Perspectives: tattoos with changing meanings

The beginning of university signals many first experiences, including the choice to get inked. I may have embraced this freedom a little too freely, but I hold no regrets after three tattoos in first year.

Many people ask me about my tattoos, wondering about their personal significance, expecting a full-fledged story behind each one. For several months, I was confounded trying to compose a worthy answer to satisfy the curiosity of my family and friends – but, I refute the idea that tattoos must always be premised with a story.

Tattoos don’t have to be original, but copying celebrity tattoos won’t be a reflection of yourself. Brandishing replicated tattoos with shallow meanings only makes it difficult to gain a deeper understanding of your mind and body. Tattoos are a personal affair, so if you’re going to transfer a permanent image on your body, reflect your personality in your body art.

After three tattoos, I thought I was done. Yet, on my twentieth birthday I found myself getting a fourth tattoo, knowing this time was different. On my bicep lies my most inconspicuous and smallest tattoo.

This tattoo isn’t to lament a friend who is no longer here. It’s to celebrate her strength and to understand that life may leave you to cope with the unexpected – even when you should be the most blissful – the summer after high school. Her two-month vacation turned into a final resting place – and, the crashing reality of this to my 17-year-old self was devastating.

Yet, as I near the end of my undergraduate experience, I find that clichés often ring true: time heals, if not everything, then most things. This tattoo engrains the sense of hope and renewal I found with time.

I can’t attest to being a completely regenerated and different person: Thinking that the girl who went prom shopping with me is no longer around still forces tears to well up behind my eyes and my throat to constrict. My friend’s untimely and early death broke a cycle of reciprocity – an unwritten code of friendship that can no longer be returned. With this tattoo, I reminisce and believe tattoos have the power to motivate and provide strength. So, my last tattoo is a tribute to her and those pivotal life moments that will inevitably be encountered and overcome, and my self-recognition that we grow and mature as young adults.

My previous tattoos, even the vibrant colours on my back piece, are still representative of me – but I have developed a new appreciation for subtlety and sensibility.

The first time around, tattoos don’t have to be brazen or bold, but should reflect a personal truth, or perhaps reveal an ephiphanic moment . We assume to know the motives behind our tattoos; however, our stock answers will only ever show a fraction of a tattoo’s real personal resonance. I have learned that it takes considerable time for the bearer to ever get the meaning just right.


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