These were honest hands, almost-familiar fingers that affirmed the very fiber of my being. His touch was the electric jolt that reminded me how beautiful it was to be real. I existed here, alive in this body. I was being adorned with tenderness I never once afforded myself, accentuated in truth I never quite understood belonged to me all along.
I lay there for forty-five minutes eyes-closed and acknowledged myself for the first time in years. Judgment crawled and threatened to linger, and for once I let it play its course. The artist’s project was a cry to reflect on the impressions he intensified with ink, and my consciousness swam across my exposed skin. It flowed through the ridges of stretch marks, ran along my curves, confronted my definition of body image.
As women, we find ourselves in a world that ceaselessly chokes our capacity to speak. We are subjected to abuse that dishonors without our consent and trapped without access to abortion clinics we can trust because they are conditioned by legal regulations. Discriminatory frames only work to fuel existing feelings of fear, insecurity, and worthlessness. Our resolve becomes stuck in our throats. With our bodies built upon the shame of menstrual cycles, bowed silence, the empty bloodshed that comes with fighting cultural norms, we begin to forget the sound of our own voice. Self-doubt creeps and taints our reflection until we perceive only nothingness. We lose faith in ourselves.
This was my first tattoo and perhaps, my last. It was a choice that the archetypal male figures I spoke with earlier that day sneered as impulsive and regrettable. They laughed.
Choice is revealing, as it is powerful. It is the gift of individual autonomy. It is the pivotal reflection of what a promise to love oneself unconditionally can look like. This was my first conscious, body-positive decision. I cried.
My tattoo was an act of self-love, of ownership. It is an enduring proclamation that states, “Here I am. This is my body.” My postured placement was intentional. I will always judge my body too cruelly. I constantly find physical imperfections that I wish to puncture and hide. Growing up as a more ‘shapely’ woman, I was ashamed of my curves and apologetic for the sexual harassment I received for them. I blamed myself. I hated my body and how individuals would manipulate and twist it into something I did not recognize. For a while, I refused to wear attention-grabbing colors, form-fitting clothing. I would hide under layers of wrapped-down breasts, unflattering shirts, the shadow of contempt. A shocked statement by a close friend in college at my particular physique and how she never noticed it before was the turning point that served as my first breath of encouragement.
I realized that I had restricted myself so regrettably that I had forgotten what it felt to be beautiful, what it meant to embrace my femininity in its brilliant proportions.
During the healing process, each dab of Lubriderm was reverence in the cradled form of an apology. I was rebuilding, reclaiming the bits and pieces of myself that I had once scornfully tossed aside as unlovable. When I turn into the mirror and my formidable eyes search up and down, my tattoo is a reminder of my commitment to be kind to myself.
It is an ode to womanhood. My tattoo is an emblem of empowerment.
My only disappointment would be that it took the hands of another to begin my process of rediscovery. I did not feel for myself.
As we are fighting for our femininity and the essence of our existence, there must first be internalized identification of what it means to be completely and fully woman. We must go forth and explore. We must be brave. Whether that is respecting your sexuality to know what feels good and what doesn’t or comfortably expressing through “unconventional” hair growth or lack thereof, we are our own discerners. How we perceive, unpack, and respond to external struggles such as work-place harassment, rape, or conversational microaggressions, can become footing to probe deeply in ways that lead to colorful stances of self.
Choice is demanding because it challenges our singularity. It requires distinctive responsibility for the outcome, leaving us vulnerable. Naked. However, if we truly believe in our dauntless veracity, the only hymn our hips should move to is our own.
It does not have to be a tattoo, and inequality will surely not unravel in day. But transformative justice stems from transparent resolution. Power comes from within because I am powerful. Being ‘woman’ is the unwavering choice to love one’s self indefinitely, inconsequentially, in her entirety. With that self-sustaining independence, I am the ultimate determinant of what love I will allow to model me spiritually and physically. My body is who I am, and I am the extension of myself.
The stories of many strong women flow through this author’s veins and made her who she is today. A current university student, the author thinks a lot about cross-culture, community centeredness, and compassionate collaboration.