Earlier this week, on Monday afternoon, I made an exception to my ‘chained-to-the-desk-and-never-leave’ rule and stepped out of my office to take a lunch break.
This break, as well as being incredibly rare, was pre-planned several weeks in advance as I had booked to have another tattoo in a shop not too far from where I work.
Now, tattoos aren’t for everyone and that’s absolutely fine – different strokes for different folks etc – but, for me, they’re something I find interesting as both an artform and as a point of conversation. Some people have them purely for the aesthetic, others to tell a story. I fall into the latter group.
This week’s tattoo isn’t my first dabble in the world of body art, and certainly won’t be my last. None of my tattoos would be considered particularly beautiful and certainly won’t bring forth gushing compliments and admiring looks, but each and every one of them is important in my eyes and they hold a deep-seated meaning that makes them nothing short of wonderful to me.
Tattoo Number 1 is on my lower back. Gained at the age of 18, it’s a tribute to my sister, Katy, who is no longer with us.
Tattoo Number 2 is on my wrist. Gained when I was 21, it’s a collection of stars, each one dedicated to an individual family member.
Tattoo Number 3 is on my hip. Gained when I was 26, it’s a heart-shaped padlock; a reminder to be cautious who I allow close.
And Tattoo Number 4?
Sitting perfectly on my forearm, the initials TCB and a lightning bolt.
When I decided on this tattoo, it was for two reasons. First of all, this design is one that Elvis had on some of his jewellery and the tail of his plane, Lisa-Marie. Being the massive Elvis fan I am, I had been thinking about getting a tribute to him for some time, but I couldn’t decide what – I couldn’t commit to a portrait of him as that seemed a little too daunting, and although I dallied with the idea of having his autograph, it didn’t quite feel right for me.
Then it hit me – TCB, meaning ‘Taking Care of Business’ (the lightning bolt signifying ‘in a flash).
More and more over the course of this year I found myself coming back to this phrase. Taking care of things, being proactive, facing things head-on, working hard, dealing with what comes your way, fighting, succeeding.
It just felt right. A tribute to somebody who has influenced me so much combined with a life motto? It wasn’t going to get any more perfect.
Little did I know that within a day of having this tattoo, it would come to mean much more to me than I could ever have realised in the weeks and months I spent pondering it (I never get a tattoo until I’ve spent at least 6-months happy with the design, to ensure I won’t regret it later).
The epiphany came relatively gradually. Starting while the needle was still winding its inky path through my skin, continuing until I went to bed that evening, and finally landing inside my brain with a bump the next morning as I sipped my morning cup of tea and scrolled through Instagram.
As I sat there, my arm wrapped in cling-film to protect my newest piece of art, I happened upon my good friend Grace’s latest, perfectly-timed, Instagram caption about her own tattoo collection…
“I’m decorating my misbehaving body. Does that make sense? So much happens to me that I can’t control, so I react by making myself more *me*, by reclaiming my skin and covering it in art.”
Grace Latter – Blog / Instagram
As I read those words I felt a clarity and realisation settle on my brain, a gentle internalised whisper of, “This. This is why you do it”.
There it was. Suddenly it all made so much sense. The reason why I choose to decorate my body – to reclaim this fleshy vessel as my own, to carve out my story and commemorate the moments that combine to make me, well, me.
My skin tells my story.
The scar on my cheek from where I scratched myself at only a few days old.
The chicken pox marks on my ankle and the crystal-clear memory of the incessant itching that came with it.
The stretch marks caused by the weight gain side effects of the daily medication I have to take to keep me well enough to be able to get out of bed and function as a normal human being.
The scars of 2017, angry and red; the lasting battle cries of my triumphant instincts and my incredible consultant out-smarting cancer.
Ink that speaks of my constantly missed sister.
Ink that means I carry my family members with me at all times.
Ink that tells of a heart pieced back together and made stronger than ever.
Ink that reclaims my skin as my own, after 10-months of being scared of it.
As I sat in the chair on Monday afternoon, listening to the gentle buzz of the tattooists gun, my eyes watching as he placed an image on my skin that will be there for the rest of my days, I felt a physical change in me. I felt like I was healing.
For 10 long months I have inspected every inch of my skin day and night, looking for something but hoping for nothing. Frightened. Frightened of my own skin – it let me down, my trust in it gone. But, as the needle buzzed and the ink flowed, I felt the fear start to fade. A palpable outwards flow of hurt, sadness and worry and a bubbling of something else – excitement, anticipation, relief, hope.
It’s true, as I said, that tattoos aren’t for everyone, but I don’t decorate my body for anybody else. I draw upon my outer shell as a reminder of who I am, where I have been, what I have been through and how I have felt.
Tattoo Number 4 may be less than a week old, but it feels like it’s always been a part of me.
(Check out those didn’t-recover-from-the-90s-brows)
These are not just lines drawn upon my skin, but under the past too.
Onwards and upwards.
I have to do a quick recommendation here for Good Times Tattoo in Shoreditch, they were absolutely brilliant and I will definitely be going back to them for Numbers 5 and 6 which are already planned but I won’t get done for another year or so. My tattoo was done by the talented Dave Rodriguez who was visiting from the good old USofA. If you’re looking to get your own tattoo done and you live in or around London, go and give the Good Times gang a visit, they’re great!