Body Mod: My Living Canvas
I don't have "Thug Life" tattooed across my knuckles, there's no teardrop on my cheekbone, my woe-begotten ex-boyfriend's name isn't tattooed across my throat, so I don't frequently get bombarded by the personally invasive questions and stares of strangers when it comes to my body art. All my ink is placed in areas that only get displayed with purposeful forethought.
That's not to say I don't show it off. I'm very proud of the more than 30 hours I've gone under the needle in the name of art. Inevitably, when confronted with the sheer quantity and size of my tattoos, I start getting the questions:
Did it hurt? Yes, some more than others. How long did it take? Sessions lasting 2-5 hours spread over a period of months. Wow! Was that expensive? Define "expensive." How many things that you spend money on in your life will you actually be able to have until you die? Food? Clothes? If you take the overall cost of my tattoos and divide it by the number of days I'm going to have it, it's a remarkably cheap investment in a piece of custom and unique artwork that no one else will ever have.
Then there's my personal favorite, the question that never sounds anything less than condescending and ignorant no matter how well-intentioned the asker may be:
You know you're going to have that your whole life? What's that going to look like when you're 80? It's really expensive to get tattoos removed!
Tattoos are permanent? I had no idea! I just sat down on this guy's chair and submitted myself to mind-numbing pain for hours at a time and gave him tons of money thinking I'd wash it off next month!
I've been told sarcasm doesn't travel well via the internet. No?
When I'm 80 will my tattoos maybe look a little wrinkly? Faded? Warped? What do you think my non-tattooed skin is going to look like? Taut and supple as a teenager? Am I going to be posing for nude photography when I'm 80, displaying my wrinkly skin for the world to see?
As for the expense of tattoo removal, like marriage, if I was planning on this being a short-term investment, I wouldn't have bothered.
My tattoos are not only pieces of art, they are badges of honor: symbols of the mental and physical fortitude it took to put them onto my body and the acceptance of how powerful I feel their message is, that it is worth keeping it permanently on my skin. Each of my tattoos represents a significant figure or moment in my life that I feel is worth reflecting upon for however many years I may have left on this earth. I don't care what other people think or see when looking at my tattoos; I see a beautiful and artistic symbol of my strength and fortitude, to hell with anybody who thinks otherwise.
These thoughts were all racing through my head this morning, standing in front of my mirror, sucking in my stomach and looking at the way the ink plays across the curves of my back, when I was struck by an inescapable truth:
I am a hypocrite.
I have a piece of body modification that I never display. Every time I see it, I flinch. First I tried to prevent it. Then I tried to correct it with oils and lotions. I never willingly show it to anyone, or display it with cut-out tops like my back pieces. It is large. It is ugly. It stretches across an area that was specifically named by my husband as a "mark-free zone" when I began the addiction/journey into body modification.
I turned myself to face the mirror dead on and began to speculate why exactly I continue to dwell so negatively on this area. As a female who has struggled with weight and body image (DUH), there's certainly no love lost between me and my "pooch" in the first place. Maybe I'd just been looking at this the wrong way?
This "art" on my lower stomach? It took me 9 months to get it. Despite creating an area and environment that should not have nurtured them (Bio oil? Shea butter?), these marks not only grew, they FLOURISHED. Giant angry red gashes, like the claw marks of a cat, that covered me from belly button to pubic bone. There are some areas where these marks even broke through the beautiful blues and greens of my lower back piece, overtaking the ink with angry red. Sure, with time (and not unlike any other tattoo), the marks have faded to whitish pink, the lines are less bold. Like the rest of my tattoos, the shape of my figure has changed since I first got these marks. Perhaps more so than any other tattoo I've gotten, these marks are a symbol of the most powerful and life-changing experience I've ever had.
I need to rewire my thinking. These aren't stretch marks: they are the body art to tell the story of how I made a person inside of my body. I grew her from a tiny egg, and over the course of doing so, my body chose to create it's own piece of art to commemorate this incredible accomplishment.
I have a tattoo to commemorate becoming a legal adult, a tattoo to mark my first major weight loss accomplishment, a tattoo to represent the love in my heart for my first fur babies, a tattoo to symbolize the indomitable spirit of my daughter, and...
[Deep breath. Be brave. Be strong. Just post the damn picture and TO HELL with anybody that thinks otherwise]
...a "tattoo" to represent the strength inside my body to both create and then bring forth unto the world a new life.
*The true "artist" at work here is Ant Ianucci, the owner of Ascension Custom Dermagraphics, in Orlando, the man who took my weird ideas and made cohesive and beautiful art.