On Tattooing (& possibly Self-Harm)


I umm-ed and argh-ed about writing this, both Tore at A Tiny Mew and Sarah at Scarlett State had written such beautiful, eloquent pieces but I wanted to add my voice too, and I wanted to celebrate my tattooist, his art, and by extension, my body.Being a woman seems to invite others to comment on your body, being a tattooed woman invites even more comments, and I would be lying if I said that I didn't get some joy out of bucking societies ideas of 'femininity'. But it's so much more than that, similarly it's also no-one else's business what I'm doing to or with my body. I trust my tattooist, Ben Davies, implicitly. I'm more than happy to turn up at my appointment time and know that I'm going to like what he has drawn up despite not seeing it before. The studio, Spread Eagle Tattoo, is clean, comfortable, and warm and friendly. If I ever have anxieties about being tattooed once I step inside the shop I immediately relax, and I'm not one of these people that buys into the 'zen' of being tattooed. Being tattooed hurts, of course it does, but not enough to stop me going back for more.

Each time I have a tattoo I become more able to own my body, I feel my self slip into my skin easier. It's an interesting paradox that I feel more me by having someone else's artistry on my body, if, as Chuck Palahniuk wrote, that everything we do shows our hand, that everything we do is a self portrait then I live with pieces of Ben and the other individuals that have tattooed me, (and I could apply this logic to the artworks I keep in my home, too.)

My tattoos hold very little meaning other than "I wanted a tattoo and I liked the idea". On this vein my tattoos are not a way to cover self harm scars either. I self harmed for a long time, and subsequently changed the appearance of my skin for a good many years, if not life. I have scars on most of my body, so any tattoo may cover them, or it may not. I could sprout words about incorporating the old and the new but that is boring, and nothing to do with me or my life. Due to this history though, it does make me chuckle what others declare that I may be ruining my body with my tattoos.

In being tattooed I celebrate my body autonomy, I celebrate my idea of what I think I should look like. In being tattooed I take ownership of the skin I inhabit and feel comfortable with the weight that I desperately needed to put on.

There's a French film, called Dans ma peau or In My Skin, in which the protagonist becomes fascinated with her body and this leads her down a brutal mutilation of her own body. It's not a film of the faint of heart, believe me, but I can appreciate that fascination. I never self harmed really badly, and I'd like to think it is now in the past, but I have to acknowledge that being tattooed gives me less room if I were to self harm, because why ruin the work that I have paid so much for?

Part of my recovery from the scary BPD is becoming more secure in my identity, and by looking after myself. In that is becoming fascinated with how my body can hold tattoos, these pieces of art that mean so much to me and make me feel so much more like me. It is being impressed with how my body can move, heal, allow me to do something, anything.

So please, don't ask me why I had a tattoo, or if it hurt, or how many I have, ask me how I'm feeling, and I'll tell you I'm feeling fine.

(All images owned by Ben and Betty at Spread Eagle Tattoo).

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