Thursday, March 3, 2011
How tattoos (may) change your life.
I get a lot of questions via this blog in regards to my tattoos and a couple of the questions are asked the most: "do you run into negativity having so many visible tattoos?" and "I'm thinking of getting my arm/chest/other visible spot tattooed, any advice?" So let me tell you. But before I begin, you should know that this is coming from my experience and my experience alone. Things may be different for you, but for me, I've found that my life has absolutely changed since becoming what some would call "heavily" tattooed. Maybe this is because I come from a more conservative family, maybe it's because I don't fit into the "sorority girl" label that would otherwise be applied, maybe it's because I live in a small town. Who knows. What I do know though is that I love everything I've added to my body, but coming from someone who can be sensitive about people being openly mean or negative, in the beginning it was hard for me to adapt and become indifferent to the way people made me feel. I should also add that for every negative remark or glance I get from the tattoos on my body, I get equally as many smiles and conversations with people I may not have otherwise spoken to. And those seemingly rude stares are often just coming from a place of admiration or curiosity. But now, I don't give it a second thought. Stare if you'd like, whisper to your friend, "she's so pretty, why would she DO that?!" It rolls right off my back. But in the first years of having tattoos on my ribs, my back, then my chest, arm, wrist, neck, legs...it would often make me sad. I was so happy with the way I looked, and I didn't understand why me having tattoos would bother anyone else. But sometimes, it does. So let me start by saying this: if you decide to get a tattoo in a visible place, people will look, and people will judge. Yes, times have changed, but as far as I'm concerned, being heavily tattooed is still not 100% acceptable in mainstream society. One day maybe, but today, no.
Because I have a few separate circles of friends, as I got more and more tattoos I became the "tattooed friend" in one of those groups. The first time I heard that it was definitely disheartening; a coworker of one of my college girlfriends met me for the first time and said, "oh! You must be the tattooed friend we've heard so much about." Oh really? It was a bummer to be generalized like that, and I still think about it when I hang out with that group of girls. No one wants to be placed into a simplified category based on the way they look, but when you have tattoos it can definitely happen, and it did for me, numerous times. Another specific thing I've dealt with as of recently: you will have to think about how you look standing in a friend's wedding as a bridesmaid. I've been in the wedding party of many of my friends, and unless the bride or groom is also visibly tattooed, it's can often be a little touchy. My friends couldn't care less, but their mothers, grandmas, aunt or family friend may have a different opinion. To be honest, I normally couldn't care less what someone's mother, grandma, aunt or family friend thought...but it's a hard situation when you know that someone's conservative parents don't approve of tattoos, yet there you are up there on the biggest day of their daughter's life, tattooed and smiling away. On someone's wedding day the last thing you want is to be an issue for anyone's family...or even "ruin the pictures," like I've actually had said to me. It can be a bit hard when you just want to blend in and be in the background...but if you're heavily tattooed, blending in isn't always easy to do in certain settings. And although this isn't a reason not to get tattooed, I do think that all of these stories blend into a bigger picture that is important to see when making the decision.
Another, and a bit broader thing to think about when you're considering taking the plunge and tattooing your arm, chest, back of your neck, or even your wrist...how will this affect my career? Some people are lucky enough to work in an open-minded environment where tattoos don't matter, but the majority of people need to look somewhat "professional," and in this day and age, visible tattoos aren't always seen that way. I taught high school for six years, and for six years I wore higher necked shirts, cardigans, and after tattooing right above my knees I stuck to skirts that were always long enough to cover those pieces up. Although my school surprisingly gave me the okay to show them if I wanted to, I chose to have them be a non-issue and keep them mainly covered. It was just easier this way, especially dealing with highly-distractable teenage students. After six years of doing this though I started to get sick of my limited wardrobe choices, and as spring and summer hit it was hot wearing layers and long sleeves each day. So really think hard about it- if you work in an area where tattoos just aren't acceptable, are you willing to cover them every single day for the rest of your working life? I asked myself these same questions and decided that I didn't care, and went for it. For me, the benefits outweighed the annoyances. But you may be different, so be sure to ask yourself the same.
Also, know that your day to day life will be forever changed. Imagine wearing a really brightly colored dress out and about- it's loud, it's bright, and quite the conversation piece. Now imagine not being able to take off that dress. You loved that dress at the store, you bought and paid for it, and now you will wear that dress for the rest of your life. Everyday. Forever. Wherever you go, people will either look at it, try and touch it, show you theirs, and/or start some sort of conversation. This is the truth. Sometimes fun, mainly annoying, and for me it's often easier to just cover up if I'm not in the mood to deal with it.
But really, what it comes down to is this: if you are going to permanently change your body in a big way, think long and hard before you make the leap. I didn't get tattooed until I was in my twenties for that very reason. Some 18-year olds have enough sense to make the choice then, but I knew I didn't, so I waited. And in the end, I decided to take the plunge after all and I am so glad I did. Up above I mentioned a few specific examples of ways life has changed for me, and I'm sure there are many more instances depending on your circumstances. At the same time, there are positive things that of course go along with doing what YOU want to do, and doing it for you. I, for one, adore having such beautiful art as a permanent reminder of different parts of my life. I'll always love them, because they represent my history, my story, my choices. I'll continue to get tattoos that I love, and I'll continue to fill my body with little pieces of beauty that make me happy. Everyday is an exercise in being true to myself, and I like that. And admittedly, it did take a while to accept that not everyone will approve of my choices. From that though, I have become someone who strives to be my 100% authentic self in all situations. You don't like the way I look? Oh well. My tattoos have taught me more about myself, and more about others, than I would have ever imagined. And like anything, there are two sides of the coin. Just be sure you examine both sides before you really make the commitment! Good luck!