I got my first tattoo when I was twenty years old. I think I’d been wanting one for a couple of years, but it only became reality in May 2004 when I finally plucked up the courage, spurred on my that special mix of recklessness and determination that stems from a recently broken heart, to ‘do something drastic’.
May I point out, at this juncture, that at the time I was living in St Andrews: sleepy, genteel, Scottish university town, full of golfers and British Public-schoolers in Hunter wellies and Barbour jackets. The fact that they even had a tattoo shop was pretty remarkable, and is (I think) no longer true. I consider this aberration of normal life in the Royal Burgh to be sign enough that my tattoo was meant to be.
Anyway. So, off I went to the tattoo place, an idea in my head and a couple of friends in tow. I picked the design from a picture on the wall, handed over my cash (£10) and settled down to get marked.
The chosen design was a butterfly. Sweet and ordinary enough, but there was meaning behind it too. I wanted a change. I wanted something drastic and dramatic that would say, ‘something new is coming to life here’. The butterfly did that, and so did the marking itself, because that first tattoo changed me in a very permanent and obvious way.
The question people always ask is: ‘does it hurt?’ Well, yes. Obviously. I don’t think that’s a bad thing though. I think the pain is useful (in the way that pain often is) to help one realise that this is something big and important. Without the pain it’s too easy: there needs to be some kind of cost, to make it worth it.
It’s now nearly nine years since I got that tattoo and I still love it. I love the picture: simple, but meaningful. But I also love the tattoo itself, beyond what it looks like. I appreciate the mark.
I’m about to get tattoo number 2, hopefully within the next couple of months. This time I’m not rushing into a decision, but entering into it slowly, and with thought and planning. This time it will just be a word. One that means a lot to me, and that I want to celebrate and rejoice in, because of what it means to me, and because of what I hope it might mean to others as I share it with them.
I won’t tell you what it is yet, because I want you to see it when it’s done. But I am excited about it.
I think tattoos are wonderful. They tell stories whether we intend them to or not, because they reveal our hearts and our thoughts, and the journeys that we have made. Living, as we do, in a world that is so caught up in image and beauty and what we look like on the surface, I like the idea of using my skin as a canvas: to be intentional and creative in the way that I let my body speak.
What about you?
In summary: embodied stories.