also wondered about aging and other body changes affecting tattoos, so good to know that my suspicions there were correct.

    Interesting read. I always learn so much from this community.

  50. I have a tattoo, and while I think they’re definitely art for some people and some tattoos are beautiful enough to indubitably BE art, for me it’s more of a marking process, definitely. Mine’s of three crowns on my left shoulder, which is the emblem of the region in Ireland my family comes from, where I lived a bit and where most of my dad’s family remains. I’m thinking about another one, a quote, but I’m stuck between a couple. I want to get it done in a member of my mom’s family’s handwriting, so I’m marked by both branches of the tree, if that makes sense.

  51. I don’t have any tattoos. I’ve just never really had any desire for one. Plus, I tend to be flaky so I can just see myself getting a tattoo I just love only to regret it a few years later. But I’m fascinated by hearing everyone’s tattoo stories.

  52. I have two and want a third. One is on my left ankle (I have relatively nicely shaped calves and lower arms – it’s the thighs and upper arms that are just flabby). The other is just below my neck on my back.

    The ankle tat is an Auryn, which is in the movie The Neverending Story. The “hero” is given this to wear around his neck and is told that it will “guide and protect” him on his dangerous journey. The other is a trinity knot, a Celtic symbol bastardized by Christianity. It was originally a symbol of protection… noticing a theme there?

    My final tattoo will be a very unique butterfly. It will feature my own twist…

  53. I had some German clients who told me that in Germany they refer to tramp stamps as ass antlers, which of course I don’t remember how to say or spell in German. Where I apprenticed, the receptionist had a tiny tribal she called her “buttstache” or just mustache.

  54. My first (and only, thus far) tattoo is on my wrist. I am in this, I think, for the “marking,” though I completely understand the “art” side as well, though I have a feeling most of my tattoos are going to be words/poetry/etc. I risked (professionally) putting it in such a visible place because it has meaning to me, and I don’t mind explaining it to people. It says “born too late,” and it’s from a song of the same title by my favorite band (the Clarks, of Pittsburgh, PA). The song is a plea to artists, inventors, peacemakers, revolutionaries and the like who have gone before – saying, essentially, I was born too late to be in your generation, please teach me how to be great in my generation. (Lyrics)

  55. Bekbek, the ever-reliable internets say that the German is “Arschgeweih.” I like “ass antlers” better. Evocative and non-sexist!

  56. I don’t have any tattoos and am highly unlikely ever to get one simply because I don’t find them attractive. I’ve seen many, many tattoos in all kinds of styles over the years, and in all that time there has been exactly one that made me even think twice about it. (It was a stylized dragon that looked like a pen and ink and watercolor painting, and frankly I just wanted a copy done on thick artists paper to hang on my wall!) I guess that puts me firmly into the art category.

    I find it fascinating to hear about why others chose to get the tattoos they did. They’re all such individual stories and express so many different views.

  57. Medievalist here, with a love for the more modernist part of the Arts and Crafts movement…I like the idea of your Britomart! I don’t have one, but if I did I think it would be something by Eric Gill, perhaps from his illustrations of Chaucer or just something written in his Gill Sans font. I’ve actually thought about it for some time, but don’t think I’ll actually do it. Don’t know why. Love the thought though.

  58. Mine’s a winged lioness; my design, taken from a Persian cloak ornament:

    Properly, speaking, she’s an angel, a k’rubh, one of the kerubim, the winged lionesses that pull the chariot of the Queen of Heaven.

    Lions are not actually among “my” animals. This one is very clearly a Mark, and it brands me as property of the divine feminine. A sort of “this book belongs to.” Appearances matter to me a lot as an artist; I can’t see this tattoo, though, so it was all about being marked.

    I found the process of getting a tattoo absolutely incredible, and I want to do it again and again. Problem is, I don’t want permanent markings, just the devotional pain. So I’ve never gotten another. This one may be the only one I ever need, though I’ve considered adding an art nouveau snake to the back of my wrist or the back of my neck, or putting an arc of flowers above my k’rubh.

    And Filly, can I just say how cool it is that you’re participating in the story idea , and how much I love the idea of a vitriol tattoo. Which would be a kickass name for an album, btw.

  59. Ah, tattoos. I’m currently twitching to get at least one, and as the ex was strongly opposed I can now, without having to hear about it constantly! I’m torn; there’s one that definitely would be marking, which is ‘grano salis’ in Times New Roman on my hip. It would represent my many years of studying Latin, which is my true academic love, and since it means ‘grain of salt’ it also would represent my highly skeptical nature, which is one of the things I value most about myself. Incidentally, the use of grain of salt to represent doubt or skepticism did in fact originate from a Roman author, Pliny the Elder. Yes, I’m a nerd.

    The other I’d like is just silly…a small golden snitch tramp stamp (<–ironic!). I lurve Harry Potter, and having something kinda literary/dorky in that location seems freaking hilarious to me.

  60. @sweetmachine Delurking to say thanks so much for the link to the Hass poem. It’s now one of my favorites too. Wow.

  61. ‘grano salis’ in Times New Roman

    I’m doing mine in TNR too! Their commas are the best, and after writing school papers for seven years and grading them for two, nothing else looks right to me anyway.

  62. I have a tattoo on my thigh that I designed myself – a cross encircled by a ring of DNA, bring together two important forces in my life – science and faith.

    I chose my thigh because it was somewhere where I could easily see it, while also easily covered up in a professional setting. And also, as it was done by my brother, it was a modest enough spot ;) I wanted to both support my brother in his business (which was still very new at the time) and also in his art. So it is both the design of the tattoo, and the artist who gave it to me, that have deep meaning for me.

  63. OH I LOVE the science tattoo blog. Once I finish my bs, I plan on getting a physics-related tattoo in celebration.

    As of now, I only have one. I really wanted to be sure that I wanted one so I waited til I was 26. I wanted something pretty, colorful and pagan-esque while still being something I would like if I ever left religion all together.

    For my next one, I want a sort of tribute to my favorite childhood book “The Secret Garden.” I actually already have a sketch of it, but I’m waiting for that ‘must have tattoo now!’ feeling to get it done. It’s a robin holding an old-fashioned key and I might also include the text “The robin showed the way” underneath, but we’ll see.

    And yes! to body modification leading to greater body love. I got my nose pierced for that reason when I was 20 and I adore my nose now.

  64. I’m doing mine in TNR too! Their commas are the best, and after writing school papers for seven years and grading them for two, nothing else looks right to me anyway.

    I know, right? You can’t separate academia and TNR!

  65. Llamas & FJ, I have a deep love of TNR, probably from my college days. I think it looks crisp, professional and is easy to read. My office uses Verdana & sometimes Gill Sans which drives me up a wall, it just looks so… sloppy I guess? I don’t really know I just don’t like it.

    So now I can’t stop thinking about what my next tattoo will be. I want somethine to honor my late grandmother and her two sisters, my grandma loved roses so I was thinking a pink rose, yellow rose and red rose (grandma is pink, Imo is red and Patty is yellow, if you care) with “Franklin” underneath (their maiden name)

    Also, Attrice I really like your idea and that makes me think I should get a line from Eugene Fields’ “Sugar Plum Tree” with an illustration somewhere…

    Of course I’m brokety broke broke right now so I’d have to save up for anything major.

  66. At 19 I decided to get a tattoo on the strongest part of my body, my right calf. I love to walk and climb and swim and this part of my body carries me through. While my legs are short and thick and scarred from various accidents (some from adventure and others from general clumsiness) I love them and am proud of their muscles.

    When I travelled to New Zealand this past summer I spent and entire month hiking. From morning to night me and my boyfriend were out in the forests, along the beach, or walking from one end of town to another. My respect of nature and the earth increased tenfold and I came back wanting a tattoo to symbolize that. I found a picture of a tree on my computer I had kept for several years and always loved, proud branches reach into the sky with thick curling roots and the bottom. A few months later I decided that it was going to go on my calf, the roots a symbol of my down-to-earth nature and the branches a symbol of hope and resilience and life. The picture takes up the whole right side of my calf showing my strength. People are always surprised when they see the size of my tattoo, all my guy friends brag because I have the largest tattoo among them when I’m the smallest and bubbliest of us.

    Even though I’ve talked about the symbolism the marking was the most important part. I am a perfectionist and I tend to look back on the past with regret. Getting this tattoo was an act defiance towards that attitude, the tattoo is almost perfect, but not quite, and I know I have it forever and it isn’t something small and easily covered up. The pain was a new experience for me and taught me my limits.

    I’m hoping to get more in the future but this one has been a great start.

