Wednesday, October 19, 2011


I got my first and only tattoo for my 20th birthday. In London. In a fairly sketchy basement in Camden. In 1999, the year when hundreds of thousands of girls everywhere where getting inked with what were essentially characters from Chinese take-out menus and claiming that the signs they could not themselves decipher meant "serenity" and "inner strength" and "hot sexy mama". The year that the word "tribal" took on a whole new meaning. The year "tramp stamps" were still the epitome of cool. So I could have done a lot worse for myself than I did. A lot, a lot.

Not that this is some sort of paean to my own impeccable taste. Far, far from it. You should see some of the s*** I was wearing in those days (if I can find some photo evidence, maybe I'll share it some day). But I did get lucky on the tattoo department, if only because I'd been planning it for at least three years.
My one and only tattoo is an equal mix of snowflake, nordic compass, medicine wheel and pictogram and I had designed it myself with a shaky hand on the margins of my notebooks over hours and hours of high school boredom. It held then, and now, multiple layers of symbolism for me, ideas that I'm happy to carry around for the rest of my days. Like I said, this was mostly luck, a little bit of good taste and good sense buried in layers of black hair and nose ring and next-to-non-existant eyebrows.
As my twenties drew to a close, I had grand ideas for a tattoo to mark my third decade: two birds of a particular kind (not swallows!) on my shoulders where anatomically speaking one's wings might be, over my scapulas, the wing-bones so to speak.

I wanted my husband to draw these spirit birds for me, but we could never quite materialize the design and I took that as a sign that I should keep looking.

Around then, I also thought of getting a single owl feather, in white and brown and other natural tones on my forearm, but a balked as feather tattoos suddenly became the trendy thing to have and I felt as though I couldn't be absolutely sure of my own motives. Did I really want this thing for its symbolic value, or was I being influenced by those demon-headed hipsters of popular culture? I suppose if you have to ask such questions, it's best to leave the ever-lasting jewellery to others.
Drawing on human skin holds a lot of power in my mind.

Judging from how wide-spread tattoos are in all cultures, it is fair to speculate that skin art has been a part of humanity's adornment since the dawn of man. Their meanings certainly have varied from culture to culture, ranging from signifying rank, to being part coming-of-age ritual, to simple vanity.

As we entered the 21st century the tattoo had risen from relative obscurity and secrecy to a very common place adornment. They are now perhaps more prevalent in mainstream, Western society, than they have ever been and like so many things co-opted by us, the masses, their original connotations have been greatly diluted.

Inking your skin has left behind its former outlaw status, as a preoccupation of criminals, sailors and fancy ladies and tattoos now adorn the arms and chests of investment bankers, teeny-bobbers and well, your mom.

Any cultural significance the tattoo has, is now simply held in the eye of its beholder, the person who chooses what they wear on their skin.
For the reasons stated above I don't consider getting inked lightly. As you may know by now, I'm kind of hellbent on making sure that my decisions are thoroughly meditated. However, I also don't subscribe to the popular notion that you will inevitably live to regret your ink when you're a grandmother of 12, embarrassed by the wrinkled Sea Shepherd-logo on your bicep. Hecks no you won't if you're a person of any integrity to begin with! You'll be proud to tell them all about the time you stink-bombed a Japanese whaling ship and saved a pod of minke whales in the process. A tattoo can be a reminder of how one sees oneself, who you are, or who you aspire to be, or who you once were.

It is true that we constantly change and grow and sometimes wish we could shed our entire skin in the process, but I feel that the person that you were is what you build the person you become on.
So when I gave up on my previous ideas for a tattoo, as too vague and perhaps too superficial, I simply kept on looking for others. For a long time I've been intrigued by the idea of tattooing a special word, perhaps a whole sentence, a quote from a favorite poem, or a few meaningful syllables on myself.

It's surprising how hard it seems to find the word(s) that I would want to carry with me always.

Words have come and poems have gone and thought I still wonder if I'll ever find the right
one(s), I now see that it hardly matters whether the word I chose were just a passing fancy.

The right words will come, or perhaps, in hindsight, the wrong ones.

In the meantime, I've finally settled on the images I want.

I now know that I want a particular plant of significance, personal meaning, to grow on my forearm, as well as a representation of the celestial world, some small moon I can always carry with me. Perhaps even just a circle representing a moon. A tangible rendition of some small piece of the whole universe, loaded with multiple meanings.

Sometimes I feel like almost any beautiful image could serve as a reminder of all the glory that one can experience at any moment.
We carry tattoos like we carry all our choices, good and bad, with us forever, and then suddenly, we cease to exists, and so do they. There are no mistakes, only choices.
Whatever they may have been : A moon, a yew tree, a perfect circle...

Got it? Want it? Abhor it? Why?

