Today I am having a new tattoo. I’ve had the date booked for months; I usually have a tattoo date booked in because my tattooist is a hugely talented, popular artist and if you don’t book well in advance you don’t get a tattoo. And I only want my tattoos done by Vicky.
Usually I know beforehand exactly what I want to have done. Usually I’ll have sent pictures to Vicky indicating colours, sizes and specifics about the plan. This time all I said to her was ‘I only want a line of script.’. Yep, that detailed. You see I hadn’t decided what I wanted. In fact, with just hours until my appointment, I still haven’t decided.
We all know having a tattoo is a permanent thing, we all know someone who has got tattoos or have them ourselves. There isn’t the same taboo surrounding tattoos as there used to be, although I have to say that as a tattooed woman I come across some very open criticism which my husband – as a tattooed man – does not. The other day, a man I didn’t know (with tattoos of his own) told me he thought my tattoos were ‘disgusting’. I can’t imagine anyone ever saying this to my husband so I wonder what makes it OK to say it to me?
What this man didn’t know – and what I wasn’t about to tell him because it’s not his business – is that I have had all but two of my tattoos done since I was diagnosed with breast cancer. That somewhere, within the tattoos, is the sense of gaining control over my own body after years of it not feeling like mine. No, I wasn’t going to tell this rude stranger that.
Somewhat incredibly, my third tattoo was done the day after my diagnosis, I’d had it booked for ages, there was no way I was going to cancel. Cancer or otherwise.
I went along to Vicky, taking my fascinated 8 year old with me, and had my tattoo done. I watched her scratch the words onto my wrist as I felt the world around me change shape beyond recognition. Vicky didn’t know, my 8 year old didn’t know, I was in a bubble of something that to this day I still can’t explain. It wasn’t fear or fight or determination. It wasn’t pink ribboned laugh in the face of it battle or melodramatic what ifs. The closest I can get to it, I think, is stoicism.
Months previously, when I’d chosen the quote from Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar I had no idea I had cancer, it just felt like a positive, significant quote to have written on my body. But the truth of the matter is that through surgery, blood tests, chemo, radio, and every other damn thing that cancer brings with it, that quote kept me sane. That quote kept me grounded.
So when a man I don’t know and who knows nothing whatsoever about me tells me that my tattoos are ‘disgusting’ it hurts my feelings. I know it shouldn’t. I know I shouldn’t give a monkeys. But for me my tattoos are more than just pretty patterns. The biggest one I have is the one that goes down my left chest and torso – it covers up my surgery scars and the mess radiotherapy left behind. It enables me to look at myself naked in the mirror without feeling disgusted. But should I have to strip off to show this idiot man that there might be reasons why people have tattoos? And even if there aren’t, what business is it of his anyway?
But back to the matter in hand – what will my line of script say today? I’m a huge fan of The Smiths and fully intend to have something penned by Morrissey at some point. Current favourite is ‘Throw your homework onto the fire, come out and find the one you love.’ from Sheila Take A Bow, but I’m going back to work in a school in September so think maybe this might be pushing it? I adore Billy Bragg, and especially like the line ‘When the world falls apart, some things stay in place’ from Levi Stubbs’ Tears, but how can I have something so solid and reliable when I feel like the ground is still shifting under me? Oh, there are hundreds of ideas swirling round my head. As a lover of music, books and conversation, they are too numerous to pinpoint but there’s always a reason not to have them; too long, too short, too difficult to explain to strangers who are looking for a reason to justify their shitty attitude to difference.
In the face of this shitty attitude to difference, then, I think I’ll go for sanity and grounding again. I’ll go for love, for embracing difference and shunning prejudice. We all have our stories to tell. And some of us have tattoos to help us tell those stories.
I took a deep breath and listened to the old brag of my heart; I am, I am, I am.
Find me on Twitter and Instagram @Baldybitesback
Find Vicky Le Guilcher at http://www.electricvintagetattoo.com