Generally speaking, when people find out about my tattoo, the first words out of their mouths are, “You don’t seem the type”, or any variation thereof. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve gotten this reaction. Some don’t even say the words out loud and simply look at me in surprise, re-evaluating whatever image they’ve previously construed of me in their minds because clearly me having a tattoo didn’t fit the image. And I get it, I don’t fit the stereotype; I’ve figured that much by now. Still, I’ve always thought it remarkable that even people who are similarly decorated by inked images on their skins are surprised by the beautiful feather etched on my hip. What it is about me that makes it so unexpected to have a tattoo, I still haven’t quite figured out.
I get it when older people are surprised because they will still have those negative connotations with tattoos. Once upon a time, tattoos were a big no-no because it was something only criminals and circus people had. Don’t be fooled by me saying ‘once upon a time’ tough, because the time I’m referring to was a mere 50 years ago. Up until the 80s, when rock-n-roll was becoming mainstream and rock stars wore their tattoos openly and proudly, tattoos had been a big taboo. For the generations that grew up before this period, I understand that they simply don’t like them. More often than not, it’s older people who warn you about the health risks, the possible regrets, and the fact that it will stay with you forever. I don’t blame them because if you grow up believing only criminals and thugs have tattoos then that opinion becomes a rusted belief that you can’t simply put aside anymore. I especially understand it from those who experienced World War II and saw the Jews being branded by tattooed serial numbers. If those are the memories attached to the word ‘tattoo’, then who am I to condemn them for thinking this way. I wouldn’t be quite as fond of them myself if I grew up like that. But the thing is, I didn’t grow up like that. I grew up in a time where it’s becoming more and more socially acceptable to bear inked images, so why should I conform my opinions and beliefs to that of the older generations? Times are a-changing, and so have tattoos.
I mean, why would it be so out of the ordinary for me to want to decorate my body? Why does it amaze people that I wanted to have my body tattooed like a canvas waiting to be painted by the artist? Is it truly so unimaginable that I just really like tattoos even if I don’t seem the type for it? Before I got my tattoo, I’d been wishing for one for over a year. I’d actually decided I’d get one after I graduated as a reward (I failed my finals and had to redo the whole year though, so I got impatient and got one anyway). There was just something about tattoos that drew me in. I loved looking at other peoples inked skin and the memories and thoughts that might be hidden behind the images. As a kid, I liked to make up stories about the tattoos I saw (usually, these were overly dramatic, but I had fun). And to this day, this fascination continues. I like to admire the tattoos of people as I pass them in the streets; observe the designs on the train; or get inspired by a beautiful image worn by somebody laying on the beach. You see all these stunning and silly, meaningful and random, and colourful and black & white tattoos everywhere, so why is it so unexpected for me to want that too?
Another thing I’ve noticed and get asked a lot is the question of what the meaning behind my tattoo is. Does it really have to have a meaning? Can’t I just think something looks nice and decide I want that on my body? I got asked this question so much that I felt the need to come up with a meaning for the beautifully detailed feather inked onto my body. But the thing is, I just wanted a tattoo. Simple as that. I wanted a tattoo and decided that a feather would look pretty, especially because it’s shaped to curve along with my figure. I think it suits me and I don’t have a concrete reason why. Isn’t it enough for me to like how it looks? To be fair to everyone who’s asked me this question, though, I have actually asked it myself as well. Not because I thought tattoos had to have a hidden meaning, but because, if there was one, I was interested in knowing it. I don’t mind people asking me for this reason, but there are some that presume (especially since I’m ‘not the type’) that I must have some deep, touching meaning behind my inked feather. But the truth is, I don’t.
And that’s not to say that I don’t value the meaning a tattoo can have for somebody. I think it’s beautiful when people get a tattoo to represent a loved one or a memorable story, and as I said, I’m always interested in hearing it. But I just think that getting a tattoo simply because you like it, is just as good a reason and validates that tattoo just as much. I like to think that any tattoo can tell you something about a person. Whether that is something about the things they like or love, about a memory or person it represents, or even a drunken mistake. Every tattoo, whether it has a meaning to you or not, tells a story, grand or small. And that’s the thing about tattoos I love the most.