This will be the last week I wear my skin as I was born in it. No, I’m not doing anything drastic; just a tattoo. At first, even just a smallish one – a celtic knotwork full moon (inspiration, though with a pentagram in the center) in the upper middle of my back – but with plans eventually for the phases of the moon (5 in total) across the top of my back and a celtic knotwork tree of life underneath. In this day and age, ink is nothing unusual, but it is still a permanent dyeing of the skin and as such, it’s taken me several years to commit to both whether I wanted that, what I wanted.. and where.
The where is sort of the start of this little spiral, mostly because I’m rather firmly in my mid-30s now and it’s not like I walk around regularly baring my full back, so the idea of a tattoo that not only would I never be able to see directly myself, but that would go unseen (mostly – I wear enough tank tops that the center full moon will be seen fairly regularly) by most everyone else, might seem a little bit of a waste. Except that.. it’s my body and how I choose to celebrate it is really my choice. There are reasons for each element in the design that are personal and meaningful and having them indelibly inked into my flesh has a depth and symbolism of meaning. Which, by all accounts, ought to be reason enough.
But.. this wouldn’t be a spiral if it were. *smile* The promotional materials for the movie The Red Violin included a woman’s bare back with the markings of a violin; that picture is so sensual and beautiful and it really does exemplify the beauty I see in my own body. When I was younger – and lighter by at least 2 stone, though I’ve never been particularly lithe or slender – I had the good fortune of having fewer body image issues. I lived in a somewhat open dorm in college where bodies and nakedness were simply parts of life, not status symbols or objects of power (not always, but generally) and that got me a long ways toward not only accepting my body, but loving it. Yes, I was still self-conscious – I really don’t believe there’s a woman who makes it through junior high school that isn’t on some level for the rest of her life* – but I also knew my body was beautiful (and now have the benefit of hindsight.. I’m sure then I wouldn’t have agreed as easily).
And then I got older.. and got sedentary and stopped taking as good care of myself. And gained weight. And while I still see the beauty in my body, I see it masked. I no longer see without intentional focus the arch of my throat, the curve of my hip, the slope of my shoulder, or the fall of my hair down my back. While I will never see what others see – for better or for worse – I now seem to only be able to see what, by my own definition, mars the beauty of my body. That’s a psychological shift in my head from a dozen years ago and it’s one I’m working to combat – not by necessarily changing my body (though I am working to take better care of my health**), but changing how I see it, or maybe just what I see about it.
Will this tattoo be a miraculous event that will suddenly reset my brain? No, of course not. But it is a conscious recognition of the fact that my body is beautiful and healthy and strong and that I *should* be celebrating it. It will be a reminder to take care of my physical self, as well as my mental and emotional selves. Even though I won’t be able to see it unaided, it will always be there, a part of me, a visual manifestation of a part of me. It will be a purposeful reminder of those things that ground me, that form the basis of what I’ll call my soul for lack of a better word***.
And in the end.. that is definitely worth celebrating.
* Pre-teen and teen-aged girls are terribly, horribly cruel to each other (I’d imagine boys are, too, but I have no direct experience with that). If there were one thing I would choose to spare girls from that I think had the potential to move society forward as a whole, it would be the hell we put each other through during adolescence. Those are growing pains we would all be better for not having to endure.
** There’s a history of degenerative joints in my family, so making sure I get enough calcium and take care of my bones is important and something I’ve not been good about doing. By the same token, there are histories of both diabetes and heart disease, and I’ve gotten out of the habit of eating vegetables regularly and am far too good at coming up with excuses not to exercise. These aren’t things I need to do to meet some societally imposed ideal of beauty, but rather to keep myself healthy.
*** Atheist. I don’t have a soul (you might.. that’s up to you to decide). Do have a consciousness, though, that is independent of any subset of thoughts or actions or emotions, but there’s no good secular nomenclature for the totality of one’s self, so I’ll use the convenient, though technically incorrect for me, theological word.