There are a lot of irritating things about having tattoos. Here is one: every time I take off my jacket in front of new people they ask, “What do they mean?” I have done a lot of reflection on why that question is irritating to me and have been able to sum it up the following way. They don’t mean anything except maybe that I was 20 years old once and desperately wanted to belong in a culture I had no business being a part of.
Now don’t get me wrong, I know that I made the choice to get them and that I don’t really have the right to complain. I also know that there are plenty of people that have tattoos that are amazing, that suit them, that were a positive choice and are a direct reflection of who they are or their artistic vision. I don’t want to discount this in any way and my feelings about my own tattoos should be taken as a compliment to the people out there who wear their body art with pride. I am insanely jealous of you.
I regret my tattoos (note tattoos plural not singular, as everyone comes to regret their one dolphin/kanji/alien tattoo). I have developed so many different stories over years, which I have told to myself and other people to come to terms with the reality that they are there for life, but truth be told if I could go back in time I would never have gotten them.
That’s not to say that I regret being tattooed. Like most of the choices I made in my 20s, I simply regret my choice in tattoos. I tell people all the time that I don’t think people should be allowed to get tattoos until they are in their 30s because I wouldn’t let the drunken, self-absorbed egomaniac that my 20-year-old self was pick what kind of sandwich I am going to eat today, let alone have control over my body.
I made my choices for myriad reasons, which included, but weren’t limited to, fear, desperation to fit in, and for some strange validation — to myself and to other people — that I lived on the edge and was different. At 35 years old, I very clearly know I don’t need to prove that to anyone. My freak flag waves with pride the minute I open my mouth. Ask my friends.
If at 35 I go to the Safeway for milk, I have to be prepared to be stared at, glared at, whispered about and even on occasion have my arm fondled without my consent. My choice in tattoos makes me look angry(er) and as though I’m part of a subculture I am not actually a part of and had no business pretending I was.
I worked in a slightly scary tattoo shop in my early 20s — it was a heart wrenchingly, A&E Intervention-worthy experience filled with terrifying people. I learned how to not care about people, how to lie, how to manipulate and how to shut off my emotions. My tattoos tell that story.
Here is a synopsis of what is currently on my body. I don’t hate them all, but I hate most of them.
My first tattoo is on my back, it is also what my husband now refers to as “Chicken on the Way.” I got it when I was 19 at a shop that was across the street from Chicken on the Way from a guy who, if I remember correctly, had been tattooing for less than six months. It is the biggest piece of shit ever. I designed it (I could just stop there) and it has a big misshapen kanji in the centre that is supposed to mean love but actually resembles a terrifying sex toy, which perhaps means love for some, just not for me.
My next tattoos were two kanji symbols beside the aforementioned shitty tattoo on my back, truth and grace, which likely would have been the names I gave to my children if I had any at 22. (This would have added another reason to the list of reasons my imaginary children would have hated me for having them at 22.) The kanjis have no significance to me whatsoever.
I have three stars on my wrist, a choice that would become so visually commonplace that they now bring Avril Lavigne and Hot Topic to mind. It makes me want to take a Silkwood shower and scrub them off.
I have a pinup cowgirl on my left arm. When I started working at the tattoo shop, the shop owner’s wife flopped open a flash book on the counter and instructed me to pick something. She essentially made it clear that I couldn’t work at the shop without a tattoo so I chose one that I thought represented things I loved (the wild west). I had the owner/tattooist make her legs skinny like mine and draw her a little more top heavy. He tattooed her right in the centre of my left upper arm, and made a mistake on her boots that makes her look like she is standing in a bucket. The tattoo, of course, looked ridiculous by itself, so it wasn’t long before I gave her some company. Surrounding her are skulls, the dead man’s hand, flames, crossed guns… and a cap of roses over my shoulder. It’s a big old messy western on my left arm, and though I still love westerns, I don’t love the tattoo clusterfuck on my flesh.
On my right arm is a day of the dead skull that I acquired in 2000, not knowing that every fucking person in the world would eventually wear it on their clothing and bodies. I knew the severity of my error when a 16-year-old girl at Forever 21 in West Edmonton Mall stopped me to tell me she liked my “Sugar Skull.”
I have “Mommy’s Little Monster” tattooed on my right arm, a Social Distortion song that I essentially only liked because I was under the delusion that it represented me in my 20s. The person that did this tattoo was from Tennessee, was a sociopath, and it was his eighth tattoo ever. But he was hot, so I let him. Over the years, the length of time it takes someone to read what it says increases so that now when the moment arrives and someone asks, I am filled with fear that it has finally become a big old blurry mess.
I have a spider on the back of my arm that both my mother and husband hate. She’s blonde, has six eyes and is ugly. The shop owner tattooed it on me when he was going through a divorce. It was his divorce flash and was a representation of her so I got it because I wanted to divorce her too. Now people want to divorce me because of it.
I have cherries on my stomach that could be mistaken for fallopian tubes thanks to their placement. They are also going to look like shit if I get pregnant, so there’s that to look forward to. I will have to tell people it’s a modern art piece at that point.
On my foot I have a poodle, which I don’t regret. It is universal code for being an unabashed bitch that I share with a secret sisterhood of girls. I wish all my tattoos were awesome like this. On my other foot is a fly that looks like a poo stain now. It was also done by the hot sociopath. I believe it was his first tattoo on skin.
I have some kanjis in my nether regions that my 23-year-old brain thought spelled out “Andre,” who was a friend of mine who died. It probably spells “you shouldn’t tattoo kanji on yourself stupid English person.”
And finally, the tattoo I regret the least except when I go to the dentist (and even then it’s not really regret, just a nuisance in having to prepare dentists and hygienists for what they will see while probing my gums). It’s so secret I couldn’t possibly tell you what it is, but I will say this: it has been worth every priceless reaction I have gotten over the years when flipping down my bottom lip.
So there you have it, a synopsis of my body art. This year I will embark on a new back piece that will officially close Chicken on the Way (on my back). I feel that I have given my new piece some thought and for once it is representative of something that is meaningful to me. Take what you will from my story. If you are anything like I was, and still am on occasion… a little uncertain or, perhaps, getting tattoos to impress other people, you are going to be in a bit of trouble in your 30s. If you are sure of who you are, and are someone that is able to embrace your choices and have no regrets, then go to town! I want you to get tattoos, I want you to cover your entire body with them — I just want you to be sure that you give some thought to them so you can love them, whatever they are. Just something to think about.
But really, who am I but an old angry tattooed lady.