Let's Talk: Tattoos Exploring the implications of body art

Stuti: Self Expression

跟我走。These were the three characters I saw tattooed on my mom’s colleague’s calf as she walked into our house. Although I thought the bold, black ink looked rather obnoxious on her pale leg, I jumped in, eager to show off the Chinese I had been learning.

“Does your tattoo mean walk with me?”

She explained to me that ‘walk with me’ was only the literal definition of the phrase.

Symbolically, 跟我走 (gēn wǒ zǒu) means to have faith in someone, to accompany them. It encompasses the idea of getting through things together, and for my mom’s colleague, who had gone through several serious family and health problems, this tattoo echoed her philosophy of enduring hardship.

Growing up in an Indian family, my parents have often expressed their disapproval of tattoos, especially large and colorful ones. To them, the idea of permanent ink imprinted in your skin is nothing but a recipe for disaster. And they’re not alone — according to a study by Support Tattoos and Piercings At Work, 76 percent of people believe that tattoos can negatively affect someone’s opportunities in life.

But tattoos unfairly get a bad rep.

For people like my mom’s colleague, tattoos can serve as a powerful form of expression. Every one of us has a philosophy, value or belief that is core to our identity. Whether it be working hard, laughing often or forgiving easily, these ideas are often too complex and jumbled to be explained in mere words.

Yet, these thoughts and beliefs are incredibly powerful and meaningful. Tattoos allow us to express these ideas permanently and hold them with us when we need them the most, like no other form of art or expression. Whether it’s a life motto, a family member, a happy memory, a symbol of cultural or religious significance or a loved one no longer with us, our tattoos are 100 percent our own. They are art made just for us, art made to fit in with our greater identity.

Although some believe that tattooing yourself is disrespectful to your body, we must understand that our body is our own. It is one of the only things that stays with us from the moment we enter life to the moment we leave it, experiencing with us every cheerful, disappointing, frightening or funny memory. We all have the undeniable right to decorate our body however we choose.

It is high time we as a society start to open up to the ideas of tattoos and stop perceiving them so negatively, whether it be in the form of workplace discrimination or simply judging the person next to us.

In the grand scheme of things, tattoos have no real negative impacts on the people who choose to decorate their body with them. They do not make us less intelligent, funny, kind, or take away from us in any sense. Rather, they add to our confidence, our identity and our freedom of expression.

Ishani : Self Infliction

When I was 6 years old, during one particularly memorable trip to Chuck-E-Cheese, I found myself with 32 tickets — enough to buy me a few temporary tattoos. I begrudgingly pointed at the tattoos, because what I really wanted was a beach ball, and waited as the man behind the counter scooped them from their red display bin and handed them to me.

That night, I went home and loosely read the directions, applying the tattoos on my arm carelessly. But from that second I peeled off the small white square, I was hooked.

To this date, I don’t think I’ve experienced anything as exhilarating as running temporarily tattooed arms under the sink, knowing the designs wouldn’t wash away.

Finally, when I was 10 years old, I worked up the nerve to ask my mom if I could get a tattoo someday — nothing obscene or vulgar, just a simple ॐ (om) on my right arm. By this time, something about my Indian heritage had begun resonating with me, and I felt like it was my obligation to show that to the world in the form of a tattoo. That, paired with my unfathomable love for the temporary tattoos of my childhood, made my thirst for body art insatiable.

Unfortunately, my pleas didn’t solicit the response I was hoping for from my mom — she laughed at me. I insisted she tell me why she wouldn’t even consider it. I knew she was deliberately trying to ruin my life. My mom, however, had a different approach in educating me. Rather than telling me why she disapproved of me getting a tattoo, she asked me to take the week, think about it and come back to her with a mental list of pros and cons. If the pros outweighed the cons, she wouldn’t be opposed to me inking myself after I turned 18.

After six years of reflection, though, I finally understand why body art is just not worth it.

Body art can be beautiful in its ability to express people’s beliefs and ideals, but it isn’t the only way to go about with self-expression. We are so blessed to have virtually any platform we desire to articulate our thoughts, hopes and dreams. Write a song, paint a picture, do something. We should never in good faith allow a complete stranger, a tattoo artist from God knows where, to have the responsibility of translating our innermost feelings onto our bodies.

We also need to keep in mind the permanent nature of this ink. We’d be naive not to accept that people change. Ideas change. Philosophies change. What we deem worthy enough to brand our bodies with one day could very well be the opposite mindset we carry two years, heck, even two weeks from now. As humans, we are constantly changing, and to force any aspect of our bodies into complete permanency is cruel. I’m not sure how many more times I can bear to see a person in love tattoo their significant other’s name on their arm, only to face a horrible break up the very next day.

Besides the permanency of it all, here’s some food for thought. Eight hours of labor. My mom suffered eight hours to bring me into this world; to bring my mood swings, my picky eating, my bad decisions. I feel like I owe it to my mother to leave this world exactly as I was brought into it. By changing my body, it’s almost like I’m undermining what my parents brought into this world; I know my mom would agree.

I’m not trying to say that tattoos are crimes against humanity. All I’m saying is if you ever find yourself in the waiting room of a tattoo parlor, just remember: each of us is so incomparably beautiful. No tattoo on earth can further enhance that.

Created By
Stuti Upadhyay


Created with images by Yannic Läderach - "el gallo" • Annie Spratt - "untitled image"

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