Before I started the sleeve on my left arm, I had no idea that hipsters would begin quizzing me on just how much I knew about my favorite things.
Half of my arm is covered by a brightly colored, Neo Traditional-style Medusa. It was a choice that I made when striving to be beautiful in the way that I felt the Metropolitan Museum of Art was beautiful. It never occurred to me that I’d be opening myself up to strange comments, criticisms, and discussions.
Do you even know the story of Medusa? I bet you just thought it looked cool. Yep, you caught me. I’m a chesty blonde so I’ve obviously never picked up a book in my life!
One time, I was in a Starbucks and a man who looked to be in his fifties grabbed my arm and started asking me about my tattoo. When I would go to bars with my friends, girls would flock to me and begin swooning over the arm, apparently not registering how odd it was to start touching strangers.
Once this kind of casual touching started, I started wearing sweaters and blazers year-round unless being accompanied by my boyfriend. As charming as it was to see grown women clutch their pearls after taking a look at me, it just wasn’t worth it.
You do realize you’re never going to get a job looking like that, don’t you? Other than the fact that I look elegantly fearless in the flowing sweaters, tunics, and shawls of a divorcee in a romantic comedy, I knew it wasn’t very professional to show a lot of skin in a work environment, anyway. I remembered one day in high school when I noticed my favorite teacher, Mr. W., with a faint outline of darkness showing through the arm of his dress shirt.
“Is that a tattoo?” I asked.
“And they still let you be a teacher?”
“Do you ever see me wearing anything other than long sleeves?”
I hadn’t even thought about it until then. Even on the school trip to Six Flags after a band competition, Mr. W. still wore long sleeves despite the temperature being over 80 degrees. It looked a little bit uncomfortable, but it didn’t seem terribly difficult.
That’s just horrible, my mother insisted when she saw the flying pig on my arm.
My specific flying pig was the symbol that John Steinbeck stamped all of his letters with. ‘Pigasus’. He’s too fat to fly but he never stops trying. There was beauty in the meaning and beauty in the sketch of the pig itself — why wouldn’t I want it to be on me forever? If my belief that I should aspire to grow and learn until the moment I die was one I planned on being permanent, what was wrong with its permanence on my skin?
Perhaps the flying pig was a bit idealistic. But why should I have to keep answering everyone for the way I look? Maybe I was naive in thinking that the symbols on my body were so personal that I could never appear cliché.
Regardless of any of that, I love my tattoos just as much as when I started getting them. The little ones around my ankles and collarbone are nice, but the real magic for me began once I let a very talented artist go to town on my arm. It’s been two years, and there’s still appeal in carefully moisturizing and exfoliating the area to bring out the pops of color. It is still a daily ritual that I love performing. It also brings me great pleasure to find clothing that matches the color palette of my arm and to embrace my ink without worrying about what other people assume or believe about it.
It just looks trashy, my mother says. Like a tramp.
In the words of Dolly Parton: