Of Tattoos, Life Stories, and Judgment

A few weeks ago I read a disturbing post that really pissed me off. As per my new practice of not ranting right away and instead allowing my temper to cool before snapping to action, I decided to merely write a response to this post rather than start throwing things across the room.

The post in question was an article on a personal website that absolutely slammed people who chose to get tattoos. It’s been a while since I read it but let me tell you, it really touched a nerve. Think phrases along the lines of “destroying your skin” and “insulting everyone around you” and “the human body is a temple – don’t abuse it”. That sort of thing.

So first of all, in response to this particular post (and also in response to people who always ask me curiously), I would like to bore you all for a few paragraphs by talking about my tattoos. Yes, I have two of them. Prepare yourselves as I defend them to the death.

I have lots of favorite movies, but the one that has the most personal, most immense meaning to me and everything I am is the Dreamworks animation called Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron. First and foremost, the score is by far the most beautiful music I have ever heard and continues to be my favorite soundtrack of all time (I love you, Hans Zimmer). Secondly, the plot is absolutely incredible for an animated film. The story is of a wild mustang called “Spirit” that is captured by humans and brutally taken away from his homeland. As he desperately battles to get back home, he fights a number of obstacles and through it all, tries to find the strength to live up to his name. Throughout his fight he encounters many people who try to tame him and attempt to break his will to be free, but ultimately he is able to return to his homeland, proving to everyone that some spirits can never be broken.

I saw the movie when I was eleven. Little did I know that the movie I fell in love with was about to become the story of my life.

Now, the complete story of my life up to now is a long, complicated, dark, wonderful, triumphant one, and one I could potentially write an entire book about. But I would not dare to presume that people would actually sit down and read that sort of thing, which is why, for the sake of defending my tattoos, I’ll give you the mega short version of the tale.

I was born and raised in the desert, in Cave Creek, Arizona. This place is as much a part of me as my lungs are, but that is another post for another day. My parents split up when I was ten and my mom was married to my now ex-step dad by the time I was twelve. By twelve and a half, my step-dad had received a job offer in California, and we moved from everything I had ever known to a gross little town called Discovery Bay, an hour or so from San Francisco. (Due to its overall bleakness, we all called the town “Disgusting” Bay.) We moved from Discovery Bay to Danville to San Ramon (other cities in the Bay Area) over the course of just over two years. The summer before I turned fifteen, we moved to Bradenton, Florida. We were there for six months – the worst six months of my life – before we finally, finally, finally came back home to the desert, the one place I wanted to be more than anywhere in the world.

I’ll omit many details here and only say that I would spend the next three years of my life fighting mental and emotional demons due to various events that occurred during my time out of state. In other words, I fought obstacles to be at peace with myself and to truly appreciate the land where I grew up. Today, I am home in my desert, happy, content, and loving my life.

As I started to recover from my depression, I began to seriously think about tattoos and what I would want to get should I choose to get one. By eighteen, I knew exactly what I wanted to be with me always, and would spend the next eight or nine months solidifying my decision.

And so . . . the Chinese symbol on my right shoulder blade is the symbol for “spirit” (I searched for months for the right one that would mean “inner strength” as opposed to God or ghosts or whatever). I received this one in July 2010, a few months before I turned nineteen. The running horse on my left ankle is the exact silhouette on the cover of Spirit’s official poster and soundtrack cover. This one I got a month or so after my twentieth birthday after a year of contemplation.

They are both reminders to me that no matter what, my spirit is strong and I can never be broken, silenced, defeated. No matter what I face in my life, these tattoos remind me that I was born a fighter and that in the end, as long as I keep my strength up, everything will be okay.

With the personal meanings of my tattoos fresh in your mind, reader, let me get back to the subject of tattoos in general and the offensive post to which I am responding.

Those of you who know me (or at least see my facebook posts) know that I am a hardcore activist for personal choice. I believe in freedom of religion,  freedom of speech, freedom to make life decisions based upon the truths that reside in each individual. I am probably the most pro-choice and pro-gay rights person you will ever meet. I may not agree with certain life decisions or personal preferences may not be my particular cup of tea, but damn it, I support them. That is our duty our great Mother Earth set unto us. To love and support one another no matter what.

What a person does with their body is none of your business. (“You” is spoken in general terms, here.) If someone wants to get a tattoo that is of great personal meaning to them, how exactly does that affect you directly? What exactly is your problem when it comes to people deciding to get a design or a quote or a picture inked on their skin? You don’t have to agree with our decisions, but you certainly don’t have the right to condemn them. So how about this: you decide what you want to do for you, and the rest of us will decide what we want to do for us. It’s that simple. We’ll regret those tattoos, you say? We’ll never find jobs, you say? We’ll break our family’s heart, you say? Well, you’re wrong. And even if you’re not, it’s not up to you to tell us how to run our lives.

I love my tattoos because they are my battle scars, and I know I’m not the only one who feels that way. They remind me every day of the ordeals I have survived and that if I must go through anything horrific ever again, I can handle it. I don’t regret getting them. In fact, I love them more with each passing day.

I have friends all across the board who are straight, gay, strict Christians, Muslims, atheists, pro-life, pro-choice, whatever. You name it, I know one of them. And you know something? We all get along fine. Those individuals and I get along just fine because we accept one another. And that is exactly what needs to happen here. Whether you like tattoos or not, you must accept the fact that people have them and are proud of them, including me. Do not dare to slam us for our choices, and we will not dare to slam you for yours.

And as for that saying “The human body is a temple…” Well, you know what? I agree. The human body is a temple, and I chose to decorate mine.

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