When I ran away to Portland a few weeks ago, I got a tattoo. In fact, once I decided to go to Portland, the first research I did and reservation I made was for my tattoo (and not, say, for my flights or lodging).
And the tattoo came out beautifully, as you’ll see. I’m crazy about it. Everyone who’s seen it in pictures or in person loves it too (at least to my face 🙂 ).
My friend asked me about its meaning, and the truth is: it has none. I gave my artist a style of tattoo that I really liked and told her I wanted it to drape and hug and curve around my body, and she delivered.
The act of getting a tattoo was symbolic and significant; the image wasn’t.
Because the reason I’ve always wanted tattoos and piercings, and to wear 5 necklaces, 10 bracelets, makeup, and do my hair up in Lagertha braids, is because these are all ways for me to claim my body.
For me, this is an extension of how I express love. When I read books, I annotate the heck out of them. I highlight, I underline, I write notes in the margins. Now I have little sticky notes so I can more easily find passages that matter. For well-loved books even those are unnecessary; the spine shows me the important sections. As Elizabeth Gilbert says
I adore books too passionately to treat them gently.
When I decorate my apartment, I don’t care if it’s a rental; I have colorful artwork covering the walls at the very least. I paint the walls if I’m allowed.
When I wear clothes, if something works I buy it in every color and wear it until it falls apart. I had no interest in collectible dolls I couldn’t play with. I still am amazed that anyone would buy something with the intention of keeping the original packaging on.
This is how I demonstrate love. It’s how I inhabit a place. It’s how I express what’s inside me.
There’s a passage from one of my favorite books that I’ve always remembered:
Scarcely an inch of wall space showed between the posters, photographs, dried flowers, scraps of tie-dyed fabric, framed certificates and other impedimenta on the walls.
Some people have a way of arranging everything about them, so the objects take on not only their own meaning, and a relation to the other things displayed with them, but something more besides—an indefinable aura that belongs as much to their invisible owner as to the objects themselves. I am here because Brianna placed me here, the things in the room seemed to say. I am here because she is who she is.
– Diana Gabaldon, Voyager
I love the idea that the things I carry, keep, and store, are a reflection of who I am. Manipulating and changing my body are authentic ways for me to tell the world who I am.
But that’s not true for other people. Some people demonstrate love by keeping things pristine, by caring for them so much that they are always preserved in their new, untampered-with state.
This was a beautiful essay by a Sikh woman on how, by accepting and living in the body she was given, with no alterations, she honored the Divine.
Yes, I’m a baptized Sikh woman with facial hair. Yes, I realize that my gender is often confused and I look different than most women. However, baptized Sikhs believe in the sacredness of this body – it is a gift that has been given to us by the Divine Being [which is genderless, actually] and, must keep it intact as a submission to the divine will. Just as a child doesn’t reject the gift of his/her parents, Sikhs do not reject the body that has been given to us. By crying ‘mine, mine’ and changing this body-tool, we are essentially living in ego and creating a seperateness [sic] between ourselves and the divinity within us. By transcending societal views of beauty, I believe that I can focus more on my actions.
I wonder which category you’d put yourself in. When it comes to your body, do you create the image you want, accumulate the things you need, claim your space, and let that radiate out into your actions? Or do you prefer to accept the vessel and focus on your actions? Or both? Or neither?
As I’ve been considering this question over the past two weeks, I couldn’t help thinking of the children’s story The Velveteen Rabbit, where toys become real through the fierce, constant love from their children.
“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”
“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.
“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”
“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?”
“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”
“I suppose you are real?” said the Rabbit. And then he wished he had not said it, for he thought the Skin Horse might be sensitive. But the Skin Horse only smiled.
“The Boy’s Uncle made me Real,” he said. “That was a great many years ago; but once you are Real you can’t become unreal again. It lasts for always.”
So what about you, my friend? How are you becoming? If you’ve ever felt real before, what made you get there? Love through protection and keeping pristine care? Love through self-expression? Love through passionate, ungentle utility? Or something else?
And here’s a picture of my tattoo just after we finished it.