Content warning for self harm, body image, depression mentions.
When I was younger, I never really envisioned myself with tattoos, unless it was a witty and well-hidden Harry Potter tattoo. Tattoos are so permanent, something you can never ever get rid of – was I ever really going to care about anything that much that I wanted to get a memoriam of it on my body? My family isn't too tattoo-friendly, either, which meant that I had always been cautioned against it – they're not altogether opposed, but definitely skeptical.
It wasn't until a couple of years ago that I started to conceptualize tattoos as art, instead of a symbol for someone or something that I might ultimately grow out of loving. Tattoos can be beautiful works of craftsmanship. Seriously – just as an example, look at some of the artists that work at Off The Map Tattoo, the parlor where I got both of my tattoos. Their work both on skin and on paper or canvas is great, and the fact that they can do the work they do in a permanent, you've-got-one-shot-at-not-messing-this-up medium is amazing to me.
I've only got two tattoos now, but I absolutely plan on more in the future, when I'm in a position to be able to pay for them. The truth is that in my eyes, my tattoos have been lifesavers, and have helped me to love my body and myself in a way that I have rarely been able to.
I self-harm. I won't go into details, but it's an unavoidable reality for me that whenever my internal world gets to be too much, I have to take it out externally in order to transfer some of that negative energy out of my mind. And yes, in the past couple of years, I have been depressed, anxious, and at times have had suicidal ideation, though never any attempts.
I'm not proud of these things, and I've been struggling with them for nearly two years now. Because of how these things manifest for me both emotionally and physically, it's hard to hide from people that I love and people who I never want to have to worry about me. I dread the inevitable "What happened here?" as someone points their fingers down my arm. I still haven't come up with a good excuse. Saying that "stuff just happened" doesn't usually deter someone.
Although there are myriads of things I could blame my depression on, I am aware that one factor is the poor relationship I have with my body. I want to love it, but I usually am extremely uncomfortable with myself, for various reasons – weight, shape, gender, ability. So when I got my tattoos, and when I realized how happy it made me to have a piece of beautiful art on my own skin, it finally gave me a reason to love those parts of my body.
No matter how badly or frequently have self-harmed, I have never ever harmed those parts of my arms that have tattoos on them. I know that might sound kind of frivolous. Oh, you'll hurt the rest of yourself, but God forbid you harm the art? But it's so important and so true to me. I feel like my tattoos make that part of my body sacred and hallowed ground. These little inked gardens have lives of their own; I could never kill a flower, and I could never kill a tattoo of a flower either.
I got those tattoos at different points in my life because I thought they would make me cooler, more beautiful, because they would mean something to me; refraining from harming the places where those tattoos are means everything to me, because it means that there is still some hope for me to heal and get better. If I trust in that part of me that thought I was going to be super totally awesome, then maybe someday I can still be super totally awesome. Get it?
Tattoos are definitely serious business, there's no denying that. But I think that they have a lot more power for good than they're given credit for, and not just in an "okay, I guess I can tolerate it" way but in a "this could actually be really beneficial" way. And I will always stand by that.