  67. I have five tattoos, for a variety of reasons, both aesthetic and symbolic. I didn’t get any of them until I was over 40. The first one ( a tribal-style ankle band) commemorates the publication of my first book; the colors are derived from the colors of the book jacket, and there is some other symbolism about the book’s content not immediately apparent to the casual observer. My second tattoo is on my upper right arm, and it’s a version of the military-style eagle my dad had (on his forearm), which I had done right after he died. Kind of a strange tribute, since he regretted his tattoos by the time he had children, and he certainly would have mixed feelings about his over-educated *daughter* having one (much less having five!)

    Even though my tattoos have meaning for me, I don’t necessarily care to explain their meaning to every passer-by on the street who asks, and I kind of resent the assumption that tattoos *have* to have deep meanings of love and loss. I also have them just ’cause they’re pretty. (I blame Miami Ink ;-) )

  68. I think I’m in the same boat as you. My tattoos are about what they mean to me and not about creating art, though I do understand that aspect of it. I don’t have any yet but am dying to get them, once I find a good artist and the money. I want the Roman numerals for 10 and 17 stacked on the back of my neck – those numbers hold a very personal meaning to me. I’m planning to get ‘compassion’ tattooed on the inside of one wrist. Not sure what language yet. Ideally, I’d also like to get ‘mercy’ tattooed on the wrist in the same language. We’ll see. The swan from the cover of Mazzy Star’s Among My Swan album with the initials EEL underneath, for my best friend who is more like my twin than my friend. Not sure of the placement. Two turtles for my parents, whose song is Happy Together by the Turtles, probably on my back somewhere.

    And finally (ha! of the ones I’ve planned), I want to get a barren tree. This is probably the most symbolic/deeply personal of the tattoos I’ll ever get. I can’t even begin to get into it.

  69. One of my LJ friends recently posted about being a word! That’s so awesome. I’d sign up if I had a snowball’s chance of being picked.

    I have two tattoos. One is a Pegasus, reeeeeeaaaally high up on my thigh, which I got on impulse when I was 19. My friend was getting one for her birthday and I said, what the hell. It’s poorly done (there’s an extra joint in the horse’s back legs), but it has meaning to me, and you can’t see it unless I’m wearing a bathing suit (or less). It was part of the reason my mom and I had a HUGE blowup later that year, and it signifies being out on my own for the first time. I didn’t pick it with that kind of symbolism — I looked at the flash on the walls, mistakenly thought these were all the designs the tattoo artist could possibly do (like a menu in a restaurant), and picked one — but it’s come to perfectly signify a turning point in my life.

    Another is a star-and-vine design that’s shaped like a tramp stamp but is small enough to fit on my ankle. I got it some time after we settled in Baltimore, to signify another new phase in my life: having left everything known and comfortable, including college, to make it in the “real world”. I’ve had it for more than a year and I’m still happy with it, though not in love like I used to be. And I got the design off a website that specializes in selling tattoo designs. It’s slightly more original than picking one off the wall, but I wanted a star on my ankle and dammit, I liked that one. So I got it.

    I wish I had the imagination, money, and connection with a tattoo artist to get a huge, beautiful piece on my back. I have no idea what i’d get or why, and I doubt I’d ever be satisfied by the design, so it’s just as well. The two I have are simple anyway, and there will be a third in the future (it’s significant to my tradition of Wicca). I still want something big and awesome.

    In the meantime I’ll settle for stars. I love stars and I would get them tattooed over my whole body if it wouldn’t endanger my professional life.

  70. (I know not this “tramp-stamp” of which you speak.)

    And yes! to body modification leading to greater body love. I got my nose pierced for that reason when I was 20 and I adore my nose now.

    You know, I never really thought of it, but the same thing happened to me. I got my nose pierced a couple of years ago, simply because I’ve always liked them. Before the piercing, I hated my nose. I always thought it was too wide, too thick. Not in any way feminine. Once I got the piercing, those thoughts just kind of faded away. I didn’t even realize that I don’t think that way anymore until I read that.

    I personally don’t have any tattoos. I would love to get at least one, but… I’m a big baby. It’s not the needles; needles don’t bother me in the least. It’s the pain. I am a great big baby when it comes to pain – my last OB/GYN and I played “Let’s Make A Deal On Drugs” when he was trying to talk me into having a cesarean with my youngest daughter. I didn’t want a cesarean simply because of the pain involved (I’d previously had one cesarean and 2 VBACs, so I knew the difference). He had to practically swear on a bible that he’d give me the strongest thing available before I’d even think of consenting to the surgery. (And it turned out I really did need it; she was breech [she’d moved sometime in the 3 days prior]).

    But The Hubster is inked. And I’d say he was mostly a “marker” although he does have some “art” tendencies. He has an egyptian eye on his right forearm, that he got while drunk, on his 18th birthday. He doesn’t even remember actually getting it done. He also has 2 dragons – one on his upper arm and one on his chest. The one on his arm is colored, but the one on his chest is just an outline. Every once in a while, he talks about getting it filled in, but he hasn’t quite gotten around to it yet. He also has The Roadrunner tattooed on his other arm, also colored. On the back of his neck, he has the chinese symbols for “evil devil.”

    Since dragons signify strength, and he has shown some astounding personal strength, I think they fit. He went through a shitty childhood, with a mother that couldn’t care less about him and a father that was non-existent, and when he moved out of his grandparents’ house, he got heavily into drugs. He was able to get himself out of that BY himself, with no help from anyone. He had the strength to literally wake up one day, realize what he was doing to himself, and just stop. (Not to say that it was easy, but it was SIMPLE. For HIM, anyway.)

    That Roadrunner one definitely symbolizes his child-like tendencies. There are times he’s worse than our children, I swear! (Not all the time, thank Godess.)

    The ones on the back of his neck? He got them right after confessing to me that he’d been having an affair. We were trying to fix our marriage, he was ravaged with guilt (and rightfully so), and he was punishing himself with alcohol (repeatedly getting so drunk that he was puking and feeling ill for days). I think those words “evil devil” were his way of permanently punishing/reminding himself of what he put the both of us through. He intimated as much when he first got them done, but would never go into detail about it.

    I love looking at everybody’s tattoos! I come from a family where almost everybody’s got tattoos, so I’ve always loved them. If only I weren’t such a big baby! :(

  71. I don’t have any tattoos yet, but I do have a design that I’ve wanted for over 10 years (since high school). I’m considering having it done next year on my 30th birthday. It’s simply a white peace dove with an olive branch in it’s mouth. Underneath the dove, along the curve of the chest/belly I’d like the inscription “Luke 3:22”, which is the Biblical reference to the Holy Spirit descending from heaven “like a dove”. To me it would represend both my faith (which largely shapes who I am) and the peace that I desire between God, humankind, and myself. I guess in a way it’s mostly “marking”… however there’s definitely an “art” emphasis too. It has to look good. ;)

    As to where… I’ve thought about my shoulderblade, but I’ve been considering my ankle more and more recently. If it’s small, it’s easily coverable in business situations. :)

  72. I plan to get a tattoo when I finish my senior (college) thesis on lady gardeners in the early 20th century – I want a flower that looks like a botanical diagram, probably of Kalmiopsis leachiana. While the symbolism is very important, I suspect I fall primarily into the first category as my first requirement is that it’s beautiful and fits my personal aesthetic. I don’t know where I’m going to get it; I’m trying to balance my desires to be able to cover it up most of the time and to not have it distort radically as I age (I’m 21).

  73. Oh, I lovelovelove tattoos. I’m in the “art” category, and I have two. The first, a “tramp stamp” (I used to hate this term, it came around long after I got my first) is hard to describe. It is lotus flowers, vines, a “black sun” and stars…I traveled to San Francisco (from Missouri!) to have it done. It’s an original, was drawn just for me.
    The second is a “secret” tattoo that only those veryveryclose to me have seen. It’s beautiful, but I don’t share it often.

  74. I have one tattoo so far. It’s a unicorn head on my upper left chest (not a girly unicorn, this one is a screaming stallion, looks like he’s getting ready to fight). I’ve always loved horses, and when I discovered unicorns, it was love too. It’s all in black, but when I took one of the cats to the groomer the other day, she suggested I get some color added to it (she also does tattoos). I’ve been considering that for a couple of years now, so I might take her up on the suggestion.
    I got my tattoo about 10 years ago. I’d always wanted one (ever since I was 24), more for decoration than any other reason. I had it put on my upper chest because I figured that was about the only place that wouldn’t get stretch marks.
    I want another tattoo, but I can’t make up my mind if I want a wolf (another of my favorite animals) or a black widow spider (my best friend Pat wanted a black widow spider, she said when people asked her about it she could say she was like a black widow, fucks ’em and eats ’em… If I decide on the black widow spider, I think I would have Pat’s initials under it, or around it, as a tribute to her. I may get both, the wolf and the spider, and have one on each upper arm.
    I am so going to be an old lady in a nursing home with tattoos, I don’t see anything wrong with that at all (and since I’m 54, and got my first one at the ripe old age of 44, I’m well on my way).

