Body art has a deep ancient history with humans. Lots of cultures used body art as a way to convey messages and meanings of human experiences and expression. I have always had a love for body art, in the form of tattoos and piercings. I always believed that body art was a form of self expression and celebration of a story or meaning that one wants to create an artifact of.
The Stigma Associated with Body Art
Despite its popularity in today’s culture, body art is still stigmatized in modern day society. There’s a prejudice that people with tattoos are unprofessional, irresponsible, a drug abuser, someone who has trouble with the law, or might carry have socially undesirable characteristics. The stereotype is such bullshit and it’s definitely one I’ve encountered several times in my lifetime.
My experience with judgement
I experienced this judgement from everyone around me. My parents and my family members judged my tattoos. This I expected because I am first generation Filipino-American and our different upbringings already created a difference in a number of perspectives in how we choose to live life. What I didn’t anticipate and what was harder to comprehend was the judgement other women especially older mothers who came from different generations or cultures. Maybe I had this expectation that motherhood was already hard enough and somehow we could find some commonality in that struggle.
By the time I was 26 both of my arms were fully covered by 3/4s sleeve tattoos. I was about to take on a full time Director role at a start up company, I was a highly accomplished hairstylist, and was also about 3 years into running a business with my partner Jonathan. Despite all of those successes, the stereotype and judgement that was imposed on me because of my tattoos were still things I needed to dodge.
One of the stories I needed to constantly reinforce within myself was that I was an incredible mom, despite the judgements from other parents or people that I got because of my tattoos. I was different and being different was both my superpower and kryptonite. I wanted acceptance and belonging, but most importantly I just wanted to be seen for my characteristics and not judged by my outside appearance.
The Stories My Tattoos Tell
I got my first tattoo at 16. It was a tramp stamp. Back in the 90s and early 2000s getting a lower back tattoo was all the rage. Although it gained a terrible reputation claiming that women who got a tattoo on their lower back was slutty, I got it there because it was the one place I thought I could hide a tattoo that I really wanted at that time from my parents.
At 16 I wanted to find a way to celebrate this second chance of life that I had gotten. It had a been a year after my suicide attempt and I wanted to find a way to express this moment in my life with permanence. At the time my obsession for Egyptian culture had began. Erykah Badu was one of my favorite musicians and her songs soothed a lot of the pain I had experienced in my upbringing from sexual, physical, and emotional abuse.
The story behind tattoo #1. The ankh is an ancient Egyptian hieroglyphic symbol and represents the word life. I was on this journey of overcoming some of the trauma of my suicide attempt and I felt I had been given a second chance at life. The sun around the ankh for me represented the largest source of life giving energy available to the world. I once read that it was a symbol of the universe coming together and agreeing with your path and aiding forward movement into something greater.
I knew that I was given a second chance for a reason, it was just up to me to discover why.
My left sleeve tells the story of new beginnings. I decided on my left sleeve at the age of 19. It was such a bold move for a 2nd tattoo, a bold move for any tattoo really. I knew that I wanted a 3/4 sleeve to document pieces of my story that I was closing the chapters to. I had just moved out of my parents house for the first time. I was just finishing cosmetology school, which was a battle to convince my parents that I was pursuing my passion instead of becoming a nurse (hello Filipino daughter expectations), and I had fallen in love and for the first time I felt safe enough to allow people in to my own love. I wanted an archive of these chapters and I wanted to do that in the form of body art.
A 3/4 sleeve was the most ideal length of a tattoo sleeve in my opinion. It was large enough for the artist to fully express the story I wanted to tell. The length also gave me the room I needed to wear a long sleeve that was rolled up and still be covered in the event I find myself in a professional environment that wasn’t as open or accepting to body art culture. Thankfully, living in Silicon Valley the mindsets are a little more open, but you still never really know what people are truly thinking.
For my first sleeve I wanted something that looked delicate, but not to the point where it was overly feminine. I loved the idea of getting water or waves tattooed on me because water is one of those elements that cleanses my energy. It grounds me and centers me when my emotions are feeling chaotic. In some way I wanted to be close to water and what better way than to tattoo it on my body.
Lotus flowers are a symbol of rebirth. The flower itself blooms in some of the most unlikely of places. The roots of this flower are based in mud and submerges daily into murky water. Not only does it find sanctuary in the muck, but due to the waxy protection layer on its petals, its beauty is blithely unaffected when it re-blooms each morning. The lotus flower resurrects itself daily through the mud and unclear waters, which reminds me to do the same daily.
My left sleeve also includes the constellation of a scorpio because that is the astrological sign I resonate with the most despite being a Scorpio/Sagittarius cusp.
On my upper left shoulder I have the sun and the moon. The sun and the moon have so much meaning to me. I mean I got a sun tattooed on my body twice and both on my back. As I mentioned the sun is a representation of life force, an unconditionally giving form of energy that constantly nourishes and regenerates life. The moon in this particular tattoo represents the light and life that guides us through the darkness. Without the moon, we can’t appreciate the glory of the sun and vice versa. The sun and moon also represents day and night, which to me is a reminder of balance or what I love to refer to as harmony.
My left arm also goes from water to the night sky representing that same sort of message of coexistence. It’s also a reminder of love and true partnerships. Like the sun and moon, both have different roles for sustaining the earth. They each have unique talents and purposes in life, but together they are able to provide light to all sorts of different creatures and I think that’s pretty damn awesome. The moon is always there— waiting, evolving, and a constant in the night sky.
I’ve decided to create this as a series because as I started writing this post I had realized that each of my sleeves have such an incredibly deep meaning and story behind them.
I hope you enjoyed this post, stay tuned for the next one.