All images from the Tattoologist, except the last one, which belongs to Lost Boys And Lovers.


  1. I've got three tattoos... My first was a spider, who's specifics were rather impulsively chosen and mostly by the tattooist when I was 19. I like it, it has a lot of personal meaning, but I could have done way better. Then I got two texts, one my great-grandmother's name, the other a phrase in French saying "I have the strength to overcome anything." I later had flowers added around my grandmother's name, and I plan on either covering, or adding to the phrase. The text was another impulsive decision, the flowers added were well thought out and planned. I don't regret my great-grandmother's name, or the flowers. Sometimes I wish my spider were better, and I may someday cover it. I do rather regret the text though. It's plain, kinda boring looking, and the guy who did it did a shoddy job and the feeling and strength I was trying to get across just totally lost itself. I really like tattoos in general. Some of them are pretty ridiculous, and I don't get how anyone could have a slapstick humorous tattoo done. (I saw a photo of a guy who lost a bet and had his friend's penis tattooed on his thigh, for example) But if properly thought out, they can be wonderful additions to ones body. If not... marks of lessons learned.

  2. i have 5 tattoos. i hold the unpopular opinion that tattoos are just tattoos. they don't need to have deeper meaning unless they i love these images! such wonderful tattoo ideas.

  3. oh tattoos! i got my first and only on a drunken night when i was 17 (i was under age which shows what a true rebel i was ;D hehehe) i had known what i wanted prior to the evening so it was not an impulsive choice as far as the actual design was concerned. it's on my lower back, BUT way off to the right. not a tramp stamp! ok. after 4 kids and the stretching and shrinking of my skin it pretty much looks like a brain. or at least that's what my kids say. actually they say, "hahaha mom has a brain on her butt!" i have to then explain anatomy to them and the fact that my butt is not on my lower back. anyway, when i met ruben years later, i found out that he got his first tattoo at the same tattoo shop but many years before me.

    i really like the tattoo you have and i'm sure your next will be equally as cool.

    one last thing. "next-to-non-existant eyebrows" haha so rad! that was me too.

  4. I've got zero. But, I've been contemplating images for years. I'm a little sad that my favorite idea, a turkey tail-feather on the inside of my forearm (you know why, obviously), is trendy. Though I don't think too many folks are getting those specific feathers. I've also thought about the moon phases in a ring around my bicep, the small outline of a horse, also on the inside of my forearm... and there are multitudes of wolves running around in my brain.

    But I've not an excellent, trusted artist to do any work on me, and will probably wait until I'm back in the US for one. I don't trust these tattoo shops on Bar Street.

    I agree with Brigit 100%. Tats are tats, unless they have a special meaning to the individual. You don't need a special reason to get one. To want it is enough.

    I can't wait to see this tattoo of yours...

  5. I have none. I've planned many....and then forgotten my plans and moved on. I have this fear that my skin is going to go crazy and reject the ink (I've been pierced three times, and all 3 times my body hated it). To me it feels like something I should do - like something to complete on my bucket list. It is something missing from my life. But perhaps i am attributing too much personal significance to it. Like you, it would need to be meaningful in a lasting way. I've thought about a Samoan leg band.... just above my knee.

  6. "There are no mistakes, only choices." Very, very true.

    My one tattoo is hidden most of the year from the public, and is a family symbol. My brother has it on his arm, and my mother wears it in a charm around her neck. When people see a glimpse of it, they go, "Oh! I didn't know you had a tattoo!" It is simple, special, and took me six months of deliberate meditation to decide to get it.

    Like all things, when it feels right, you know. You'll know.

  7. for me, tattoos have always been born of a mixture of desire, vision and right timing. it can be hard to get all three to line up, so my ink-lings are fewer than would be if i had my way.

    my first tattoo was long before it became mainstream (1990!) and the only place in town to get it was the biker shop. myself and three friends got a grateful dead dancing bear. it has faded now to a purple smear, but i still love it for the friendship it symbolized, even if my dead head days are best long forgotten. there are many others now, none frivolous, all born from momentous occasions, i love them all. it has been five years since i sat under the gun, and a large piece is still waiting to go on my lower back, the rack of antlers of an old buck, holding in their tips the flotsam and jetsam of my journey. i CANNOT WAIT to see/hear more about your new adornment, i just know it will be inspiring and phenomenal and heartfelt...i don't think it could be any other way with you.xo

  8. i love tattoos but i have none. most everyone else that i love dearly has them though, and i think they are so beautiful. my brother joey has the most and we are lucky to know a talented tattoo artist who is kind and caring, who works from his own home or makes an appointment to come to yours. my friend ida from norway got a tattoo from him while she was here. it usually becomes a social occasion, what better way to bond?!