  75. I have two tattoos, both “marks.” The first is now ten years old, an atomic symbol (natch) in the hollow between my ribs, just below my breasts. It’s about the size of a half-dollar and commemorates my recovery from a long bout of depression: I am powerful. It’s good to be reminded of this, as I struggle with another episode.

    My other tat is a call to resilience. It is a triskelion, three legs joined at the hip, and is about 2.5″ in diameter and located on my abdomen, below the bikini line. Mostly black, the legs are not inked – that’s my flesh. This one is about two years old, post-Katrina, and in the midst of my sudden divorce. To me, it means: Whichever way she lands, she lands on her feet.

    My tattoos are private affairs, and on the front of my body because I want to see them, to be reminded. Since my skin is fair, they are very stark.

  76. I hate tattoos. I just don’t think they’re pretty. Sure, I don’t judge people who have a tattoo, but if someone shows them his or hers, I can’t lie and say “Oh, it’s beautiful”. I tend to think that tattoos and piercings are just another way of making us spend more, so they have more to do with consumerism than with any kind of counterculture. But this is coming from someone who doesn’t even have her ears pierced and who never painted her nails, so I guess I’m unusual and maybe too frugal.

  77. First, I find it interesting that the majority of people answering so far are either entirely marking or mostly marking. I think that says something about the readers of this site, and perhaps our body image as well, but I am too stressed out today to venture a guess as to what.
    I also fall into the marking category, and am strictly opposed to tattoos that have no other meaning than “I thought it was pretty”. I know their are those that have different opinions, my sister being one, but I just think putting something on your body is so powerful, and I don’t like the idea of squandering that power on a tribal over your ass, because you thought it was cool and all your friends had one.
    I have one tattoo that I got when my mother died. My sister and I both have the same one, in the same spot, on the back of my neck, and it’s almost spiritual to me. It is the word KA with a circle around it. Which is a reference to The Dark Tower (yes, I read Steven King, wanna fight about it?)
    I want to get more, particularly
    “Ultimus Romanorum” which I feel pretty much sums me up in two words. It just takes me such a long time because I am put so much stock into them, that I want to make sure they are right and true for me.

  78. I have no tattoos, but I have a navel piercing, and before someone accuses me of being trendy, I’d like to point out that I had it done there mostly so I could cover it up. The initial prompting was a bout with SI that was stopped in its tracks by professional pain. (Worked for me. Probably doesn’t work for anyone else. Don’t recommend it, as it could be a new addiction.)

    I don’t particularly think I want a tattoo, at this point, but I understand the impulse.

  79. Heh, Stephanie, one of my favorite clients has a lot of tattoos at least partly for that reason. I love that I feel like I’m armoring her against it, too, because she’d never harm any of the beautiful work we created together.

  80. Hmmm. I guess I’m more marking than art, not that I have a tattoo. I changed my name five years ago and when people asked why, I would tell them it was either that or a tattoo and I can’t stand pain. I always got a laugh, but I actually had the tattoo planned out and I still want it… I have smattered freckles and moles and I wanted to add a few fake freckles on my chest (which is not very freckled, so they would stand out) to connect the ones I have into a constellation that has a lot of personal meaning for me. I want it for the symbolism, but I haven’t gotten it because I worry that it won’t be aesthetically perfect (ie, look like freckles, not a tattoo). I want it to be a “Hey, have you ever noticed that those freckles form a constellation?” tattoo, not a “Nice tattoo!” one.

  81. It used to be a small black capricorn symbol on my upper left arm. When I was 18, astrology was important to me.

    My only tattoo is a small black Capricorn symbol, done when I was (almost) 18! (Does it count that I told the artist I was 18?) But it’s on my shoulder and filled in.

    Honestly, mine was neither about art nor marking, in any meaningful way. I went to a tattoo parlor with two friends who had seriously planned out their tats, just to hang out with them — until the moment I walked in, I sincerely believed I had zero interest in getting one. Then I just got swept up in it and decided I HAD TO HAVE ONE. So I picked the only flash that was remotely acceptable to me — there was actually a huge, awful Seagoat to go along with the symbol, but I left that part out, thank you very much. 5 minutes, 25 bucks.

    Even then, astrology wasn’t terribly meaningful to me, so the only symbolic value the tat really has for me is as a reminder of a time when I was more impulsive and truly hadn’t grasped yet that I was going to get old. I knew in theory that I’d end up in a nursing home with a tattoo, but I still couldn’t quite envision how I’d get from being a 17-year-old college student to that. Now, I’m a lot more conscious of the fact that I’m getting older all the time, and it ain’t gonna stop.

    I wanted another one for a few years — and totally thought about having the first one turned into something, Eden — but I’m pretty much over it now. I was never really a tattoo person, even when I got mine.

  82. I want to get a tattoo eventually, most likely on the back of my shoulder. I do have to be careful of the placement because of my future profession (I’m going to be a pastor). I either want “Matthew 16:24-25” or “Isaiah 52:6”; those verses from the Bible mean a lot to me in regards to my life as a minister and my Christian beliefs in general.

  83. I have two tats, both medical. When you have radiation therapy, they mark two or three reference points in the treatment field with a small blue dot. I guess it’s meant to be a permanent record of exactly where the patient has received radiation.

    At first I was mad. If I was going to get tattooed, I damn well wanted to have some say in it. And why couldn’t I choose the symbol?

    Now I sort of think of them as minimalist, even Zen-like. And they do tell part of the story of my life. So that would make them a marking, I guess.

    I love reading everyone else’s stories!

  84. I have a small tat on my ankle from when I was 18. It is a marking, but I had it done by an artist.
    Since then, I’ve had the desire for a second tat; I have the art, but never the money and time coming together for getting it done. Last year a friend offered to buy me the tat as a present. I realized my answer was “there’s no part of my body right now that deserves a tattoo”.
    That’s when I started looking for Shapely Prose. Because there’s no way that self-hatred can stand unchallenged; dieting kept failing, “lifestyle choices” made me healthier but not slimmer, so I needed a different option that I wasn’t coming to on my own.
    I’ll be getting that tat this summer.

  85. My dad has radiation tattoos, too. I think of it as kind of amusing, since he was fifty-something when he got them done, and he’s . . . not a tattoo-guy. Just not.

    He’s fine now. Hope you are, too, Perrin J.! (Which is why I have the luxury of finding them amusing.)

  86. I’m very much a marking person. I’m a lit major, so I’m very much into the symbolism of things, and while I love a lot of the really arty tattoos I’ve seen, I just don’t think I’d be able to sit for one.

    Unfortunately, I have an extremely low pain threshold and am still pretty insecure about who and what I am, so I have yet to settle on an adequate symbol that encorporates all of me. Therefore I am inkless atm… but still very intrigued.

  87. Mine are marks, definitely. I got my first when I turned 29 and it’s the Kladdagh, but I tribalized it somewhat and it’s on the inside of my right arm. I’d always wanted a tattoo and wrestled and muddled over and blahbettyblahed over what to get for years. I would draw all sorts of designs but nothing struck me until I started fussing with the Kladdagh (which, for the non-Irish, symbolizes friendship, loyalty, and love) and created something I loved more than enough to put on me permanently. When *I* look at it, it’s upside-down (which says that one is available for lovin’), but when others see it, it would communicate that I’m not available. Maybe subconsciously, it means something…hmm.

    Then, in March of ’07, a couple months after I turned 35, I got nine stars scattered down the inside of my left arm. Four are filled in (black), five are just outlined in black. I liked the idea that I was always trying to catch a handful of stars. My dad was absolutely horrified because they’re hard to miss and I generally don’t make too much of an effort to hide them (though I easily can if I must).

    I suspect the next one I’m going to get will be underneath the Kladdagh and will be “Cor unum, via una” (one heart, one way), which is on my family’s crest. I just have to get around to having it done.

  88. I think a John Hodgman tattoo would be almost unbelievably nerdy, and I would eventually regret it.



    I don’t want to live in a world where anyone regrets that tattoo.

  89. As an aside, “shtetl ankles” is possibly the best phrase EVER. I’m adopting this as the new name for my ankles–they’re functional and sturdy (or at least the left one…the right one is recovering from a lovely injury that rendered it useless), the ankles of my ancestors, not “aesthetically pleasing,” damnit. Ha.

