I ran into an old family friend at a meeting for work recently. The tattoo on my left forearm was clearly visible. His response was a shocked: “What did your parents think?”
My response: “Not my problem.”
Why? My tattoos don’t have anything to do with my parents, who haven’t raised objections to my ink in any case. My tattoos have everything to do with me and who I am.
My friend questioning the ink by doesn’t make him a bad guy, he’s not. It does say a lot about how his generation and socio-economic status view ink and what it means though. And that’s too bad.
For the record I have six tattoos, five of which are pictured with this blog post.
- The eagle on my right shoulder blade is my college mascot, and is breaking free from chains because I broke free of the chains that were restraining me before I transformed in 2013.
- The forearm tattoos are corresponding, with my lovely bride and I having them on our left arms; a symbol of our renewal as a couple after our marriage relationship failed. Mine says “Come to me my sweetest friend,” hers says “this is where we start again.” It’s a line from the Goo Goo Dolls song “Come to Me.”
- The lion on my left pec is because I’m a Leo and have a lion roaring inside me, and able to do so after that transformation.
- The lotus flower and Om symbol on my right calf recognizes the completion of my training to become a yoga teacher, as well as the impact practicing yoga has had on me.
- The “MWC” honors my alma matter with special meaning, as the Mary Washington College of my time at the school is now the University of Mary Washington, so the original acronym has special meaning.
Even the small tattoo not pictured here has meaning: a bumble bee, because I’m a history geek and the bee was a symbol of Napoleon’s empire (and the ancient royals of France).
Why do those things matter?
A Johnny Depp quote on tattoos has always stuck with me: “my body is my journal, and my tattoos are my story.” That’s what my ink does, it tells my tale.
That’s why I unabashedly have my forearm tattoo visible at work frequently. If a health insurance executive like me can do that, then a lot more people can too. And they will.
Starbucks changed their policy on visible tattoos for baristas for a reason: the under-40 crowd has a lot of ink.
It seems clear employers — and the generally older decision-makers leading them — have a choice: they can ignore the trends of their emerging workforce demographics or meet that workforce where it’s at. Starbucks just got their quicker than some others because the barista-demographic is young.
That’s part of the reason my ink is out-and-proud so to speak at work. For one, it’s who I am. For two, I’m conscious of the fact I set an example — and a statement of acceptance — by doing so as a leader at my place of employment.
What’s the point of all that?
Maybe someone reading this will take a different view or have a more open mind about ink and the people with it, so lists like “15 things you shouldn’t say to girls with tattoos” aren’t a thing (the list applies pretty darn well to guys with tattoos too).
Even cooler, maybe someone will be inspired to get their own ink. If so, I can recommend a couple artists. 😉
Thank you for sharing your story on each of them. Working in the professional arena I get a lot of the same questions. I feel the same way, each tell a story or represent a person/time in my life. No matter your pain tolerance they are painful. Some don’t understand that we go though that pain because we want a symbol to remember the story or experience. Not one of my tattoos do I regret and I look forward to more someday. Again thanks for sharing your story.
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I must be a step out of the norm. I love body art. Most of my kids have a ink and there is almost always a “story” to the work. I have had a tattoo for years and it carries deep meaning to me. It may not be the last one I have either. I find that many meaningful conversations can be had around the history of our art and as my son says, it is something no one can ever take away from him. He carries it wherever he goes. I love that too.
Thank you for sharing and creating the opportunity for others to see behind the ink.
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Thanks for the feedback, Sarah and Donna! I really appreciate it.