Life moves fast. The best moments are fleeting.
We spend months and years working towards something that’s over in a minute. People leave. People get lost. People change. Places change. The world moves on. Everything that feels concrete and real and solid now will seem meaningless in a short time.
Much of what we believe today will seem idiotic one day. In a decade, you probably won’t know many of the people you know now, or care about many of the same things, or have the same dreams.
Life moves fast. That’s why I get tattoos.
Because they’re permanent. Because so few others things are. Because I see myself, even in the hours after the inking is done, sprinting away from the person I was when I walked into the studio. Because I know that before long I will look back on my current self as a bumbling idiot who knew nothing (which is true and will always be true.)
Tattoos are a note to your future self. Hey, don’t forget about current me. You can change your life, you can cut your hair, you can move away, you can lose your current friends or switch your job — but a reminder of who you were at this point will remain on your skin for good. You won’t be able to outrun me or deny I ever existed. I’ll cling on. To my future self, I leave them as a map for when I need to find my way back.
Regret is the lazy option. Acceptance takes work.
So many of us believe we have the power to change anything: to change ourselves, to change the world, to change the people who love, to change how things work. Tattoos teach us that some things are to be lived with, not to be twisted.
Tattoos are a way of expressing strong emotions. It takes a lot of heart to love something so much you want it inked on your skin for good. I happen to be someone who feels things intensely, and they’re an outlet for that. To love a song so much you want it permanently written on your skin, as I have, takes a lot.
Tattoos are an excellent filter for assholes. If someone thinks it’s okay to criticise your body or tell you to change it, if someone thinks you should bend to their whims, if an employer thinks your physical appearance supersedes your competence or ability to do your damn job, it’s a massive red flag.
Tattoos are an attempt to capture a moment in time, to preserve it in amber, to convey something intangible in a tangible form.
They are an emotional scratch and sniff — you look at the old ones and smell a faint whiff of something distant.
Tattoos are a way of grasping at memories with the reckless naivety of a kid who thinks things will never change.
I hate forgetting. I hate looking back and realising I’ve lost someone’s name, or the details of their face, or exactly what happened on a day that felt magical.
As a teenager, one line from Prom Theme by Fountains of Wayne was an obsession: “…And soon we’ll say goodbye /Then we’ll work until we die.”
I’d look at my friends and think: one day we’ll say goodbye forever, go off into the world and that will be that. Compulsively, I recorded every detail of times spent together in the hopes of holding onto it. But of course, I have forgotten so much of it despite my best efforts.
Tattoos have helped me to remap my own body and, inch by inch, to start turning it into something that feels like it belongs to me. By sketching out what I love on my skin, I’ve chipped away at half a lifetime of self-loathing,dysmorphia and alienation.
I got my largest one — a crow wreathed in flowers and smoke splashed across my leg — at a time when I’d lost any sense of ownership of my own body, when I’d spent too long throwing myself at anything destructive.
I’d grown numb. Those five hours of needles helped wake me up and reconnect me. When I look at it now, I see a piece of art and feel privileged to have that as part of me.
And there’s the thing. People who don’t have tattoos look at you and see something extraneous, a layer added to your skin. But people who do see them as 100% part of themselves, as much as moles, scars, stretch marks, the myriad marks of life.
When I was 15, I made my first bit of money on the internet and promptly spent it on a small bottle of black tattoo ink.
When it arrived, I taped a needle to a pencil, sterilised it(so to speak) with a lighter flame, and spent hours and hours over the next few days painstakingly stabbing a pair of eyes into my leg.
It was slow. It hurt, although that didn’t bother me. The resulting set of eyes did not fade away as I expected. They’re still there, crooked and half gone, little flecks of black in my skin.
They’re hideous. I love them. I love them because I remember how I wanted that for so long. And it doesn’t make sense, how desperately I wanted a pair of eyes marked in my skin. I used to draw them on every day. But I did, then I did it, and on the rare occasions I notice they’re there, it makes me smile and remember who I was at 15.
By the time I was old enough to get them legally, I’d amassed a small collection of faded stick and pokes, most of them no longer visible. Look closely and you can spot a semi-colon on my ankle, a faint few dots scattered around my hands, and the rest are gone.
Over the last two years, I’ve collected about 14 in total. I’m not heavily tattooed by any means (yet), but it’s enough for it to be Kind of My Thing. It’s enough that there’s not really any going back. Enough that it’s near impossible to hide them all. Enough that I just keep going because I no longer have any qualms about it. Not that there was ever any question that I’d get a lot — I knew from a young age that I wanted to document my life on my skin.
Yes, they do have meaning (although some lean towards the aesthetic side.) Most are intensely personal and carry a lot of meaning, for me. But I don’t like having to explain it, because they’re there for me. Those are just images, just pictures, but they're all there for a reason.