Good Girls Get Tattoos, Too!
If you were to look at me, you'd probably never guess that I have a tattoo. You almost certainly wouldn't expect me to have 4! Most people are surprised to see one peeking out from underneath the strap of a sandal or out of the waistband of my pants, but just because I look like the good girl next door, doesn't mean that I don't like and appreciate the skill and artistry that goes into tattoos. And it doesn't make me a bad person!
I got my first tattoo a couple months after I turned 18 during my freshman year of college. It was done on a whim, not anything I'd really considered seriously. Definitely not the best way of going about getting a tattoo.
A high school friend was visiting me in college and I was taken aback at the tattoo she'd gotten on her ankle/calf since the last time I saw her. It was a fairly large-sized blue teddy bear holding a baseball bat. (She played softball in high school.) I was immediately envious that she'd had the guts to go and get a tattoo, and made up my mind that I wanted to get one, too!
I wasn't sure how we found the place, but several of my friends and I went to a movie and then found our way to a tattoo shop called Artistic Armor. I spent awhile looking at the flash designs on the wall, then finally decided on an ankh shape on the wall. It's a symbol of eternal life. I thought it would be a way to symbolize my grandmother who had passed away when I was a kid, because even though she's gone, I'll always remember her. It's also the symbol of femininity. And I believe it's also the symbol for the planet Venus, which, if you're into all that astrology stuff, is my ruling planet. I was a big doodler and remembered having doodled ankhs in class, but changing the loop at the top into a heart. I asked the guy if he could scrap the reddish sunburst in the background of the flash design and change the ankh into my heart design. No problem. I asked how much it would cost and he told me about $50. Being a poor college student, I told him all I had was $30. Surprisingly, he said that was fine.
After placing the stencil, he sat me down in the chair and I kind of reclined on my side. While he was setting up his tools, I was studying the guy and trying to take my mind off the impending pain I would feel. What was I thinking? I HATE needles! He was a scary-looking badass type of dude that looked like he wouldn't put up with sissies. Every visible part of his skin was covered with tattoos - including most of his skull. Timidly, I asked him if it would hurt. His response:
"If you cry, I'll make it hurt worse."
All right, then. I sat in the chair, staring wide-eyed at my friends, as the tattoo gun started up and he started the outline of my tattoo. And... it wasn't so bad. What a relief! And, in about 5 minutes, it was done. I couldn't believe how fast he was.
He Scotch-taped a folded-over paper towel to my leg and I was all set. I didn't think to ask for any after-care instructions or how to take care of it. It didn't really scab or anything, and the tattoo still looks ok to this day!
Telling my mom was more painful than getting the tattoo itself. My parents are very cool, so I didn't think my mom would have a problem with it. My dad had a little cross-shaped tattoo that his friends gave themselves when they were, like, twelve. I figured my parents would be accepting of my new piece of body art.
Wrong. Mom smacked me upside the head and said, "That better not be real. And you better not show your dad." Then she immediately called my brother for advice and started researching laser tattoo removal. I didn't know what the big deal was, and my mom was mad about the tattoo for YEARS, even though I was smugly accepting the fact that there was nothing I could do about it now. After all, they are permanent.
For the next few years, I heeded my mom's warning and didn't show my dad. I spent summers in jeans and if I wore shorts, I always wore socks to cover up my tattoo. Or else I put a band-aid over it and faked a recurring shaving accident.
When I was 22, and about to get married, my dad decided to get his childhood cross tattoo covered up. He let my mom pick the design - a naked fairy girl holding up the moon. When he showed me his tattoo, I pulled off my sock and showed him mine. He asked when I got it and I told him... "1998." We laugh about it now, but it's probably his least favorite of my tattoos, probably 'cause he was in the dark about it for so long.
In 2006 or so, a friend of mine had started getting all these really interesting, detailed tattoos at a new shop here in town. I loved the work he was getting done and started getting the itch. To commemorate my 27th birthday, I wanted to get another tattoo.
I wanted to get a tattoo with some meaning, but wanted my tattoo to encompass all the people that meant a lot to me. After looking on the internet and coming up with some doodles of my own, it dawned on me... My name starts with J. My dad's name starts with J. My mom, my brother, my grandma, my husband - all their middle names started with J. I found a manuscript-cursive J that I liked, and a swirly scrollwork heart. I wanted the J to be in the middle of the heart, like it was a part of it, and tried my best to copy and trace the sort of design I wanted.
I took my weak attempts at artwork to Matt Norris, at Webber Street Studios, and he sketched up a design while I waited. It was exactly what I wanted, only prettier than I had imagined! Just delicate, swirly black lines. I made an appointment to go back a few days later on my birthday.
