When I got my first tattoo – a small ‘Love’ symbol on my right wrist – back in 2008, I laughed when people told me that they were addictive. ‘Nope,’ I told everyone. ‘That’s not going to happen to me. I might get one or two, but I’m not going to be one of those people with ink covering both arms.’ Cut to a fortnight ago when I decided that my left arm was ‘looking a bit bare’ and it made sense to get a fantastically fierce (and gigantic) tiger lady tattooed on it. Famous last words and all that.
It’s a massive cliché, but I love my tattoos. I have eight of them (so far) and they are as much a part of me as one of my arms or feet. They’re a map of memories on my skin – markers of my constantly evolving relationship with my body, a process that has been as challenging as it has been rewarding.
Like many people, I’ve spent a fair chunk of my life waging a war against my appearance. For most of my 20s I believed I was too unattractive, too weird and too fat for anyone to take me seriously. I will never forget logging on to a forum I frequented in 2005 to discover that some people (who I misguidedly thought were my friends) had uploaded a picture of me and were poking fun at my hair, my clothes and my size. Or the time that my ex asked me what happened to the skinny girl he fell in love with. Little things, but they stick to you like tar, making you feel lumpen and useless.
This isn’t some sob story. I’m sure that everyone reading this will have similar tales to share (after all, we live in a society that encourages us to find fault with ourselves in the smallest things.) As I’ve gotten older, I’ve called a truce in the war I’d been constantly waging against myself. I don’t have the time or the energy to invest in trying to take up less space in the world. Instead, I’d much rather work on appreciating the fantastic landscape of my body – belly rolls, double chin and all.
I see getting tattooed as my own form of self care. It shows that I care about my body so much that I want to cover it in beautiful, interesting art that I can show off to the world. That I am proud to show off a fat body, which I am supposed to feel discomforted and shamed by. I’ve written before about my mildly antagonistic relationship with my upper arms, always believing them to be too white and too flabby. Getting them inked gave me the perfect opportunity to flaunt them and their satisfying roundness to the world. I still have days where I feel uncomfortable or anxious about how I look. But I have even more where I look in the mirror and see a super-hot, confident woman looking back at me. A woman who just happens to have a naked pin-up girl decorating her right arm.
I realise that getting tattooed is not for everyone. Good ones done by experienced artists are expensive and I’m exceptionally privileged to be able to afford mine. I am also lucky enough to work in an environment where they have never been an issue (although I do keep them covered when I have to be ‘professional.’) And whenever I’ve shown them to my parents, they’ve been met with a drama-free meh rather than a cry of you’ve brought shame upon this family! Although my Dad did raise an eyebrow when I got a giant multi-coloured rolling pin on my right arm.
Fat positivity is expressed in a variety of different ways. Mine just happens to come in the form of signs and symbols swirling over my arms. And when people ask me what my various tattoos mean, I tell them that they mean that my body is important. My body is magnificent. My body is beautiful.