For All the World to See

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“Show me a man with a tattoo and I’ll show you a man with an interesting past.” –Jack London

For quite a few years now, I have been fascinated with tattoos.  It started with a love of the TLC reality show Miami Ink and the slightly less engaging Inked on A&E.  For someone who does not pretend to know anything at all about art, it is simply astounding what can be done on a person’s skin.  The details, the beautiful pictures created with ink and needle will never fail to amaze me.  And while all of the artwork was incredible to see, the stories behind the tattoos were even more interesting.  People choose to alter their bodies permanently for so many different reasons!  Some do it for the sake of the art, others for shock, to belong, to stand out, to remember, to celebrate, to mourn and display.  It is so interesting to listen to what it is that each person is choosing to record for the rest of the world to see. 

For close to five years I have seriously considered getting a tattoo.  I had an image, small and simple, that was incredibly meaningful to me.  When I look back through the notes I took in college, the little cross is drawn on almost every margin in my notebooks.  There are plenty of other things that I have seen or thought about that I think would be cool or pretty or unique to get, but this one stuck with me over the years.  After this long, one would think that I would feel confident enough to actually get it, to commit to it.  One would be wrong.

A friend of mine has been talking about changing one’s name lately.  We talked about whether it would be disrespectful to your parents, who named you before anyone knew you, to decide to put aside the identity they chose.  It’s an interesting thought.  A name is just a name, and a person is who they are no matter what you call them.  Still, somehow, it seems like a name can change you.  You are so many things, but one of them is your name.  I mention this because the same idea crosses my mind with respect to tattoos.  Especially in a religious community, there is an aspect of it that feels like changing what God created.  It’s saying that the beauty of being formed in His image is not enough, that I am not enough just as I am.  I know not everyone thinks this far into body art, but it’s something that I’ve heard before.  This is aside from the Levitical prohibition against tattoos, which many people have opinions about in today’s society.

I don’t really think that God sees me getting some ink as an affront to Him.  I don’t think that what I want, an image of my faith, defiles the body He gave me.  I don’t even really worry about reactions and judgement from others, especially with the prevalence of tattoos today.  I do worry about regrets.  Constantly.  No matter how much I think about my tattoo, that little voice that always seems to whisper, “What if…?” speaks up.  What if it doesn’t look like I would expect?  What if I wish later in life that I hadn’t done it?  What if, as I age, it looks worse and worse?  What if it hurts a LOT worse than I think?  What if I don’t get one and really regret it later? 

I analyze everything so much, running over and over every possibility, dwelling mostly on the worst, that I tend to be overly cautious.  I talk myself out of things, and rarely into things, much too easily and stubbornly.  I want to take a risk and be rash.  I want to be young and make a quick decision.  I want a good story to tell.  Sometimes, I just want to not be me.  I want to know what it’s like to not think things through, to forget about consequences.  I don’t want to be responsible and reserved and just do.  I sincerely doubt that I will get up the courage and bravado to get my tattoo.  I hope that I’m wrong, but I know me and know that I’m right.  A leopard can’t change its spots.  But maybe this girl will work up the courage to slip into the skin of a braver person, leaving a scar that lasts forever.

Until I give up my love of the body art, I have come to really enjoy looking at the masterpieces that others’ proudly wear.  The nerd in me is obsessed with this site, www.contrariewise.org, devoted to literary-themed tattoos!

“The greatest mistake you can make in life is to be continually fearing you will make one.”  –Elbert Hubbard

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