I heard it all when I was thinking about getting my first tattoo. That they’re not very ladylike. That I’d regret how it would look when I got older. And, my personal favorite: What if I met a guy and he didn’t like tattoos? The horror, right?
I felt discouraged from getting a tattoo—something I should have had the agency to choose for myself, no questions asked—because of an archaic ideal of keeping up “feminine” appearances. What the naysayers don’t realize, though, is tattoos can contribute to a positive sense of self. That they can make you feel like a work of art by literally adding one to your body.
I have two tattoos currently (getting a third soon), and beyond the skin-deep ink, they have become part of me—they’ve even helped me become more myself. Put simply, they just make me feel more confident. And I’m hardly alone in my my feelings here: According to recent Pinterest data, searches for “self-love tattoos” is up 1320 percent, and psychologically, it totally makes sense why.
“In a culture that constantly polices how women show up in their bodies, getting tattoos can be a symbolic and empowering act and can help people see parts of themselves in a new light.” — body-image therapist Sarah Herstich, LCSW
“In a culture that constantly polices how women show up in their bodies, getting tattoos can be a symbolic and empowering act and can help people see parts of themselves in a new light,” says body-image therapist Sarah Herstich, LCSW.
One of those women is Deidre Grieves, the founder and editor of femaletattooers.com who started working on her now 9 tattoos at age 22. “Having tattoos has definitely helped me appreciate the skin and body I have, rather than always striving to change it,” she says, adding that though body positivity is still a struggle, thanks in large part to her tattoos, she now gets down on herself far less. “When I look in the mirror now, I don’t see all the flaws I used to see. Instead, my eyes go directly to the artwork created by very talented artists who I really respect and admire.”
It’s this very attitude and outlook that tattoo artist and photographer Elvia Iannaccone Gezlev sees often in her line of work. Tattoos are a very “personal process” for many women, and they can “tell [a] story…and keep [you] company forever,” she says. “Getting tattooed is a way to adorn your body, to reclaim it, to show it to the world, or just keep your art for yourself.”
Writer Oriana Schwindt knows all about reclaiming one’s past and future through tattoos. She recently got three Lord of the Rings-inspired pieces on her right and left forearms, and they partially cover scars from self-harm. Now the sight of her arms conjures something beyond the memory of emotional and physical damage. “I see strength and beauty where once there was only pain,” she says.
Tattoos are clearly an outlet for self-love, a source of recovery, and a means for healing for many, and Herstitch has some advice for any woman considering ink as an external process for elevating an internal world: “I would remind her that her body is her own, and she has the authority to make any decision she feels is right for her,” she says.
“The tattooing process can help you heal and see not only [your] body, but the many internal parts of [yourself], in a different light,” says Iannaccone Gezlev. Once you’ve found the artist who’s right for you, (“If you do your research, you will find out many women tattooers accommodate all walks of life in a private and non-judgmental atmosphere,” she adds), what matters most is working on self-love—both mental and physical.
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