    While I’d never get a tattoo (mostly just too chicken), if I did I’d definitely be a “marker.” I like the idea of my body having statements, stories. I recently had ankle surgery, and now I have a roughly 2 inch long scar like a little zipper over the outside of my ankle. And I LIKE it. It means something–I soldiered through something difficult but ultimately meaningful (I hope!) in that having this surgery means I’ll have my active life & the things I love back. I’m not a big fan of my ankles…self-respect/love for my body does not come easily to me. In a way, that makes it almost better that the scar adorns my ankle. There’s something I can be proud of there now…

    It’s weird, but I kind of treasure my scars (mostly). They remind me of where I’ve been–the scar on the inside edge of my right foot a reminder of the gash I butterflied shut for a major athletic competition (it still bled all over the place–keeping butterfly bandaids on feet doing a barefoot sport is pretty impossible!), the tiny line on my face where my little brother scratched the hell out of me at 3, the gray dot of graphite that’s still in the palm of my right hand courtesy of a junior high pencil accident (which almost led to me fainting in the middle of my math class), even the tiny little white stretch-mark lines on my sides just above my hip-bones, a reminder of a time when depressed and miserable I swallowed an extra 40 lbs. worth of comfort-through-food. The stretch marks especially remind me of where I’ve been; their whiteness as opposed to the initial cat-scratch red reminds me I’m not there anymore. They’re barely noticeable but they’re my own little private stories. They’re parts that I can, for whatever reason, love in a way that I’m not yet able to extend to the rest of my body.

  90. Aw, thanks guys! Kate, mine was filled-in too, but the artist who did the tree filled it in with white ink to make it an outline.

    And for what it’s worth, I call lower-back tattoos “asshats.” It’s not an insult, I just like to think of it as a hat for your ass.

  91. I have a stylized black cat with green eyes that I “designed” myself. While I appreciate the art aspect, I definitely fall into the marking category. The tat is on my back, because it is supposed to be my version of Bastet, the Egyptian goddess of healing (?), and I have chronic back pain due to scoliosis. It is on my upper back/shoulder, because I wanted to avoid distortion due to stretch marks and/or flab. I also wanted it where it could be easily covered up, but I could choose to show it off by wearing a tank top. One other thing, since I had illusions at the time (14 years ago) of working as an actress, I designed it to be exactly the size and shape of a standard Bandaid, so that I could easily conceal it. That’s my tat!

  92. No tattoos. I’ve thought about it though. Every time I think I want a tattoo, I think I’d like a Sailor Moon tattoo, and then I worry that that would make me One Of Those People Who Gets a Fandom Tattoo, and if that signifies something bad.

    But the reason I think I’d want a Sailor Moon tattoo is that in many ways my experiences with that show are representative of how I managed to grow up not as the Narrow Minded Mormon Weasel my parents are STILL hoping I’ll be, but instead as a progressive and free thinking me. I’m sure I would have gotten there anyway, but because I was an 11-year-old fan of Sailor Moon, I was introduced to the lesbian characters of Uranus and Neptune, and thought they were so cool. And then I met another Sailor Moon fan who introduced me to one of my first good friends in middle school who was also a Sailor Moon fan and who also happened to be gay. And I spent many a weekend at his place talking and watching anime and…

    …well, with a friend to defend, it wasn’t very difficult to make up my mind where I stood.

    And Sailor Moon is and was a strong female protagonist for me to look up to.

    But the other problem there is not only can I settle on whether I want it, I can’t settle on where or which image to use. Especially which image to use.

    The only other tattoo I ever thought of getting, I’m instead going to make into my name. I thought for a while of simply tattooing the word “self” under my collar bone or on my arm, because I think it fits me more than anything. I am many things, but before any of that I am myself. But instead, I’ve always wanted to change my name (and being a woman, grew up with the idea that my surname wasn’t a permanent thing – and never liked it anyway) and so in order to Stick It To The Patriarchy I plan on changing my last name to Self. (I have a friend with this surname, and my plan makes her laugh).

    And so I won’t need the tattoo. It will be my name (and I WON’T be changing it if I ever get married).

    Jessica Self.

    I think it suits me.

    Anyway. The other thing I know I’m going to do, and have wanted to do since I was 9 or so, is dye my hair pink. I want flaming pink hair for the rest of my life (until I go gray, and then I will let myself be gray, because I love that), and I’m just waiting to move out and for a time when my hair color is not relative to my being employed (which will probably be in about a year or so).

    And…I think I just wrote a novel.

  93. I will never get a tattoo. I have a serious fear of needles and no tolerance for pain. Also, I wouldn’t be able to handle it if the thing turned ugly over time. Also, my family would be so disappointed in me, which does matter to me. However, I can appreciate other people’s tattoos, though I only get excited over beautiful, arty, creative, well-drawn ones. I do not get excited over butterflies.

    My best friend has a few that she designed, and I hate them. I feel they have marred her beauty. She lost a lot of weight and the tattoos are not the same.

  94. I’m a big baby about pain, but I love wearing henna. I like strong geometric designs on my hands during the summer, though I haven’t quite mastered how to get the color to come out dark enough. I’m so pale, most henna comes out as a brassy orange tone. Maybe I’ll get it right this year.

  95. I have no tattoos, because I’m a Jew and we don’t do that. I don’t believe in god, I don’t go to synagogue, but when it comes to tattoos, I am a Jew, and I won’t do that.

    When I was very young, I met some of my grandfather’s friends. They had tattoos on their arms. Maybe that’s part of it.

  96. I have two tattoos to date, with plans to get a partial sleeve in the near-ish future. I equally value beauty and meaning in a tattoo. It has to be nice looking and it has to mean something to the person that received it–the only time I openly dislike tattoos is if they were done just because they “look cool.” But to each her own, they’re not on me. =)

    Both of my current pieces are tigers since I’ve always had an affinity for them and would even go so far as to call them a “totem animal” if I believed in such things. My first I had done when I was 18 is on my ankle, and my second I had done when I was 20 and is on my shoulder blade. At the time, I never thought I’d be a big art piece kind of person, just a random one here or there. Now here I am looking to have a partial sleeve done in the next five years and debating whether or not to try and work the second tattoo into the piece so it’s not just a random mark on my body.

  97. I don’t have a tattoo. I’ve never known what I would want and where I would want it long enough to ever seriously consider the possibility of getting one. I’m not opposed to them in anyway, I just don’t think I can alter my image permanently.

  98. I am fairly heavily tattooed. I think I fall in your “art” category, but all of my tattoos are deeply meaningful. My right arm is a Twin Towers memorial. I have two Kali tattoos; one is the Hindu phrase “Jai Mata Di” (Victory to the Mother), and the other is Her eyes. One tattoo is a Wiccan symbol.

    The rest of my (11) tattoos are floral and/or fairies, representing a profound commitment to inner and outer beautification that are part of my healing from sexual.

  99. I have two tattoos: one on my right ankle and foot and the other one behind my neck. I like them, people always tell me they’re nice and cool :) I feel they’re like a beautifull accessory that I love and will never take off – isn’t that nice?

  100. T-M, if you want pink hair truly for the rest of your life, I recommend Special Effects’ Atomic Pink. It is notoriously impossible to shift.

  101. I have an “art” tattoo, and it’s jam-packed full of meaningful-to-me symbols. So it’s sort of like extensively thought-out “marking”, too. I spent a year designing it and realising the artwork myself, getting it just perfect, and then finding a tattoo artist who I thought would be able to express it in skin and ink. It cost me nearly $1000 but it was worth every penny and I have never regretted it. I’m going to get more.

  102. Yeah, I want to make clear that I assume all tattoos are meaningful (though certainly there are some people who get tattoos just for beauty) — the idea behind the art/marking dichotomy is that for some people it’s the fact of the tattooing that’s of paramount importance, and for some it’s the beauty of the finished product.

  103. I will never get a tattoo. I’m not trendy AND I’m commitment-phobic. But I adore you for “shtetl ankles.” I’m not Jewish, but I sure do have them. If I should ever change my mind about getting a tattoo, I will put it on one of my shtetl ankles, in honor of all of us sturdy-legged gals!

  104. Unrelated Tangent Warning

    Pardon me, but I just found something wildly interesting to my nerdy self; and had to share. Knitting and crocheting are apparently causing mathematicians to sit up and take a look at how to solve problems either about or *using* handicrafts. I just think this is incredibly cool. It’s all about topology, which isn’t something I truly understand, so I’m just sort of going “Neato!”

    Bounce, bounce, bounce. This, this is why we need all sorts of diverse people in all fields.

    Um. No tattoos here. I don’t want to have an indeliable mark on my body. Which is strange, because I keep hairstyles for decades… Just peculiar here I guess. On other people I like the pretty ones the best, but I never comment on them, just enjoy them.

  105. T-M, if you want pink hair truly for the rest of your life, I recommend Special Effects’ Atomic Pink. It is notoriously impossible to shift.

    Oh, totally. I used it once to put in highlights for the summer, and ended up having to dye over them months later for a show I was in, because the highlights were still outrageously bright.

