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No, I Don’t Have to Explain My Tattoos.

Tattoos are such a beautiful form of self-expression, one in which you can create a permanent memory that will live forever on your skin. I never thought that I’d get a tattoo; I was raised to be a “good girl” and that did not include going under the needle. However, when I was 18, I suffered through an intensely painful year of depression and change, and when it was all over, I wanted something that could capture the pain I’d experienced and remind me to never return to that place, and a tattoo felt like the only thing that could do my journey justice.

My first tattoo was small—just a simple semicolon on my wrist—but since then, I’ve found tattoos to be a great comfort and have used them to commemorate other memories as well. It doesn’t seem like such a personal choice would be controversial, but I can’t tell you how many comments I receive directed toward my tattoos on a regular basis. I understand that tattoos are still taboo for some people, but what I find troubling is the desperate need for some to attach a meaning to my body art, whether or not I want to share it. It’s as if because they’re visible, suddenly they’re public property and anyone can put in their two cents, and I’ve even had strangers reach out and touch--but they would never reach out and touch me if my delicate spots of ink weren't displayed.

My most recent tattoo is an ampersand on my inner bicep. This happens to be one of the most personal tattoos that I have, and being able to have such an important piece of my history with me all of the time gives me the strength to do things that challenge me and sometimes even scare me, yet will help me grow in the long run. I constantly run into people who ask what it means, but the story behind it is personal, and not something I want out in the world to satisfy someone else’s curiosity. Usually when I’m asked, I just give some offhand answer about personal motivation or reference the fact that my fiancé has one that matches mine (though the tattoos carry different meanings for both of us) and call it good. However, if I decide I don’t want to explain my choices and instead say, “it’s kind of personal,” they scoff and say “you probably just got it because you liked it,” as if the worst thing they can imagine is a meaningless tattoo.

Choosing to put something on your body forever is such an intimate, individual decision, and if someone does decide to get a tattoo, it doesn’t necessarily have to have an incredible backstory to go along with it. Maybe someone chose to get a daisy on their wrist because they liked the look of a daisy, or maybe it’s because it was their grandma’s favorite flower—either way, that design is going on their body and is becoming a part of their physicality and their identity. That in itself is a meaningful and poignant part in someone’s life—it’s capturing the person they are that day in that moment, regardless of the motivation behind it.

That’s not to say that there aren’t bad tattoos. Of course there are people in the world with confederate flags across their chests or an ex’s name on their spine that wish they hadn’t gotten tatted. You should think about what you want on your body before you get it, and you should take your time. However, that doesn’t mean that in doing so you have to choose something that has an incredibly deep, life-shattering meaning behind it. Just the fact that you’re getting a tattoo could be all the meaning you need—especially if it’s something you never thought you’d do or that goes against everyone’s expectations for you. You don’t owe anyone an explanation for how you choose to present yourself, and you shouldn’t feel like your tattoo is any less significant simply because it isn’t nostalgic or tributary. I can’t tell you how many people have seen one of my tattoos and when I refused to tell my life’s story said, “you’ll probably regret that in a few years.” But each one of my tattoos represents a part of me that I can’t imagine regretting—someone who was confident and happy with who she was becoming and wanted to celebrate that.

I’m not saying that you should never comment on a tattoo that you think is well done. Go ahead and compliment the design or ask me what artist I went to or when I got it. You can even ask me why I got it or if it has a meaning—the key is to not expect an answer, and to let go of the notion that every tattoo has to mean something to be justified. Tattoos may not be for everyone, and with so many infinite styles and variations, there are bound to be a few that you don’t like. However, just because it’s different doesn’t mean it’s wrong. Tattoos, for me, have been a way of reclaiming my body in a society that is so obsessed with what I do with it—my tattoos are mine, and just because they can be seen, doesn’t mean they need to be acknowledged. 

Madison Adams is a feminist, a tea enthusiast, a friend to the animals, and a lover of words. Mostly, though, she's a young woman who's still trying to figure things out. 
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