Tattoos used to be a lot more controversial than they are now. Fifty years ago, you would rarely, if ever, have seen a suburban mom sporting fresh ink. But with an estimated 36% of Americans between the ages of 18-29 now having at least one tattoo (and the majority of those having more than one), seeing an inked-up Mama is becoming more and more common.
After recently getting my fifth and most visible tattoo, I started thinking about how my reasons for getting them have changed since my first design nine years ago. When I was newly 18, getting a tattoo was a way to take ownership of my own body, to be a little bit rebellious, and to feel like I was doing something a bit edgy. You guys; my version of “edgy” was a hip tattoo that says, “Faith, Hope, Love” in Spanish. Complete with a butterfly. I know, right? What a rebel.
My second tattoo was an eagle on my foot when I was 19. I wanted a friend I had at the time to design one for me, and I chose my foot because I felt like having something I could choose to show off a bit more than a hip tattoo. Plus someone told me it hurt the most to get one on your foot, so I took that as a challenge. I was pretty determined to prove I could handle pain. I think I thought it would make me cooler.
By the time I was 21 and freshly married, I was confident enough in my skin that I didn’t feel the need to prove my (non-existent) edginess anymore, and I just really liked having tattoos. I got a map of the world on my upper back, and let me tell you…if you don’t want strangers to ask to pull your shirt down in back to see your whole tattoo, don’t get one that just peeks over the back of your shirt. Also, don’t forget Hawaii. People get upset.
My fourth tattoo was my 25th birthday present. A bouquet of flowers on my shoulder. That was the first tattoo after I was a mom, and by that time I pretty much didn’t care if anyone but me liked my tattoos or not. Childbirth and motherhood tends to make you care less what other people think, I’ve discovered. I incorporated my son into that tattoo with a very tiny nod to the meaning of his name. At my most recent session for my fifth tattoo, I asked to sneak in a similar nod to my daughter’s name into the flowers.
Which brings me to the realization I had while getting my fifth design last week. My sisters and I are all getting different versions of trees, as a way to have a sister tattoo that isn’t too matchy-matchy (we are all way too different to come up with a design we would all love). I love my tree. It’s beautiful, feminine, and I know that I’ll love it for a very long time. Which is good, because…permanent. I realized how far I’ve come in how I view myself and my body.
I’m in a really good place with my body right now. I’m not trying to use it to prove anything. I’m not trying to impress anyone with it. I’m not trying to use ink to distract from the parts of myself that aren’t conventionally “perfect.” I just like pretty designs. And I feel confident enough in myself that I feel immense freedom to just play. Tattoos are fun, I enjoy them, and that’s really all that matters at this point.
I love having reminders with me all the time of how I have grown and changed over the years. And I love seeing how having kids has brought me into such a comfortable relationship with my body. It’s done some pretty amazing things. I birthed one baby via cesarean, and one baby at home. I grew them both and they stretched my belly and made it soft and squishy. I’ve nursed them for over three years at this point, collectively. My chest definitely isn’t what is was when I got that first “rebellious” tattoo. And yet, I feel so free to love myself now.
So if you’ve been questioning your motive for getting your first tattoo–or your tenth–know that whatever the reason, your body is amazing and you can decorate it any way you please. It’s yours, and it’s beautiful, and you don’t need a “good” reason to do what you want with it. And if you need artist recommendations, I’m happy to hook you up with my tattoo guy. I’m edgy like that.