    And I definitely want pink hair for the rest of my life. No doubt.

  106. I forwarded this to a friend who’s a tattoo artist. She thinks it’s pretty cool, too.

    One of these days I’m going to get my chicken-ass self over to her place and ask her to ink me.

  107. I love my tattoo(s) – I will happily be an old lady with tattoos – and I would say its about 80% art and 20% mark (based on the new clarification :) ). It was done in 2 separate instances – the first when I finished my BA and the second when I finished my MA. I never know whether to say I have one or two tattoos.

    Its the Latin phrase “She flies with her own wings” (in my handwriting), bordered by gray scale clouds, a full moon, and a vibrant blue ripple effect, as if the words were just touching a still lake. Thematically its all about independence and isolation (in a good way, not a lonely way), inspired heavily by Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s “The Solitude of Self” speech.

  108. I’d love another tattoo. A pin up girl holding a pie. “Pi(e)” being what I call my husband.

    But I’ve been worried. What if I gain weight, what if I lose weight, what will it do to my skin (and tattoo). And I have absolutely ruled out certain places on my body that I don’t like to show people (my arms).

    Every day I’m reminded of the work I have to do on my hurtful thoughts. Thanks for this post.

  109. Oh, I’m so jealous that you’re participating in the Ineradicable Stain story. I desperately want one of her words! I’m more of a “mark” person, as well. Best of luck to you on your new ink.

  110. I’m definitely a marker. I only have one – the Chinese symbol for “dragon.” I’ve always loved the Eastern idea of dragons as protectors, plus my mother is a big dragon fan herself so I grew up with them. For both those reasons, I feel that my tattoo (which I got during the only really bad time in my life) gives me strength.

    It’s in the formal script, which these days is used primarily for horoscopes, so it could be read as “year of the dragon.” Which isn’t my year, but is my husband’s. I met him eight months after I got the tattoo. :)

    It’s above my right shoulderblade, which I love because it’s both easy to cover and easy to show off. Every formal dress I’ve owned since getting it has shown it off, including my wedding dress. (That was the first time my in-laws saw it. They were…bemused.)

    I would like to get another one, probably an image of a dragon. Actually, the description of Bee’s tattoo earlier in this thread sounds exactly like what I envision! I’m also really intrigued by the idea of marking an “unlovable” part. I’m pretty much all stretch marks from ribcage to upper thighs, which I’m trying to love and see as battle scars but failing badly. Perhaps when I’m done having kids and my body has settled I’ll find a way to incorporate both these ideas.

    (I’ve tried to talk my husband into getting a “year of the horse” tattoo for me, but he’s not amenable. Just doesn’t share the marking impulse.)

  111. “Pi(e)” being what I call my husband.

    Oh that’s freaky… a friend of my mom’s has the same nickname for her husband (and vice versa). For one of their anniversaries she got him a book about pi. Are you a friend of my mom’s?

    Piffle, perhaps embarrassingly, the topology stuff was what made me want to learn to crochet. (I still haven’t, though.)

  112. I have one tattoo, acquired when I was nineteen and in college and wanted something on my body that my ex-boyfriend had not seen. I have a wee blue star tramp stamp, even though, like someone said above, I got it before that phrase was coined! I’d wanted a star there for a long time, but one day my best friend and I were bored after lunch and went to the tattoo parlor rather than back to our dorms. It’s definitely, definitely a marker.

    I do want more, but i can’t decide on anything. I figure I will know it when I see it.

  113. Oooh i haven’t read all the comments but:

    Once upon a time my friend wanted to get her tongue pierced. I went with her and decided, on the spot, having never thought i would get one, to get a tattoo.

    I just picked a cute tribal gecko design out of a book, I’d always liked geckos and turtles and tribal designs… it caught my eye and made me want to tattoo it. On my butt.

    Being an artist i later wondered if i should’ve designed it myself, doh. But i guess part of the whole thing – for me – was that experience of doing something impulsive. (And I LOVED the result. It was only years later that I wondered if i should’ve designed it myself, but then that feeling went away cuz – like i said – the whole point was that i just did it.)

    Another thing is I had finally reached a point of happiness with myself, my body, my independence, everything. I guess I really wanted to commemorate and celebrate that.

    Also, growing up I thought my butt was problematically huge. Even when I was thin I thought I was too fat to wear all kinds of things because of my huge butt. Of course my mom made sure to alert me to this problem. I guess i can’t blame her, she has her own issues and this was one manifestation of them. But it still annoys me…

    Anyway here I was finally accepting my body, saying: my ass is lovely and deserves to be decorated. :)

    I guess mine is neither about the art OR the marking or symbolism… I don’t see myself in either of filljonk’s categories. Instead, as my mom very wisely pointed out when i was wondering if my tattoo shouldve been more meaningful or artistic, it’s really not about art, it’s just fashion. I’m not saying YOU guys’ tattoos aren’t about other stuff. I’m just saying where I’m from, it’s very common as just a sort of permament decoration or fashion accessory and I see nothing wrong with that. Just as I started using clothes and accessories to celebrate my body and the beauty I’ve learned to see in myself , the tattoo was an extention and a reminder of that – I’m a girl, I’m pretty, I like to adorn myself with things that are cute and that I like.

    Oh, and I fucking LOVE topology. Seriously. (I’m an artistic nerd.)

  114. (sorry i always double post – the pattern i picked – i picked it out of a book of what I think is known as “flash” designs at the tattoo place. so you more in-depth tatooers might scoff, but u know, for me it was a really cool positive thing and I love it. :) )

  115. Ok now i’m TRIPLE posting… sorry…

    I must say this: I haven’t always retained the same sort of confidence and happiness and carefreeness that i had when i got this tattoo. So, for me, when really hard times are upon me, I can at least look at my tattoo in the mirror, and remember that i did once feel good and happy, and know that i will be happy again.

  116. now i’m reading the responses – wicked child, i am a jew too. from israel, and actually, pretty much everyone my age in israel has tattoos haha.

  117. I have Paul Klee’s “Twittering Machine” on the lower left side of my tum. Got it in college when I thought I’d never have kids (or gain significant amounts of weight), now contemplating them eventually I’m looking forward to the distortion as my belly would grow… of course, I’m also planning liberal applications of Vitamin E to facilitate re-shaping. I don’t regret it even though I know it will sag and change–it is part of my body just like my scars, moles, and incipient facial lines.

    I picked it because I loved the lithograph and as an art historian I wanted something that meant something to me professionally as well. Mostly, I just thought it would be a great tat. My boyfriend greets it with a “hello, Mr. Klee!” every time he visits the area. I don’t have a lot of deeper meaning associated with it… or at least the meaning is more abstract, not about growth or a life event or anything concrete like that, but I also don’t mind if it changes over time, so I guess I’m in both camps of art and meaning? I tend to like art that’s not pretty, per se.

    I find that with tattoos it’s have one, want more. If I hadn’t been a swimmer that couldn’t bear to take several weeks off for each tattoo, I’d be the illustrated lady.

    I just got my first tenure-track teaching post, after which I promised myself another tattoo, so now I’m considering again, though it will probably take me a year or two to finalize my plans. I want a modified Joan Miro on my right inner forearm, I think… one of the ones that is like constellations or little aquatic bugs.

    Sleeves on chicks are so hot… both the boy and I have a great time checking out the tattooed ladies of the Mission district in San Francisco.

    Fun topic–it is great to read all the stories!

  118. oh, I also toy with the idea of a tiny “13” near my nipple… an homage to the Pixies song from Doolittle.

    Do you all think there’s other Pixies-homage racks out there already? I’d like to be unique-ish if I do it.

  119. Mmm, tattoos.

    I’m considering getting a tattoo of the energy states of hydrogen or an organic molecule — probably a hydrocarbon or a benzine ring. (I’m majoring in chemical engineering.)

  120. stretch marks and expansion or contraction be dammed, I have decided that if I were to get a tattoo, I would want the word “here” on my belly above my appendectomy scar.
    I suppose I could get it in Hebrew, henay (written in the Hebrew alphabet).
    I’m not just trying to be the opposite of fillyjonk, either.
    Now that I think about it, it sounds like an Abbot and Costello sketch.
    What do you want?
    No, not where, what?
    Here. H-E-R-E.
    Right, and what do you want tattooed?


  121. Love love love everyone’s stories.

    First, I have to mention my brother’s tattoos, because they are kind of hilarious. One is a big red robot on his upper arm, and the other is a pyramid with question marks at the corners and a floating eye top that’s meant to look vaguely Illuminati-esque. They were “because they were cool.” Personally I think they’re dumb, but that has more to do with him being a stupid stoner at the time. (He’s growing out of that, thankfully. And no offense meant to the pot-smokers, of whom I used to be one, I just… my brother was a dumb teenage boy in a lot of ways.)

