If you would have shown my 15-year-old self a photo of me now, I wouldn’t have believed that the girl pictured could really be me. It would have been hard to even imagine; I grew up in an open-minded yet somewhat conservative family and knew hardly anyone with a tattoo. Outside of the one biker friend of my Dad’s who had a rose tattooed on his skull, it was all foreign to me and admittedly, a little scary, too. In high school, I dated a few boys who had artwork on their bodies – one with his last name across his back and another with some sort of tribal etching on his bicep. But that was it. I don’t actually even remember ever seeing a heavily tattooed person in my life before I was 18 or 19. On our senior trip to Mexico the summer after graduating high school, I recall getting truly upset at two of my girl friends for going off and getting tattoos in a random shop on a back street in Puerto Vallarta. Not only was I mad that they could have contracted some sort of disease from the unsanitary conditions but I was appalled that they would do “that” to their bodies.
Well. Since then, I’ve done a lot of “that” to my body and now, at 29, I am what some would call heavily tattooed.
I’ve written about this topic in my own blog before and likened being heavily tattooed to wearing a dress that you just can’t take off. You went to the store, loved the dress, bought the dress and guess what? You will wear that dress for the rest of your life. Others will stop and comment on your dress – maybe they love it, maybe they hate it. But because it’s colorful, different from the norm and so out there, they feel that they have the right to discuss it with you, maybe show you their own and sometimes even touch yours. And you still can’t take it off. Ever. And that’s what it’s like to be heavily tattooed. It’s a part of you wherever you go, a conversation piece and what many people see before they really see you.
And now that I’m a Mom, I’ve gotten so many more questions from my friends, family and even complete strangers about my tattoos. What will you do if Henry wants to get one at a young age? Do other Moms judge you? What happens if your son is embarrassed of them?
It’s funny because these are all things I’ve thought about myself. My husband and I have laughed about the fact that Henry will either think we’re super cool or super lame. And that’s okay. I couldn’t imagine having a Mom that had her arms, chest, legs, etc. tattooed but this is all Henry will know. And because he’s surrounded by our tattooed friends and family most of the time, seeing beautiful colors and pictures on peoples’ skin is completely normal and probably more commonplace to him than seeing skin without it.
And because of this, I do wonder how it will affect our son. I hope if my tattoos do affect him at all, they teach him to be accepting of different kinds of people and to never base his opinion on someone’s looks alone. I wish more kids had that lesson growing up – we’d have a lot less adults who are quick to judge solely based on appearance and stereotypes.
Before I was a Mom, I was a high school English teacher in our small, conservative town. Every day I’d cover up my tattoos with work appropriate clothing and most of my colleagues never knew I had them unless they saw me outside of school. I taught there for almost six years and surprisingly, there were some people I never had the chance to see beyond our classroom walls. Then just the other day I actually ended up running into a group of them while out to eat with my family. Some of the women were shocked when my husband, son and I walked up; I was wearing a strapless dress and my chest piece and sleeve were completely visible. Many of them were in disbelief – “You always seemed so sweet! I never would have guessed you had so many tattoos!” and “I had you pegged all wrong- this is truly a surprise! You always seemed like such a sweet girl.” Because I had always seemed so nice (‘sweet’ seemed to be the adjective of choice), it seemed preposterous to them that underneath my pencil skirts, blouses and cardigans lie this seemingly wild and crazy heathen who must be intent on covering every inch of her skin with ink.
I’m used to people giving me weird looks – sometimes they’re just curious but sometimes I get some pretty awful glares – and it was very interesting to me to see how these women reacted. They had already known me for years. They knew that I was a hard worker, friendly and a great teacher. They had based their opinion off what they saw everyday but I was suddenly tossing a wrench into their wheel of impressions. I was throwing them off.
We talked a bit more and as I walked away, I realized that I had done something pretty neat back there at that table. I had broken a stereotype and hopefully taught these women that whatever crazy idea they had in their heads of what a tattooed person is supposed to be like was wrong. Hopefully. To be honest, I’m sure when I left the table most of them didn’t give it a second thought but I’d like to think that maybe just one of them questioned why they had been so shocked in the first place and realized I was still the same person they’d always known, even though I may be a little bit out of the box they had originally placed me in.
And that’s what I hope for my son. I hope he grows up and sees that not everyone can fit into a neat box. That diversity, uniqueness and thinking outside of the norm are all good things. I want to teach him acceptance and tolerance. Compassion and kindness. As time goes by, tattoos will become more common but I know that in the world we live in, there will always be someone quick to judge or make an assumption based on appearance. And that’s okay. So when people ask me what it’s like to be a heavily tattooed Mom or how I think my tattoos will affect my son when he’s older, I still can’t say I know. All I can do is teach him to have an open mind and kind heart and hope he doesn’t think I’m too lame once he’s all grown up.
With all of that said, I’m so curious to hear from you – are you a Mom with tattoos? Or are you someone with tattoos who plans on having kids one day? I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences in the comments below!