In April of 2005, two months after my 18th birthday, I walked into a tattoo parlor in central Italy armed with 80 Euros and a sketch drawn on lined notebook paper. This was a remarkably lonely time for me — I was living as an exchange student in a country where I barely spoke the language, staying in a town where pro-fascist sentiments were common and encouraged, and had been placed into a class of eleven girls who had been going to school together since they were twelve and already had hard-formed relationships that felt impossible to break into. The experience changed me and I wanted to solidify it with something big, which, at the time, meant getting a ridiculous lower back tattoo. Furthermore, I had recently read a single chapter from the Dalai Lama's How to Practice: The Way to a Meaningful Life—something that I felt fully qualified me as a practicing Buddhist with a deep understanding of the philosophy's symbols. And this is how I ended up with a lotus flower tramp stamp.
Things went badly from the get-go. Thanks to a miscommunication with the tattoo artist, I ended up with some coloration that I didn't ask for, but because I was stuck with it, I forced myself into thinking that I loved it for as long as I could. This lasted about two years, probably until around the time that "tramp stamp" entered the American lexicon. Now, not only did I have a tattoo that I didn't even like, I had a tattoo that made me an open target for judgement. Having a lower back tattoo suddenly meant that you were trashy, that you had poorly done highlights, that your greatest ambition was to fuck a Real World cast member on camera (this is my greatest ambition, but for entirely different reasons). A bigger person would shrug this off and not give a shit what anybody thinks about their body, but I am not that person. I cared. I still care. I really hate this stupid tattoo.
There's an article making its rounds on the web right now regarding what it means for women to have tattoos. In the piece, titled Why Put a Bumper Sticker on a Ferrari, author Lisa Khoury writes:
What's more attractive than a girl with a nice body? I'll tell you what: a girl with class. Looks may not last, but class does. And so do tattoos. An elegant woman does not vandalize the temple she has been blessed with as her body. She appreciates it.
I would never tell a woman that she shouldn't get a tattoo or that her tattoos detract from her character and beauty. There are plenty of women who prove this wrong, from Angelina Jolie to my hairdresser who, with tattoos covering her arms and chest, is one of the prettiest and classiest people I've ever met.
Everyone has a right to decorate their bodies as they please (even this lady). There are beautiful tattoos out there— I have even thought about getting a tattoo since regretting my first, but I have to say that I'm glad I haven't done it. Every idea I've had seems stupid a year later (at 19: "Dandelions!", at 21: "Cat Power lyrics!", now: "Elaine Stritch's face over my face!"). And think of all of those celebrity tattoo removal stories. Johnny Depp and Winona Rider break up and suddenly "Winona Forever" becomes "Wino Forever." Eva Longoria gets a divorce and all of her skin-inked tributes to her ex-husband disappear. Megan Fox realizes that her Marilyn Monroe tattoo is god-awful and she has it removed. What does this mean overall? Nothing, I suppose. People are fickle.
What this means for me personally, however, is that I can never wear a swimsuit without some friend with the best intentions making a dumb "bullseye" joke. It means that I can never have my body just be my body anymore. It means that I can never travel back in time and live undercover without being accused of being a witch. It means that I should probably suck it up and get over it. At its worst, it's a tattoo that I rarely see. At its best, it's my ticket onto the next season of Rock of Love.