    As for myself, I currently have this tattoo alone. It’s the four types of love in Greek philosophy: divine love, physical love, familial love, and friendship-love. I got this in my senior year of college. It was partially to commemorate graduating college, partly to mark my love of classics (studying since age 12 and, at that point, heading off to grad school to do more). And it really sums up how I view the world – we can’t rely on only one type of love to sustain us (even the divine love, which I interpreted as love of something larger than oneself as an agnostic). And part of it was to signify starting to come to terms with my body and how I live in it.

    I guess it’s more about marking, though I deliberately left off accents and breathing marks because they would mess up the line. And I had the tattoo artist make it slightly more calligraphic than my original ballpoint-pen design – but drawing it myself was the only way I knew the lettering would be right. This is why I’m only going to get tats in languages I understand – frankly, I don’t really understand why someone would get one in a language they don’t know, though I’m certainly not going to tell anyone not to do so.

    Currently I want more, but I have a personal rule that once I come up with the design and location I have to wait at least six months to see if I still want it. I want to get “gnothi seauton” (know thyself) somewhere; I’ve thought about having it flanking the circle in some way, but I don’t know if another artist could recreate the font and the artist who did mine moved to Hawaii. I might also get “dum spiro, spero” (while I breathe, I hope) at some point. And I want something to symbolize my family, possibly involving the zodiac symbols (we fall into five consecutive signs).

    I am a huge dork for tattoos. This is why I watch LA Ink religiously.

  122. I just wandered across this blog, and I’m still rather wide-eyed, just taking it all in. Actually, I pretty much just happened upon the FA movement, and I’m still trying to wrap my mind around the revolutionary concept that I might be valuable even though I’m not super thin! (The fact that I have the word FAT carved into my upper thigh should tell you how I’ve felt about my weight in the past.)

    Anyway, tattoos! I have one, which I got just this spring. I had never thought of the two categories of people who get tattoos, but it makes sense. My friend and I went to get our tattoos together; she is more of an “art” person and I am more of a “marker”. She didn’t understand why I wasn’t upset that my tat didn’t look absolutely perfect (there are a couple of very small flaws). I think that’s because the tattoo, for me, is really about the meaning. I got it on my ankle (not very brave, because I am one of those girls with nice lower legs). It is a simple black outline heart surrounded by spiky vines, which is of great personal significance to me.

    I plan to get at least three more, one of which will consist of only words–my life motto, “Out of wreckage, hope.”

  123. Ha i’m reading more of the responses and while i totally understand the fears about tattoos changing over time, I also totally understand the points made here about accepting them as part of your body, however they may change. (I was told my butt – and the tattoo – will change over time but i’m okay with that.)

    and penguinlady and all the other perfectionists – i SO understand. It’s so unlike me to have gotten this without thinking about it, but i have loved it and enjoyed it so much!
    i’m such an obsessive person, and i have this tendency to look at life like this perfect white thing that everytime u screw up its like u spilled something on it and stained it permanently.
    so for me it was a huge deal to see that i could just DO something. just do it. something permanent. and have it be okay.
    even if something is permanent, the way we feel about it is ever changing. and on top of that of course a tattoo isn’t really permanent in the sense that it changes too, with our bodies, like we all said here…
    i dunno, i guess it’s all symbolic and shit :)
    it helps me look at other things i might do in life and not be so afraid. to see life is a growing thing like a tree that branches out and grows, and positive AND negative AND neutral things can grow into all kinds of stuff later on, we really don’t know what, it’s all ever changing and evolving.

    so now my bum-gecko can remind me of all these things. and that’s ON TOP of always reminding me that no matter what i feel now, i was happy once, and can be happy again.

    pretty cool little gecko , no?

    ok sorry i will shuddup now.

  124. I have just the one tattoo, so far. I have a treble clef about two inches high on my right shoulder. I got it the day I turned 18 as my birthday present to myself. For most of my life I have/had been working towards being a professional musician and as an Operatic Soprano, the treble clef was my medium. While health issues have now forced me to abandon this ambition, music and my musical ambitions have shaped who I am since I was seven, so I think the treble clef is still very appropriate as it reminds me the just because I’ve lost my dreams, doesn’t mean I’ve lost music completely.

    For me, the treble clef is both symbolic and artistic. It’s a functional symbol but still one I find very beautiful in its own right.

    I want another tattoo at some point, but as I’m still struggling to redefine my identity I think getting any more permanent marks would be a bad idea at this stage. I had originally intended to get a phrase from whatever work became my first real professional performance tattooed around my ankle whenever it happened, but that’s not so much an option these days.

  125. I don’t have any tattoos. Yet. I know what I want if I get one, though. Actually, if I get one, I’ll be getting a series, all down the outside of my left thigh. They’ll be symbols of various characters I’ve created (mostly in fanfiction), almost coats of arms for them. I figure the thigh is a good spot to have them – I’ll know they’re there, but I don’t have to show them off if I don’t want to. They’re all characters I’ve spent some time on, and they’ve left their mark on me mentally. I suppose the tatts would be a way of getting them to leave their mark on me physically.

    What’s stopping me from getting them done? Well, it’s a combination of two things. Firstly, if I get one, I’ll be getting the whole lot, so I’d better be damn certain about getting them done. Secondly, I’m not able to draw the images myself, so although I have an idea of what they *should* look like (and I have this written down), I’m not going to be willing to get the images done until I know I can get them done *right*.

  126. I’m ambivalent about tatts. I’m of the generation where, in the UK at least, only punks, bikers, circus types and people on the rock and roll revival scene had them and I was none of these things. I thought they were particularly hideous on women for years – especially the dagger/bleeding heart/Dad variety. Though I wasn’t especially keen on them on men either. However I’ve always had a fascination with very ornate art tattoos, and have grown to like them a lot on others in recent years. I think if I was in my late teens/early 20s now I would probably want one, (because, as Kate says, I had no conception of getting significantly older then), but I wouldn’t actually do it because I’m terrified of needles and have the lowest pain threshold imaginable.

    I did get my nose pierced just before my 40th though. I’d always fancied it and my parents disapproved – which made me want to do it all the more because I never did anything to piss them off and felt a bit of a failure for it. I was always told “you’ll look stupid when you’re 40” but felt it was a look I would be able to take into my later years with ease. And because I have a whopping great nose I’m rather fond of. So that was a symbolic move for me – pissing off my one remaining parent before I hit my 40s. Ironically my mum really likes it now.

  127. I’ve been contemplating a tattoo (or more) for nearly half my life now. I have at least two answers to “What?” (the ankh I’ve been wearing since I was 15; some sort of butterfly-dragon-hybrid creature designed by an artist friend; and/or the logo from, have some notions as to “where?” (upper arm, lower back, shoulder blade, ankle), but have mostly stuck on “How much??” as other financial priorities always seem to take precedence. Also, I’m trying to wait for my body size and shape to settle into a permanent “adult” status so as to minimize deformation.

  128. Oh, and one of my favorite tats of all time is the one my friend has on her shoulder…The Little Prince!

  129. I’m a weenie with a fear of needles and a low pain threshold… but if I ever were to get one it would be a septagram, the symbol of the Otherkin community, at the nape of my neck. Easily hidden by my (long) hair, easily shown off.

  130. sometimes I think about it but then I remember that a) I don’t like pain and b) I know whatever I get, in a few years, I will totally hate it and wish I’d never gotten it. If I do get one, I will probably get the one that my best friend drew for me, which combines the signs of Taurus and Gemini, because I was born on the cusp, and the Chinese sign for snake, because I’m a Snake. This means that I am very fickle, but extremely stubborn about it.

  131. I have to say that getting my tattoo really did not hurt all that much. It felt weird, but it didn’t really hurt that much.

    buffpuff, you reminded me of something my dad always says – the only people who should have tattoos are grizzled old saiors.

  132. I don’t really understand either side of the dichotomy, tattoo as pure art or tattoo as pure meaning. Even less tattoo as artless and meaningless, which there seems to be an awful lot of. I.e. getting a tattoo just for the sake of getting a tattoo. Which was what I did once on a drunken whim. I like the placement of the tattoo (on the back of my left calf) but the symbol means nothing to me and is artistically mediocre, so I plan to have it redone. But I do like being tattooed and am planning on three more. My rules from here on out: the tattoo has to be skillfully drawn; it has to be unique (not just something chosen off of a tattoo artist’s wall); and it has to be personally meaningful.

  133. I have a “tramp stamp” as well (and also hate the term). It’s a pair of cherries I got after I had a certain gynecological surgery. So I guess that puts me in the marking category. I picked the lower back because it is easy to cover for work and because it is less likely to distort.

