There has always been a lingering, extremely negative stigma around tattoos. Whether that be the impression that they’re a reckless craft or profession, that they’re a reflection of unprofessionalism on the wearer, or that the kind of person who gets tattoos is a bad influence and misguided. My whole life, the narrative that tattoos are associated with illegal activities and reckless behaviour has been practically embedded into my social imagining. For a while, I believed it too. I thought that having a tattoo very much meant being unsuccessful in the career that I chose and that I would be going against the picture that had been painted for me. And in doing so, I would be letting everyone around me down, everyone who played some kind of part in raising me. Funnily enough, these are the same people who told me countless times that it is important to march to the beat of my own drum and to be the captain of my own ship. Go figure.
Especially being a girl, I’ve been told that tattoos are ugly, inappropriate, and distasteful. That the second I taint my body with ink, the body that is also supposed to be my own canvas, my worth diminishes dramatically. People start to look at me differently. I am no longer the girl that they thought I was. In a matter of seconds, their entire perception of me changes and everything they know about me is altered.
This is the reality for so many young people and it is incredibly disheartening because most tattoos, if not all, can hold a deeper meaning. Plus, it shouldn’t even matter if the tattoo is meaningful or not, as long as the person adorned by it is happy and comfortable. Tattoos can be an exceptional medium for self-expression. Every little detail in a tattoo is an example of individuality that is impossible to replicate because everyone’s skin and everyone’s intent is entirely different.
Most tattoos are real-life embellishments drenched in symbolism and motifs, and if you really think about it, tattoos are beautiful beyond being art. They are meant to be read like a book and tell you something about the wearer. You can learn a multitude of unspoken stories about a person just by looking at their tattoos, and these are usually the things that are most dear to their heart and truly make them who they are. These are the things that they’re so determined to never let go of that they literally make it a part of their skin and their blood. They tell you stories of growth, romance, culture, grief, passion, religion, wit, and determination. People wear art that speaks to them and makes them feel something. Tattoos are a love story in and of themselves.
I cherish my tattoo. It’s a very small pink dove near my left rib cage. I was 18 years old at the time that I got it done. Most people thought that I was acting in defiance, that I was being rebellious, and that I would regret it eventually.
Well, they were all wrong.
I wasn’t being defiant and I will never regret it. I got my tattoo because it is something that I knew I needed to do for myself if I was ever going to move past what had happened, if I was ever going to move forward. That year, my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer, had a double mastectomy, and went through multiple rounds of chemotherapy. With all of those odds against her, she survived. She is the strongest woman that I’ve ever known and will ever know.
But still, the pressure and the helplessness that I felt and continue to feel can sometimes seem never-ending. I can never shake that fear, no matter how relieved I am to be out of the thick of it. So, I decided to commemorate the moment with something meaningful that is mine, and mine entirely.
My favorite quote from the novel Jane Eyre says this: “I am no bird and no net ensnares me, I am a free human being with an independent will.” That quote seemed to describe what I was feeling, and really what I needed to be told, effortlessly. So, my bird is pink for breast cancer. I got it as a daily reminder of strength, resilience, and soaring above the ashes, just as my mother did. I too can soar.