While I sat in the lobby of the tattoo studio with my friend, we listened (rather uncomfortably) to a girl screaming and cursing in the front room. I was beginning to doubt my comfort level with the idea of getting another tattoo. I'd heard some people say the ankle was one of the most painful places to get a tattoo, but I didn't think it was so bad. I'd heard people say that thin-skinned places where the tattoo goes over bone is really bad. I kind of figured that it's different for everybody, and that it's probably different for every body part. I was planning to get my tattoo below my neck, on the center of my upper back. I was beginning to get really nervous, when I heard the wailing girl in the other room was getting a lower back tattoo. I hoped the upper back wasn't as painful as the lower back!
When it was finally my turn, Matt had me sit on the chair and hunch over. He placed the stencil and I checked it out and gave my approval. I sat hunched over on the chair for about half an hour while Matt went to work. It didn't hurt, but like my first tattoo, there were some parts that just felt - itchy! The freakiest part was when he would go over certain spots in my neck/spine and my shoulder would just twitch all by itself. I was trying my best to sit still, knowing that he was going to be drawing some fine lines, but I couldn't help my random shoulder twitches.
I really like this tattoo, because it looks great when I wear a shirt with an open back. It's simple, girly, and meaningful. And my dad likes this one.
They say once you get your first tattoo, you're addicted. I'm not sure when I decided I wanted a star tattoo, but I knew I wanted one. And I was starting to really like the thought of getting a tattoo on the top of my foot. So in the summer of 2007, when my husband was planning his first tattoo (a Japanese kanji script tattoo on his bicep) I went to visit Matt with him and asked him for another tattoo on the top of my foot.
I debated for a long time over colored stars or black. I looked on the internet and saw several different types of star tattoos, even star tattoos on the feet. In the end, I couldn't make up my mind what colors I wanted, so I decided on black. I couldn't decided if I wanted all black or just outlines, so I had Matt tattoo four small stars across the top of my foot, that vary in shading from black to gray, to a lighter gray, to just the outline of a star. They're almost completely covered by flip-flop straps, but the last star peeks out just a bit.
This is probably the tattoo I get asked the most about, because it's in such an odd place. No, it didn't hurt. As a matter of fact, as I sat with my knee up and my foot on the edge of the table, I couldn't keep from giggling. My feet are extremely ticklish and the vibrations from the gun as Matt rested his wrist on my toes probably numbed any pain I would've felt. Who knows? It didn't really bother me, though.
For awhile, my mom was tossing around the possibility of getting a tattoo. I kept trying to get her to get a tattoo on the top of her foot like me, but she wouldn't go for it. Eventually, she ended up getting a tattoo of a rose... On the top of the inside of her ear. My mom gave me a hard time for getting my first tattoo and then she goes and gets her first tattoo in some crazy spot like the top of her ear! Even the guy that did her tattoo said she was pretty badass!
I really liked my star tattoos, but was beginning to want some color. The only color tattoo I had was my ankh, and it was just blue. After watching shows like Miami Ink and seeing all the beautiful colored tattoos that people were getting, I knew I had to get something with color.
After lots of internet research, I decided that I really liked the old-school swallow tattoos. Supposedly they started out as ways for sailors to commemorate their travels. Some people get swallow tattoos to show their fidelity to their friends and family, because swallows always return to the same place. And, I guess some people get swallow or bird tattoos to show they've done time in prison. So many different meanings for one tattoo!
Honestly, I wanted a swallow tattoo just because I liked it. No other reason than that. It doesn't symbolize anything or mean anything. I just thought it would be pretty. I asked Matt to draw me up a swallow tattoo with some flowers, and I first saw my design when I went to get the tattoo. I loved it! Matt is a great artist - he always knows how to take your ideas and make them into a beautiful, one-of-a-kind piece of art.
I was hoping, because I was getting this tattoo on my lower back/right hip, that I could just lay down in the chair and stretch out for the estimated 2-3 hours of tattoo time, my longest tattoo ever! But, no, Matt instructed me to hunch over, much like I did for my upper back tattoo. I also had to yank my pants down so that my butt-crack was facing the door, but after being tattooed in this place a few times, and accompanying other friends for their tattoos, I had already gotten to know several of the artists and people that frequented the shop. No big deal.
My friend and her mom were with me, to watch and take pictures. I was shocked when, after what felt like forever, my friend showed me a picture she'd taken with her camera. I thought by then that Matt was probably done with the outlining, but he still had a long way to go.
This tattoo is by far the most impressive, because it's big and bright and colorful. Everyone is at first amazed, and then very complimentary when they see it. Some day, I'd like to get some more flowers on the other side of my back, to match the ones around the swallow.
Like they say, once you get one tattoo... You're gonna want another one.
Why did I get tattooed?
Some of my tattoos have a special meaning behind them.
Some of my tattoos I just really liked.
Actually, I like all of my tattoos, and that's what's most important.
Plus, I do like the surprise on people's faces when they catch an unexpected glimpse of a tattoo (gasp!) on a plain old girl like me.