Why you should get that tattoo

Don’t get me wrong. Getting a tattoo is a big deal and requires some serious thinking.

God, I debated my first tattoo for about five years. And to be honest, I’m so glad I waited for that one. But getting a tattoo is also hugely liberating, particularly if you’re obsessed with looking ‘perfect’ all the time.

I think as you reach your mid-twenties, your personal style and sense of self kind of settle down and find a fixed shape. If any tattoo resembled my pre-2010 dress sense then fuck knows what I would have ended up with.

I knew I wanted a bird on my back, but I also knew I wouldn’t be able to decide the details until they sort of found their way to me (lame). I didn’t want to force it, so I waited. I also have a huge fear of making the wrong decision.

Then, one day I was in my Grandparent’s shed (why?) and came across a familiar old painting of a goldfinch. Around the same time, a colleague showed me a new tattoo artist she’d discovered on Instagram – Martha Smith – who specialised in nature. It was a match made in heaven and I still adore my goldfinch tattoo today. Not only does it represent patience and ‘waiting for the right thing’, it gives me faith that I know and feel what’s right for me when I see it.

You see, when you have OCD and easily become obsessed with bizarre notions of perfection, trusting your gut instinct can be tricky. Basically, your gut is punctuated with little jabs of OCD-induced thoughts that try and disrupt those all important signals. “This feels right” is often masked with “What if I’m wrong?” and thoughts of worry get in the way. It’s really bloody annoying, actually.

In many ways, getting a tattoo when you have OCD is like giving your inner control freak and perfectionist the finger. I realised half-way through the one-hour ordeal that even if something went wrong I already didn’t care – I was so high on liberation (and pain) that for almost 30 minutes I relinquished control and gave myself up to a total stranger.

So, when I got in touch with Martha again a year later, I didn’t give her an image to copy. I simply wrote to her that I’d like something to represent change.

I didn’t tell her that my Grandad had passed away while I was in Japan, or that I wrote him a letter about cherry blossom’s temporary beauty, one that was read to him on his deathbed, or that he smiled at the letter when he could no longer really talk, or that my Nan still has that letter stuck to her fridge, over two years later.

I didn’t tell Martha that the reason I wanted something to represent change was because over the last two years I’ve experienced more change than I thought I would in a lifetime (long story).

When she sent me her drawing, I knew it was perfect.

“I love it – what flowers are they out of interest?”

“They’re cherry blossoms”.

I cried.

I debated getting it somewhere discreet, like my foot, but I knew deep down I wanted it on my arm. A reminder that change can be beautiful when you’re awarded opportunities to connect with greater, deeper things. And that it is you, and you only, who tells yourself what perfection means.

Getting a tattoo can be a big step in reclaiming your sense of self. A sort of feeling in control by consciously letting go of control. And when Martha began tattooing my arm, she told me to imagine that any pain and hurt I had felt was going into the pain of the tattoo, and that at the end of it all, I would be pain free. And in many ways, she was right.

I actually ended up getting another, tiny tattoo that day and surprised myself with the spontaneity of it. The alchemical symbol for air  – a triangle with a line through it.

I know how this sounds, believe me, but during a yoga retreat in Spain, my yoga teacher told me I was Air. I looked at her, confused. I always thought I was Earth, but sometimes you see yourself through another’s eyes and realise maybe you labelled yourself wrong. Sometimes the things you tell yourself aren’t necessarily true. Sometimes opening up to a new version of yourself will free you from past limitations around who you were and align you with who you’re destined to become. Earth and Air signs are the inverse of each other, so really I have a tattoo of both, depending on how you look at it. Which, to me, is kind of magical.

 

 

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Why your tattoo demonstrates a beautiful faith in others

Although I got my first tattoo two weeks before the US election results, it’s only recently dawned on me how important it is to have faith at a time when it would be much easier to withdraw from the unknown. When I read the news at the moment, all I want to do is withdraw from civilisation and live on the fringes of the Amazon rainforest. When what I should be doing, what all of us should be doing, is standing up and shouting about what we believe in louder than ever. For this reason, my tattoo (and yours) means more to me than I fully anticipated; it demonstrates complete and utter trust in a perfect stranger to create a part of you, a hidden message to the world, which is kind of a big deal when you think about it.

