I have a tattoo.
A few of them actually; the running total is eight. Some of them my parents didn’t know about until they read that last sentence. I have permanently marked my skin with stamps of the societal underworld. Many of them are visible should I wear a tshirt. Some you can see unless I wear full-coverage footwear or keep my hair loose. My forearm, in fact, has not only one small tattoo, but an even larger one covering up the original piece of art.
How will I ever get a job? Will I have to wear long sleeves through the summer? What about when I’m 40 years old and my skin sags and they’re not trendy anymore? What if I don’t like the design five years down the road? You know those are permanent, right? But there’s more.
When I was a teenager I had very bad skin.
I picked at it and now I have a small scar on my cheek from a particularly aggressive session in front of the mirror involving a pair of tweezers and severe case of teenage angst. You can see it, if you look closely. You can also see the scar through my eyebrow; a permanent reminder of childhood curiosity and animal unpredictability.
Sitting in front of that mirror in middle school I knew not to pick at my skin; I’d seen pictures of acne scars and my mother nagged me incessantly to stop. Why didn’t I listen? I’ll never be able to leave the house without makeup. Do I have any idea how expensive a good foundation can be? Lets go on.
When I was 22 I got pregnant.
My stomach grew and stretched, along with the rest of my body. I put on 60 pounds in nine months. I have small, silver lines streaking across my hips and legs. Every inch of my body inflated, and has now deflated, some parts beyond recognition. Unless I wear a one-piece bathing suit or a pushup bra, people will see those scars. Some are lighter and smaller, while some run deeper and glaringly obvious.
Growing up I knew about birth control and the stress that came with starting a family. Children can bring people together but just as easily drive them apart. What was I thinking, getting pregnant? Didn’t I know it would ruin my body? How will I ever fit into my high school clothes again? Don’t I know how hard it is to raise a child and have a career? How will I ever go back to work?
I have ruined my body.
But I also remember every single thing about the circumstance surrounding each tattoo. I may not like the design in five years, and they may not look quite the same in 40, when my skin sags and wrinkles distort the original image. But I WILL have a living timeline of the most emotionally impactful moments of my life. The star on my foot: I was a senior in high school and qualified for the state swim meet. The music note behind my ear: I will always hear the music I learned to play as a child and struggled to maintain through adulthood. The Tibetan symbol for Tiger on my hip: I may not care to remember that I have the animal representing the year I was born under the Chinese calendar on my hip, but I will never forget Dayton2Daytona — all four trips.
I wear short sleeves, even in the winter, exposing the clock on my arm that not only keeps the time for me, but reminds me to let some times go. I wear sandals and shoes with heels too high, exposing my proudest moment in high school for all to see and judge. I wear two-piece bathing suits, showing the ink on my ribs reminding myself, and others, to “write the book that wants to be written,” joined by the thin silver scars on my hips reminding me no matter how thin I get, I have a beautiful child and once weighed more than 200 pounds. Sometimes, I go out without makeup. I am happy with my face, childhood scars and all.
I have jobs. The only person that has ever mentioned any of my visible tattoos, the assistant dean of the college of arts and sciences (one of my bosses), complimented them and rolled his sleeves up to show me his own collection.
“My wife hates them,” he chuckled. “She doesn’t understand them.”
That’s something I’m willing to deal with: misunderstanding. But I have not ruined my body. My body has changed. It is marked with memories in the form of scars, wrinkles and ink. I did all of these things to myself and aging will continue to change it, but by no means am I ruining it. I’m using my skin as a canvas for makeup, motherhood and, yes, tattoos.
I’m a good student, a hard worker, and a doting mother. And I have not ruined my body.