    I also second the comment that it didn’t really hurt, but it felt weird. To me, it seemed like the needle was brushing up against my spinal cord or something, but not in a painful way…just weird! :)

  134. I don’t really understand either side of the dichotomy, tattoo as pure art or tattoo as pure meaning.

    Again, I think very few people go for PURE art or PURE meaning. But for markers, it is the fact of getting tattooed that is of paramount importance, and for arters, it’s the finished product.

  135. I can say with certainty that I will never get a tattoo. Not because I’m scared of needles or I don’t know what I’d get or where or they just don’t interest me or anything like that.

    At least two people I love wouldn’t be alive today if it weren’t for blood donors. Donating blood is extremely important to me, especially since I’m type O (universal donor– as in, almost anyone who needs blood could use mine). I’ve been donating as often as I can for as long as I’ve been old enough. If you get a tattoo, you can’t donate blood for at least a year, so that means getting a tattoo is totally out of the question for me.

  136. Hehe. I’m a tattoo artist. My story’s a little long, my reasons for getting tattoos and giving tattoos… I suppose I’m an art person. Context is important, of course, but it most certainly has to be beautiful, even if it’s a word in Bookman font. It’s something that fuses not only onto skin, but into one’s very being.

    ANyway, I keep a comic strip diary of my life as a female tattoo artist working in Atlanta, GA. If you have time, please scroll through them! :)

  137. I definitely fall into the “marking” category; on both of my ankles are ancient designs connected with my goddess (eight-pointed stars). I think they’re beautiful, but they are very simple, and my body attempted to reject the second one so it’s not perfect. (Also symbolic. Sigh.)

    They’re basically “if found, please return to” marks. The placement is also symbolic, since the eight-pointed star is a sideways reference to a compass rose, the pointer of ways. They are basically a sign of submission to the will of the divine, saying to her “here are my feet; guide them as you will”.

    I will probably get one more; the time is approaching but it’s not here yet. I need to find the right artist, basically, and everything else will fall into place.

    (And now that pretty much everyone reading this post is convinced I’m a nutcase…. :)

  138. Tatoos make me sad. I associate them with a lack of respect for the integrity and natural beauty of the body. I feel like there are so many other ways to define oneself and create meaning in this life besides defacing ones body. I almost respect the scars of cutters more than tattoos because they are so raw and are meant to deface; those scars are honest and upfront about what they mean. That said, I do like to look at tattoos and wonder about where they came from. For me, though, I’ve got my stretch marks and those are my tribal stripes, I leave it at that!

  139. I’m getting a tattoo when I’m finished with my dissertation. It will have a wild goose and ha-Makom written in Hebrew and I’m not sure what else.

    But mostly I just wanted to say hello to, and hooray for, pomegranate! :) Isn’t this blog mind-blowing? I’ve only been here for a few months myself.

  140. Kris, this?

    “The placement is also symbolic, since the eight-pointed star is a sideways reference to a compass rose, the pointer of ways. They are basically a sign of submission to the will of the divine, saying to her “here are my feet; guide them as you will”.”

    …is really really cool. Seriously, I wish I could copy. (Dunno how it would fit with the goose and Ha-makom, though, LOL.)

  141. i don’t have any tattoos. partially b/c i am seriously needle-phobic. and the thought of being stabbed repeatedly w/a needle is abhorrent to me… also, i think i might be too changeable for tattoos. i don’t know that i could get something that i’d be thrilled with now, that i’d be equally thrilled with in 20 years. i’ve already had a few passions that have come and gone. i don’t have kids. getting your spouse or s/o’s name or image seems to be the kiss of death for the relationship. thankfully, no deaths in the family that i feel the need to memorialize. also, i admit that i’m an ‘art’ kinda gal. so it would have to be beautiful!

    buuuuut… i *do* have some experience w/getting mods to help yourself appreciate a body part. i have 3 piercings that i got to help me be ok w/my vagina. yep. you read that right. i HATED my labia for a long long time. i always thought my inner labia were ugly and totally un-sexy. which, imho, is a bad opinion to have of your vagina. so i got 2 inner labia piercings and a vch. now it’s all festive and sparkly and i LOVE how it looks. it was a bit extreme, but it worked for me.

  142. Thank you, A Sarah, I’m glad to be here! This blog is pretty mind-blowing. It’s a whole new way of looking at the world–and at myself–and I’m still trying to wrap my mind around it.

  143. Sky, perhaps reading the lovely stories that people are sharing here about why they got their tattoos will wear away at your sense that tattoos are about defacement. Clearly, many people see their tattoos as adornment rather than disfigurement.

  144. Nope I don’t and I doubt I ever will. I like tattoos.. the right ones on the right people, but it’s not for me. Mainly because I know that nothing I ever got done, I would like forever.. I change my mind too much!! I will love something one week, and then find a design that I like better!

  145. Two things I forgot to say on the subject first time round:-

    1) The Electric Michelangelo by Sarah Hall is a fairly amazing, (though often brutal and disturbing), novel about a tattooist who swaps the English seaside town of Morcambe Bay for the Coney island of the 1930s. It’s incredibly evocative, full of haunting images and interesting musings on tattoos, what they mean to the individual and signify to the rest of the world. I strongly recommend it for anyone who loves their tatts.


    2) Someone on fatshionista had bees tattooed on her knees! Art? Marking? Probably both but I simply loved the wit of it.

    …and nomie, I know exactly what your dad means about grizzled old sailors! When I was little those were the only people I ever saw with tattoos.

  146. “Someone on fatshionista had bees tattooed on her knees! Art? Marking? Probably both but I simply loved the wit of it.”

    :bites fist: WANT THAT!!!!

  147. Oh kristin i’m so silly i only NOW got to ur comment (haven’t had time to really read them all, but have been trying to get them).

    Kristin i am so honored that someone would even CONSIDER tattooing that tree on themselves :) if you do please show us! or if u get something else, then certainly show us that!

    Just the fact that it spoke to you makes me feel so good about having shared it…


  148. Ah dang, I forgot to add it earlier, but if I were to get inked, I’d get myself a valknut and a couple of bind runes done. Possibly also Ek Vitki Rist Runar, “I, Vitki (the magician) carve the Runes.”

  149. Jenny Bunny Buns…cool! Another tattooist on here! I’m checking out your comics and paintings. And Kris, I have an eight point star at my waist in back for sort of similar reasons, which incorporates the rune for chance since where I end up going is a mystery to me despite my planning to the contrary.

  150. raven, interesting that you’re more comfortable with piercings than tattoos, given the needle-phobia! If it helps at all, tattooing feels nothing like getting poked with a needle — the machine just moves too fast. Fees more like a knife. (Comforting, I know.)

  151. fj: I am not a friend of your mother’s. At least I don’t think so. I used to call him Boy, but all of a sudden it felt weird. So we migrated to Pie. I rarely say his name, though that is not really a conscious effort. Anywho, Alyce is my name and I live in Santa Fe, NM, on the off chance that I am your mother’s friend and just didn’t know it.

  152. well… i nearly passed out getting the piercings! it was sorta a miracle actually. i went in for a consult and walked out w/three piercings! heh. i’m actually still in contact w/the piercer. who turned out to be a very nice person. i got them all at one time. or i would have chickened out of ever going back! i think he knew if i left w/o getting them, i’d never do it. and if they ever have to come out, i won’t be getting them replaced. and, yeah… telling me it’s like being sliced open is NOT helping convince me to get a tattoo. :D

  153. Alyce, since her name isn’t Alyce I figured it was probably just a coincidence. :) I call my boyfriend “boy” too.

    One time said friend’s husband sent her flowers and the florist mistakenly put “with love to my pig” in the card. Watch out for that!

  154. I got a tattoo three days after I turned eighteen – its a kind of snake with wings on my lower stomach that incidentally looks totally cute. I named him Salazar because sometimes I get to be a giant Harry Potter nerd. I’m also going to get another one in a couple of weeks, the stabbed heart with the word ‘boss’ that Frank has in Rocky Horror. Usually I’d be opposed to getting a permanent image of something from a movie, but it’s been my favourite movie since I was about four and I’m about 99.9% sure I’m going to love it for the rest of my life so I can make an exception :)

  155. oh, I also toy with the idea of a tiny “13″ near my nipple… an homage to the Pixies song from Doolittle.

    Do you all think there’s other Pixies-homage racks out there already? I’d like to be unique-ish if I do it.

    Heck, I’ve thought ever since hearing that song how cool it would be if someone actually did it. Even if anyone else has, yours will be your Pixies rack. It’ll mean what it means to you. Tattoos not being unique are only a problem, in my mind, if there was no thought behind them. Don’t think that applies to anyone here.

    I’m kind of relieved to find anyone even thinking about anything band-related, and I ummed and ahhed a little about mentioning mine because I’m afraid people will immediately go ‘OMG, you have what?’

