In my infant days as a tattooed person, I’ve discovered that I must not fit the mold of someone who would get a tattoo. Observing the reaction of others has given me quite the insight into people’s perceptions of tattoos and their perceptions of Susanna Barbee.
Those who know me well weren’t shocked at all. I’ve always embraced creativity from all realms and in all ways, so it seemed befitting for me to have artwork on my body.
But those who don’t know me well have seemed a little perplexed that I would get a tattoo, especially in a noticeable location and one that can’t be easily hidden (the inside of my forearm). It seems that visible tattoos aren’t particularly the norm in Waynesville, especially for moms. In contrast, they seemed very welcomed in nearby Asheville.
I’ve also noticed strangers looking at me curiously. This past weekend, my two little boys and I flew to D.C. for my niece’s first birthday party. As I traipsed around our nation’s capital with two children in tow, I would catch onlookers gazing at us fondly, an all-American mom with her two all-American kids, then I would see them catch a glimpse of my tattoo and furrow their brow.
I guess maybe it is a sort of dichotomy. But one I find intriguing.
To be honest, the only person’s response I was truly concerned about was my mom’s, but her exact words were, “Awww, it’s pretty. And very feminine. You can pull it off, but be careful; I’ve heard they can be addictive.”
This array of reactions got me thinking. Why do some people perceive tattoos in a negative light? Why do others view them as something artistic or lovely?
Tattoos have been a symbolic art form for thousands of years and are celebrated in many parts of the world, but I remember viewing them as negative when I was young.
I’ve thought about why I once viewed tattoos with disdain, and my naïve opinion derived from simple influences. The “bad guys” and felons in movies and books often had tattoos. No one in my small world of people had tattoos so they must’ve been forbidden, and like most girls raised in the South, I was taught to be neat, pretty and classy. I guess traditionally, at least in the U.S., tattoos don’t particularly correlate with those adjectives.
Later in life, I learned things like tattoos are a rite of passage around the globe and people like Martha Stewart can be a felon but would scoff at the thought of getting tattoo. I also learned that one of my favorite wordsmiths of all time, Winston Churchill, had a tattoo, not to mention the many musicians I love who have them.
I think I’ve finally dispelled my childhood misconceptions.
I’ve also realized that if I’m in a place or around a group of people where I feel very uncomfortable having a tattoo, maybe that place or those people aren’t for me, or maybe I need to guide their understanding.
The other, darker effect of having my tattoo has been my realization of what it must feel like to have a deformity or scar or mark that’s no fault of the person. Having people stare at me a second too long because they are wondering about a tattoo is much different than being stared at because of a birthmark or burn or malformation of a body part.
This thought hit me like a ton of bricks. I felt an intense compassion for individuals who live with stares and curious looks and furrowed brows constantly because of something they may already be ashamed of or embarrassed about.
In true Susanna fashion, I can’t even get a tattoo without allowing my brain to dig in so deep, I’ve thought about it for two weeks straight from every angle and in every way.
At this point, you may be wondering what my tattoo looks like.
Since writing is my lifeline, the main image is a quill and an inkwell. The quill has written the words “One Life, One Story.” I have a tendency to make choices and take action based on the needs of everyone around me, which is fine to an extent, but I also need to remember that this is my one life and the one chance to create my own beautiful story. The words on my arm are a daily reminder. Most importantly, the letters “B” and “C” for my two little boys are woven into the image.
They say don’t judge a book by its cover, but apparently I’ve often been judged as someone who wouldn’t get a tattoo. I’m finally ready to let the world know what’s always been my own personal truth. I am a person who would get a tattoo, not only because I believe in art and history and symbolism but because I want to be my true self.
With one life to live and one story to tell, why waste time appearing to be someone else?