Etched on the Skin: Tattoos and Women’s Bodies

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by Briana Lerner, Lifestyle Staff Writer

Photographed by Marissa Haegele

The increasing popularity of tattoos has revoked their taboo status. In fact, according to The Harris Poll, 47 percent of millennials admit to having a tattoo, compared to 13 percent of Baby Boomers.

Tattoos are personal and individual artworks permanently etched onto the skin, serving as a meaningful reminder for a person’s entire life that express intimate details or memories. They are a physical representation of what the owner holds in their heart. Below are the stories of four millennial women whose tattoos have unique personal meaning to each of them.

Leah Voskuil, 21

“On the morning of getting my first tattoo, my mom told me that she would be very upset if I “did what she thought I was going to do” that day. I did it anyway.”

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On the meaning of…

Her wrist tattoo:

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“I had always felt this close connection to water. When I was younger it was the only thing that would calm me down… I had this moment where I realized that anything I did would be incredibly insignificant, because I was just one drop of water in a sea of people. There I was… fully understanding for the first time that there’s so much more outside of my head. Then, I realized that even though anything I do in life will be relatively insignificant, it is still important…because each drop of water mattered to make the ocean the size that it is. It was this strange moment where I simultaneously understood life in the micro and macro sense.”

Her rib tattoo:

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“I got to thinking about what “home” actually meant to me. I realized that it is more of a feeling and sense of belonging, a place where I can unapologetically do and be whatever and whomever I want on my own terms. So fast-forward, I texted my little brother… and asked him to take a photo of the front of our house. You see, my parents designed and built our home. I’ve never seen a home similar to ours. I loved it. Always have, always will. I took the photo that my little brother sent me and went to my favorite neighborhood in Chicago. I asked for a female tattoo artist (this was when I really started getting into women’s health and women’s rights for the first time, finding my advocacy voice and whatnot), and I got my tattoo that day. Now, whenever I feel out of place, I remember that I am my own home. No one can make me feel like a don’t belong or that my opinion doesn’t matter, because it does. All of ours do.”

On how her tattoos affects her self-image:

“My tattoos are my favorite parts of my body. I chose their placement, drew their designs; they directly reflect my creativity and sense of self. I love them which makes me like my body a little bit more every time I see them.”

Theresa Kapsy, 20

“I love body art. I think that all art put on bodies makes your body beautiful, especially if the art means something to you.”

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Her tattoo:

This too shall pass”

On her tattoo’s meaning:

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“My tattoo means a lot to me. It’s a constant reminder that if something bad is happening in my life or I’m having a tough time with something, that it won’t be that way forever. That tough time will eventually pass and there will be a better future. It pushes me through daily life and tells me that things happen, and even if I can’t change them right away, they aren’t [permanent].”

On how her tattoo affects her self-image:

Having tattoos makes me more confident. The artwork is something that I’m proud of and I love looking at. I love showing my tattoos off and I think they are something that makes my body different from others and unique.

On society’s opinions on tattoos:

They are definitely changing, and I love it. Society shouldn’t look down on artwork. Having tattoos doesn’t make you a bad person, because art on your body doesn’t define who you are. If anything, having tattoos makes you a stronger person, because you have to go through the pain of getting a tattoo. Society should think about that instead.

Briana Lerner, 19

“Everyone has a story to tell, and some just literally wear theirs for the world to see, which is incredibly vulnerable.”

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Her tattoo:

Soror mea, amica mea”

On her tattoo’s meaning:

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“Written in Latin, my tattoo means “my sister, my friend”. It’s a matching tattoo with my older sister, Julia that we got together this past spring. My sister is my only sibling, and we are incredibly close. I love her to death and she’s one of my favorite people. We’ve been planning a matching tattoo since I was 15, and whenever I see it I am reminded of our sisterly love for each other.

I’ve come to realize that this quote not only applies to my friendship with my sister, but also my sisterhood with my friends. I value female friendships and hold them dear to my heart. I think myself to be a fiercely loyal friend and am so grateful for the women in my life.”

On how her tattoo affects her self-image:

Honestly, sometimes I forget that I even have a tattoo and I’ll suddenly catch a glimpse of it in the mirror and be reminded of how much I love it. It feels like an extra way to decorate my body, and all the different ways it can be celebrated and considered beautiful. The tattoo in and of itself is beautiful, but the circular relationship between its aesthetics, meaning, and how it makes me feel is what makes it truly beautiful.

I also love that it helped me gain a sense of control over my body. This is my body, and I can choose how I decide to decorate it, regardless of what others think.”

Darby Hoffman, 20

“I believe having a tattoo adds an element of complexity to a person”

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Her tattoo:

An image of a small, abstract dove

On her tattoo’s meaning:

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“I specifically decided to get the dove, because they mate for life. This tattoo started as a promise to myself, to ensure the success and health of my future relationship. As I’ve grown, however, I’ve adapted the image to symbolize peace and social justice, ideals that I’m very passionate about. I think that being able to adjust your interpretation of a tattoo with time and personal development is super important.”

On society’s opinions on tattoos:

“It’s just ridiculous that in 2016, we still think we know a person because of their looks. Tattoos do not keep a person from being an intelligent, capable, or professional, nor do they do not make a person a sex-crazed party animal. People are people, and society just needs to get over the fact that they can’t generalize everyone.”

On whether she’s ever regretted her tattoos:

“Never. Never. Never. Never.”

Getting inked is a serious decision, but these women made the decision based on their personal beliefs. The stories, beliefs, attitudes and relationships that tattoos can reveal about a person demonstrate the importance of expressing yourself. Sometimes ideas are just so incredibly powerful to a person that the best way to convey it is to wear it on the self at all times. Overall, tattoos are a decision that should be up to the individual, and asking someone about their tattoo may lead to them divulging personal aspects of their life.

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