Tattoos, Transitions & Tradition
"You're going to regret that when you're older"
Man, if I had a dollar for every time I heard that.
The truth of the matter is that all of my tattoos will fade. No matter how much money I pay, how good the artist is, or how well I take care of it, my tattoos will grow old and weary with me. In time my skin will begin to sag and new sunspots will appear. Eventually, my own eyesight will betray me and, given the family history, I might not even remember I have tattoos at all. This body is just a temporary residence hall for my eternal soul and I have chosen to use it as a canvas. For now, I am young and financially able to create a mini art gallery that travels with me. It is true that one day my tattoos will indeed be ugly, but respectfully, so will I.
Even though the art of tattooing has been around since the 5th century, there has been a significant rise in the practice within the last few decades. We are lucky enough to finally live in a day and age where body modification is safe and legal. Every year that passes marks increased social tolerance for alternative living and jobs are beginning to care less. However, it is important to note that not all people alive today have the luxury of opting for body modification. In many countries, tattoos are considered taboo, blasphemous, and even illegal. So to be honest, I do it because I can.
Why Do I Do It?
For me, tattoos hold deep personal and transformational meaning. They mark a specific time in my history when something major occurred. Although my face and body are ever-changing, my tattoos are a gentle reminder that I am in fact the same person I have always been regardless of the internal and external shifts that may occur.
A major part of my family history resides in the Northern island of Britain. Not many people know this, but tattooing has been a heavy influence in British culture as far back as it goes. When the Romans invaded Britain in 55 BCE, they noted a popular trend of tattooing amongst the natives. During the Gallic Wars, Julias Caesar recalled “All the Britons dye themselves with woad, which produces a blue colour, and makes their appearance in battle more terrible.” The extensive body art adorned by my ancestors in Britain was so frightening to intruders they became known throughout Europe as the "Pretani" which is Celtic for "the painted / the tattooed ones." The name "Britain" itself was eventually derived from this word.
Historically, the men would often receive animals or mythical creatures. The women would often receive flowers, suns, or moons. Some received tattoos as a rite of passage, during marriage, before battle, and following religious pilgrimages. Even King George V received a red and blue dragon on his arm during his time in Yokohama, Japan and displayed it proudly in the presence of Emperor Meiji. In the years following this event, the aristocracy began to also receive tattoos during their travels to faraway lands as a mark of wealth. Today, nearly 50% of Britains are tattooed and America is getting there as well. It was only recently that having tattoos was considered taboo in a desperate scramble to reestablish the elite as separate from the masses.
To read more about the tattooing traditions of my people, check out this BBC article here.
All 6 of my tattoos have been ridiculously spontaneous, the first being my freshman year of college back in February of 2017. When my Mom first found out, she was mad. Like, MAD mad. We had a big fight and I drove back to college early and angry, but convinced more than ever that I had made the right choice. There were major cultural and religious reasons as to why body modifications were frowned upon in my family, but to put it simply - they were considered dirty and trashy. No one would hire me with a tattoo and the brightness of my future had been dimmed significantly by the act of getting one. It was a tragedy through and through. What will people think? What will the family think? As if I ever cared about that.
I was determined and I liked it and I didn't care much about what anyone else had to say. It was an early birthday present to myself and is a depiction of my childhood cat, Shadow, who carried me through some of the most emotional times of my young adulthood. The watchful crescent moon he sits upon shares a likeness to the moon phase present in the sky during the time of my birth. I had the concept drawn up from scratch by the artist and it was placed on my inner left arm, close to my heart. It represented the shadows I had already overcome and my willingness to face the dark.
Unbeknownst to me, this tattoo would mark the beginning of a major transition that set a domino effect in my life. I got inked just 3 days before two of my high school friends were tragically killed in a car accident the night of the Superbowl. That tattoo marked the last few days of my life as I knew it, before the real night set in. I spent my 19th birthday in a cemetery and began the long mourning process as my first tattoo began to scab over.
That was over 5 years ago. My first tattoo still has some scarring, where either the new artist hadn't perfected his craft yet or I didn't take care of it well enough. Shadow's eye and foot have bled to little black blobs, his ears look more like a hare than a cat, and the once white ink has all but faded. Do I wish it had held up better? Absolutely. Do I regret it? Not at all. Surprisingly enough, the artist got featured on a big tattoo Instagram where he received recognition for this piece and I KID YOU NOT.. a few years later I saw someone else in Raleigh with my tattoo. Not cool.
Flash forward four years later to September of 2019. It was my senior year of college and Friday the 13th on campus. My friends heard about a crazy $20 flash sale this one shop was having so of course we piled into a car and went. We had no idea what we were going to get until we got to the shop. It took me all of about 20 minutes to decide I wanted a set of fake vampire teeth. You know, the cheesy ones you'd get at Halloween that glowed in the dark, my favorite. It took the guy no more than 5 minutes to finish and he almost put the stencil on upside down. Later that night, we found out the so-called artist was a serious felon less than a year prior.
Although this is by far my least favorite tattoo (and I knew it the day after getting it) it still holds a special place in my heart. It marked a budding transition from college to real adulthood and was just months before COVID hit. Not only was the experience of getting this tattoo a great story with great friends but it held a deeper message for me.
"I remember wearing these plastic teeth as a kid. They made me feel fierce, powerful, and maybe even a little mysterious..but they always felt unnatural and uncomfortable after a while. Doing more harm than good. This is a physical representation of the social mask I often put on myself. When I am feeling hurt or insecure, the vicious teeth come out and I try hard to make myself look bigger and more intimidating. But it all boils down to this - I am only trying to protect myself from getting hurt by others. Sometimes what we need most is to take off our cheap tough guy disguises and allow ourselves to be authentic and vulnerable. I am hoping that this reminds me to always be myself and not let fear run the show."
Almost 3 years later, this tattoo is the only one that I will probably get touched up or redone in the future. Now that I know better, the needle went too far down into my skin causing blowouts and wonky lines. I don't regret that actual tattoo though. My intentions were always to use the left arm as a mural for the past hardships and shadows I have overcome. A spooky sleeve, if you will. Just wish I had not gotten it done for the cheap on an impulse.
So, that brings us to January 31st, 2022. A new favorite piece I call In Lieu of Flowers.
My grandmother made it very clear the last time I saw her that she wanted none of that sad funeral shit when she passed away. She was feisty, stubborn, a curse word enthusiast, caring and fun - a celebration of life was more her style. She instructed me not to allow anyone to wear black or play sad church music. She wanted to be cremated, not buried, and she didn't want our family to be flooded with flowers that would eventually die.
Before she transitioned, I was able to ask what her favorite flower was. A carnation, she answered. Pink carnations mean "I will never forget you" and I won't as long as I am still breathing. The tattoo centered on my Heart Chakra depicts a carnation at various stages in its life cycle. The maiden, the mother, and the crone - all connected by one stem. As I walk through my own life stages I am reminded of the women who came before me. That I am not the first nor the last. I am honored to be still here to carry on the legacy and to have been loved by her at all.
This tattoo is obviously fresh, but I don't foresee myself regretting it in this lifetime. The artist did a great job and I am thrilled with the outcome. It was painful, but not unbearable, much like death feels to me now. I have made peace in knowing the purpose of change and sinking into surrender. Even as the colors fade and the lines begin to wobble, I will always see it as the best tattoo in the world.
If you have made it this far into the blog, thanks for being here. You know more about me than most. You might have been observant enough to notice I only mentioned 3/6 tattoos here. This is for two reasons. One being that I am lazy and assume most of you don't really care to read all of that. Two being that they are my more personal ones. So, if I ever see you around, I'll buy you a drink, and maybe I can tell you about the rest of my tattoos, and you can tell me where you hail from and how your story of tradition begins.
Ashlyn Aquarius ♡