    So. As the oldest Nirvana fan on the block, I will ‘fess up to having two different Kurt Cobain portraits. One head and shoulders, one full length, both based on photos from MTV Unplugged. On the upper arms.

    No, they weren’t teen impulse things; they were both only done within the last few years, they both took a lot of thought, and they both, personally, have to do with me having been into some pretty dark places and come out again, and with that music having been part of what helped me through. There are people in my life I haven’t shown them to, not because they’re anti-tattoo (some of them, indeed, are inked themselves) but because I don’t feel like explaining the circumstances behind them.

    They’re more marking than art, but they’re also beautiful pieces of inking. I wasn’t keen on monochrome portraits, so had them colored, but with the colors kind of intentionally faded and, erm, ‘grungey’ looking, which worked beautifully.
    I’m planning to get work done round them (stargazer lilies!) to make them into proper sleeves, and I have an idea for a backpiece. And, yes, I’ve thought about being an old lady with this stuff on me and I’m like ‘So?’, If I’m right, there are going to be an awful lot of tattooed old ladies by then anyway.

    OK, you may now call me a sad geek.

  156. I’m just going to start off saying that I have a tattoo that a lot of you will call ridiculous: a My Little Pony.
    I think that my reasons for getting it and my other, more serious tattoos probably don’t make a lot of sense to a lot of people, but believe me when I say that I do not regret them at all, and I love all three of my tattoos as part of myself, the way I love my weird nose, or my brown eyes, or my toes.
    My tattoos don’t have meaning in the same way that a lot of tattoos do, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t very meaningful and important to me. I guess the importance comes from both the beauty of the art, as well as well as being involved in the process of art. (If you disagree about the beauty of my pony tattoo, at least check out this one that even non-tattoo-enthusiasts seem to like.)
    I keep trying to figure out how to explain and justify my reasoning behind my tattoos, but I’m having trouble translating it to someone who doesn’t know me very well (my girlfriend, who also reads this blog and encouraged me to comment here, is the only one I’ve really talked to about the meaning of my tattoos).
    So I guess I’ll end this blathering. I guess all I’ve said puts me in a weird combination of “art” and “marking”, although I think I’m more on the art side. And I won’t even get into the “self-actualization” side of it in this small space. If anyone wants to have a dialog about this with me, feel free to email me ( I feel like I’ve only managed to say a fraction of what I think on the subject.
    BTW, I’m relatively new to fat acceptance, and I really like what you all have to say.

  157. This post has had me thinking all weekend about tattoos. I had a top when I was somewhere between 11 and 13 that had a picture of a dragon on it, which had a circle with a Chinese symbol inside it (probably ‘dragon’ or something). I used to desperately want to turn it into a tattoo; I wanted to place it on my belly so my navel was where the symbol was on the t shirt, instead of the symbol. I had seen a tv show or something which had shown a heavily pregnant woman who had gotten a flower tattooed around her navel. I’m pretty sure the show was illustrating how awful it is, but I thought the stretched flower was beautiful. I do still like the idea, but I don’t want to mark over all the marks on my stomache.

    I’ve got to thank the earlier geeks who make it easier to say my more recent idea. I want to get something symbolising Harry Potter, the books and/or the fandom. Possibly a small lightening bolt on the back of my neck. I’m not certain yet. I’d defiantely have to be certain about it for a long time before I got it, but HP means more to me than can easily be said.

    I love the name asshats for lower back tattoes!

    P.S. I’ve comment here a couple of times before as raft tree, but now I have a blog (eek) I figured I should move over.

  158. Emerald, as a fellow Nirvana fan and someone who was also helped by some of Kurt Cobain’s music, I will definitely NOT call you a sad geek. I don’t think I’d go so far as getting him tattooed on me, but I can totally understand the reason behind it.

    Melissa, that leaf tattoo is GORGEOUS. And my daughter has that exact my little pony!! hee! (My husband has a friggin’ roadrunner on his arm, I’m sure as hell not about to start making snide remarks on my little ponies!)

    You know, if I could ever suck up the courage to do it, what I’d really want as a tattoo would be something in honor of my husband. I’m the type who WOULD get his name tattooed on me, but as we all know, that is just a BAD idea all around. So I’d want something somewhat abstract, that I liked, that would commemorate him; but if we were to split up, I wouldn’t mind STILL having. Make any sense? (And yes, I know how revoltingly sappy I am, but I can’t help it, okay?! :-P )

    This is, of course, only if and when I ever manage to overcome my ultra-low tolerance for pain.

  159. Hmmm, the first time ever I’ve decided to comment.
    I have three tattoos and I want many more.
    My first was a symbol that to me means traveling in different directions at all times, and stems from a symbol I found interesting on an old Modest Mouse album.
    The second is the angry bear from the Amnesiac era of Radiohead… guess those two come from music kind of, but they obviously have different interpretations.
    My third, and favorite (so far) is a very “traditional” looking Polynesian tattoo. I wanted to have the traditional application of this tattoo, but you have to know people in that trade and I didn’t. I did however find a really awesome girl in Hawaii that drew it on the back of my arm (a notably flabby area and I don’t care). It represents shark’s teeth and weaved palm leaves, but more importantly it represents that time in my life. I got this last tattoo in Hawaii on my honeymoon, one of the happiest times of my life so far. Obviously, I love it.
    I have many plans for future tattoos. Even though my mother doesn’t approve (I’m 28), I still plan on completing at least a half sleeve. I can’t wait.
    Kudos to this post, the first I’ve ever commented on!

  160. I saw something really beautiful the other day. I was reading a zine by a friend of a friend about her process of coming to love her fat body – and on the last page is a picture of her tattoo. Both she and her best friend and fat ally had gone together and tattooed on their bellies, in awesome typewriter font, the word “Fat.” It’s both a hell of a statement and a beautifully done tattoo. I almost cried.

    I also just sent an e-mail to Shelley volunteering to be a part of the Skin project. I know it’s a long-shot since there are thousands of people volunteering and only a few words left, but I figured it was worth a shot. Thanks for bringing this to my attention – and thanks for the story about your word. :)

  161. Do you have tattoos? yeah….6: a pin-up girl, a portrait of medusa; japanese kanji; a rose; greek comedy/tragedy masks and a tribal band…..

    Why or why not? mainly, they marked important events in my life….

    If you do, are you more about art or marking? at first….marking; now….art AND coming to terms with and appreciating my body for what she is….

    How did you choose where to place them, and how did it affect or stem from your body image? well….my first one, i got just below my right collarbone…..that had no special meaning….but, the two 1/4 sleeves (on my right and left arms) meant that i’d be showing off my arms…..something i never did….even in the summer! this lead me to rethink how i looked at my arms, and body in general….

    Do your tattoos tell a story about you — maybe even one you didn’t notice for a long time, like mine? LOL…..i don’t think so, but…..perhaps, my medusa might say something kinda frightening to most people….IDK…

    If you don’t have tattoos, do you want one? LOL….the problem is….i want MORE!

    Where would you put it? legs….back….face

    What would you want? well, i’m working on getting two swallows underneath my collarbones… the future: a dragon on my right thigh, and hopefully an ankh with my name as part of a back piece…..i’d really like to work the danzig logo in there somewhere… i’m a fan of his….go fig….

  162. sky: i totally understand about the stretch marks….i have them on my arms and decided, that since i can’t make ’em go away….why not decorate them instead?

  163. What an inspiring thread. So many personal stories, just wonderful!
    I still haven’t got any tatoos, althought I have wanted some for some time now. One is rather nerdy: “Never give up, never surrender” from Galaxy Quest (preferrably in some language unreadable to most) to remind me to hang in there when I am in a bout of depression.
    And on the other I haven’t really decided yet. I have lots of parallel scars from self harm on my upper arm. I want to reclaim that area, I want to find peace with that past, but I don’t want to cover it up, because it is part of how I became who I am. I am still searching (in my head) for a design that would incorporate those lines.
    On the other hand, maybe I’ll just go for an Alice with a bloody knife, because I love Alice in Wonderland for its surrealism, and because I like the idea of being stronger and more resilient than is first apparent.

  164. I love tattoos I have one on my stomach which is a celtic symbol for spirit, in black ink its nice. I got it many years ago after a breakup. I am considering getting another discreet tattoo around my ankle kind of like Drew Barrymore’s poison ivy style. I love this internet site its great with all the comments, I am a naturally petite size 10 but I embrace the fact I have curves, boobs, a butt and good self esteem I am by no means a skinny rake, I eat well, I drink weekends, I party I dance I love my friends I do kickboxing four times a week I embrace all colours shapes and sizes on men and women, its the inside that matters to me everyone I believe in some sense has beauty the media and all that crap has just distorted society’s views. Embrace and love yourself the rest follows

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