Skin: Tattoos and the Human Existence

Every person on this planet is interconnected. There is something that runs within each of us, something only characterized as human-ness, that spans across all race, sexuality, and religion to band together what we call the human race. It’s our ability to empathize; our heart for the hurting; our desire to succeed; our ability to feel anger, injustice and joy so pure it springs tears to our eyes; our desperate desire for acceptance and love; these are the things that make us human. These are our greatest and most dangerous qualities.


I realized all of this because of a tattoo.

Well, about 2,000 tattoos. Let me explain.


Shelley Jackson, an author out of California, began a project in 2003 named Skin. Skin, also referred to as Shelley Jackson’s Ineradicable Stain, is a 2,095 word story.


The catch: the story is only printed as tattoos on 2,095 separate volunteers.


Volunteers, who apply by writing a letter about themselves, are hand picked by Jackson. The word tattooed on the volunteer is completely random, or as Jackson likes to put it, “picked by fate.”


The only stipulations are that the tattoo must be visible to the naked eye, in black ink and typical book font, and cannot be located on a body part if the word is the same (for example: if your word was hand, you couldn’t have it tattooed on your hand).




Well, the only way to know what the story says is to participate in the tattoo project. That’s right; only the participants of the project get to read the story.


When I first discovered this project, I was almost infuriated. I NEEDED to know the story. I would lay awake at night and wonder what story could be so important that hundreds of people would willingly volunteer to have it permanently stained into their skin.


But then I had a different thought.


What if it wasn’t the story that people went under the needle for, what if it was the mystery? This desire to be in an exclusive group, to hold a secret only a handful of others in the world would know?


What if this tattoo project isn’t about the story at all, but about discovering what it means to be human?


Every person feels a base, primal need to belong. We all want to be liked, to be cared for, to feel as if we are worth something. We all want to feel special. And that is exactly what this project provides people: a group. A group that spans all over the world, a group the participants may not even meet, but it’s a group. Every person that is a part of this project is connected. No matter where they are, what they believe, or who they decide to love. Every single person now has one thing binding them together.


Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe Shelley Jackson just set out to do something cool or to make a statement. Maybe she wrote a story she wanted immortalized forever because of its quirky characters or perfect theme.


But either way, no matter her intent, Jackson created a symbol of hope with a little more than 2,000 words and the given opportunity to take a leap of faith.


Our lives as humans all connect together. Across centuries, across the globe, we all feel and think and are just trying to do our best in the time we’re given.


We may not all have words tattooed on our bodies, but our lives work together to create one big story. It’s messy and often doesn’t make sense, but it is ours and ours alone. We’re all part of something bigger and, unlike the tattoos Jackson distributes, we have the chance to change it every day. We have the chance to change our portion of the story. It’s never too late to start again, to go in a different direction, to stop and appreciate the things around us.


All you have to do is begin.


*To find out more about Jackson’s project, or to apply to be a volunteer, go to