The very notion of having faith in others might seem like a fragile thing after the catastrophes of 2016. Many of us have hoped and prayed for an outcome that the unexpected majority passionately prevented. It’s a strange thing, to feel like democracy has screwed you over. To be reminded, cruelly, how very little control you have. To feel like a minority, to fill negative space, when you were so convinced all of humanity should surely be on your side.

Does a majority vote make it the right decision? Of course not. But is there proof that you were right either? God no. Because the truth is, nobody on this earth knows the direction we should be heading to reach the best-possible outcome. After all, rock bottom can only mean a upwards climb ahead. Brexit and Trump. It’s impossible to digest, but digest we must.

It kind of helps to look at it this way: they weren’t  votes for evil (although the racist, sexist, fascist, homophobic undertones are hard to ignore, I know). Most of the votes were cries for help. For change. The outcome might seem horrifying now, but it could be the catalyst that people like you and I need to actually start paying attention. Have you invested a greater interest in politics, the economy, and the future of the world since these shocking revelations began to unfold? ME TOO. That must be a positive thing, right?

It’s amazing how far you can push yourself to cooperate with the world when you have to. Look at the brave souls who lived through WW1 or WW2, or, amazingly enough, through both. We feel hard done by now, but in all honestly, most of us have no idea how it feels to be well and truly fucked over by the system and dictated by the elite. Trump might look worryingly like the next Hitler, but we have to believe he isn’t. We have to have faith in the order of things. We have to let this shit unfurl before we come to grand conclusions. Because if I’ve learned anything over the last year or so, it’s that worrying about the future doesn’t solve a thing.

I’m writing this post because I want to talk about putting faith in a stranger on a personal level, and how it might just help us to maintain the crucial level of trust we need to be able to hold humanity close. Little gestures have big consequences, maybe we’ll understand that now more than ever. So rather than fearing the stranger that may or may not be on your side, remember there is more that binds us than our political standpoint. I will never understand why someone voted for Brexit or Trump, but I sympathise with a nation that truly believed that was their best option. I’m devastated at the sheer amount of hate that fuelled these campaigns, but I flat out refuse to be the hater. I will never add to that.

So erm, what’s the tattoo got to do with it?

I always dreamed of having a tattoo, but I never actually thought I’d get one. Which is a sad kind of dilemma when you think about it. Wanting something so much but not actually having the balls to make it happen. I let the fear of regret get in the way. This frame of mind is pretty much the opposite of how I decided to live my life last year when I headed off around the world in a determined flurry of free-spiritedness. It wasn’t supposed to be a temporary thing, to worry less. To make stuff happen and feel alive. So on 22nd October 2016, I got my first tattoo.

It symbolises even more than the painting in my Grandparents house it was based on. It demonstrates a shift in my frame of mind. A symbol of change, freedom and identity. Something I can hold close forever in an ever-changing world. Sometimes we need to be bold and take risks to feel alive. That’s just human nature. But ultimately, we crave the familiar. Your tattoo probably represents both.

Aside from my tattoo reminding me why people often go to extremes to gain a sense of control, it also serves as a beautiful declaration of putting my body (and the way it will look for the rest of my life) in the trust of a complete and utter stranger.

Well,  Martha Smith isn’t exactly a stranger any more. I couldn’t recommend this talented lady enough. She perfectly captured the inspiration I sent her, and now I have the first and only thing I know will be mine forever. The permanency of tattoos once scared me much in the same way that change did. What if something goes wrong that I can’t go back and fix? Having finally learned how to worry less, it kind of struck me that there’s so much comfort to be found in both the tie of forever and the opportunity change presents, if only your interpretation will allow for it.

So I guess this post is an attempt at comfort, and a plea to keep the faith in the little things you do if the bigger picture is too hard to take right now. Give up your seat on the train, smile at passers by, and hey, maybe even trust someone enough to get that tattoo you keep thinking about. Because the more intimately we all interact, the closer we’ll come to understanding how a nation can become so divided. We’re all in this together, after all.

You can find Martha Smith at Xotica in North Finchley, London.

Here’s a little look at some of her wonderful work: http://marthaellensmith.tumblr.com/