    for me, i can't imagine covering up a patch of my skin. i really like my skin. and it seems cheating to put it someplace i can't see very easily, like my back, plus i love the look of a naked back. i think someday i will probably get a tattoo but i don't know when, where or what. i love all kinds of designs, images and ideas but i would have to REALLLLY love it to wear it permanently. i am all about change. i can't even wear the same outfit two times a year basically! so it is hard for me to imagine having a print on me forever, although i kind of love the idea of them changing and fading over anne says, hers looks like a brain (wonder what it was originally?) or mary's faded dancing bear. soooo fun to hear about all the tattoos.

    i think they make people look more sexy and alluring, and still a tiny bit of the rebel. because although it's shifting, there is definitely still a cultural mindset that abhors anything "different;" for example, if you work at In-n-Out Burger you can't have any tattoos showing, you have to remove piercings and your earrings have to be under the size of a dime or something like that. and your make up has to look "pretty and feminine." a young lady i used to know showed me the rule book, yuck! i can't wait to see these attitudes shift even more, as the power of unique individuality grows all the time.

    what a beautiful post. i love all the images you chose milla and can't wait to see your new ink one of these days! much love to you rad sister.

  9. "...tattoos now adorn the arms and chests of investment bankers, teeny-bobbers and well, your mom."

    Ha! It's true, my mom recently got another big one on her other bicep. Hehe.

    I think tattoos can be really beautiful. They can also be completely ridiculous. I saw a pic floating around fb of a girl who got the Pabst label in the middle of her chest (I think it may have actually been flanked by a pair of swallows). To her credit she did comment that PBR is not a hipster thing for her, ha, I'm sure the personal meaning runs really deep there ;)

    But crazy people aside, I do think that they can be beautiful additions to one's body. I don't have any and i don't know that I ever will. Mostly because I think I just lack the motivation. I've never put any significant effort into trying to come up with something that I'd want to have on me forever. Perhaps one day that will change though.

    I'm surrounded by tattooed people. Ink is BIG in my community, almost to the point where, I sometimes feel a little rebellious for NOT having any. Which can be kinda fun too :)

    I'm sure whatever you end up getting though will be beautiful and meaningful and inspiring, and make me secretly want to run out and get inked, the way I now secretly want to run out and get a few hairs dyed in wonderfully playful hues!

  10. "We carry tattoos like we carry all our choices, good and bad, with us forever, and then suddenly, we cease to exists, and so do they. There are no mistakes, only choices"

    I love this :)

    I got my first and only when I was 21; it's a moon in my ankle, something that I had wanted for years, for being a symbol of feminity and protection. I give tattos a very personal significance and I got my moon in a hard moment for me -I was really really heartbroken and it was some kind of reminder of who I am and an act of self-protection. I can't say the tattoist made a great job, but that tattoo is very important to me.

    I'm planing my second one and I'd like to get it before 2011 is over. I wanted a bird, and eagles have a deep symbolism for me since I read something in a book a few years ago (plus I love watchin big birds like eagles or vultures). My friends were very surprised when I told them I wanted an eagle: "why don't you get a swallow?" ;) I guess they see me too "cute" or "lady" for an eagle, or maybe they think I'm gonna get a harley-davison-style one, hahaha!

    I can't wait to see yours :)

  11. "...tattoos now adorn the arms and chests of investment bankers, teeny-bobbers and well, your mom."

    Eloquent summary of the tattoo situation ^-^
    I have one, the infinity symbol over my left hip. It's one of my very favorite ideas, and I knew it when I was 16, and didn't change my mind, so got it at 18 with my best friend. It's grown with me, and that is something I've really values about it. I'm not sure I'll get another. I really enjoyed sharing that moment with my friend, we felt like we were beginning such an adventure, and such moments are rare.

  12. As a gemini, I don't believe I could ever settle on a permanent image! hahha. That and the fact that I do love my bare skin with no markings besides the ones the good Lord decided to place all around or that the sun kissed! :D I do really like the birds on the forearms and the feathers... but at one point I thought I'd get a tiny star somewhere and am quite thankful now that I didn't. I have been tempted many times to get one though- there are some gorgeous ones out there! Happy Sunday Lady!

  13. this is the best post ever. so close to my heart.

  14. Love it! I got my first tattoo when I was 19 and don't like it at all. I hadn't put any thought into it at the time I just wanted one. I really want to get it covered up but am waiting for the right image to come to me.
    I have a band around an ankle that is a stylistic sun, tree, and waves all flowing together. I love it.
    Another set are words on my wrists- "grow" and "resist" (incidentally the name of my blog) in handwriting. Grow in mine and Resist in my partner's handwriting. It represents gifts we have brought to each other and reminders of things I want to remember.
    Lastly I have 4 bees up my arm. Because 4 is powerful. Bees are so incredibly small they could be deemed insignificant, yet actually hold so much power and importance. They are badass =)
    I love your idea and vision!