“What is your tattoo? Intestines?”
Yes, I got intestines tattooed on my arm. Just the small intestine though. I’ve got to find the right artist to capture the detail of the larger counterpart. Is my sarcasm coming through? Ok, good.
The joke is really on me, because if you look at my tattoo, it is reminiscent of an internal organ. That’s what I get for spending all of thirty seconds contemplating a decision that would alter my appearance for the rest of my life. It takes longer to microwave a burrito.
I got tattooed for the first time when I was a senior in high school. The town I grew up in could be described as rural, conservative and miniscule. It boasted exactly one bar, but no less than ten churches. Tattoos were reserved for the bikers who isolated themselves in double-wides on the prairie, to manufacture meth in their barns (or so were the rumors.) Nice, sweet country girls did not get inked- which is of course why it appealed to me.
I rallied my brother and his friend for support, drove thirty five miles “into town,” slapped down twenty five dollars and came home with a tattoo. It was about the size of a quarter and from a distance looked like a large beetle on my leg. I put no thought into the design. The artist simply drew up a few random squiggles. I chose the one I liked the best and asked him if he could fill it in with a black oval around it. About twenty minutes later I was headed home with a paper towel taped to my calf and a photocopy of care instructions in my pocket.
The next day at school, I brazenly showed my tattoo to anyone with eyes. It wasn’t just the spot on my leg that had changed, my entire persona altered. My last two years of school were rife with trouble. I was bullied by a group of boys who determined that the name Kat sounds an awful lot like cunt. My mother underwent surgery for a brain tumor, leaving her weak, disoriented, and in no shape to parent. I did not have the financial ability to attend college out of high school, and had no one guiding me as to how to apply for scholarships or assistance. I spent my final school days listening to my classmates excitedly discuss what colleges they were going to in the Fall. I wondered about my own future and feared it would revolve around the question “do you want fries with that?”
The tattoo filled me with a new found confidence. I equate the metamorphosis to nerdy Clark Kent ripping off his shirt to reveal his true identity as our beloved hero, Superman. Instead of being the sad sack headed for a dead end job, I transformed into this alter ego that was too cool to give a fuck. I was Rebel Girl! Who could be bothered with pursuing a boring college degree when I had the super strength to smoke obscene quantities of pot, locate any date-able musician in a twenty mile radius, and retain enough pop culture knowledge to battle an EW columnist. I was unstoppable!
The stranger my appearance got, the stronger my persona became. There is a conversation in SLC Punk where Brandy says “You look like you are wearing a uniform, the uniform of a punk. That’s not rebellion. That’s fashion.”- or something like that. I did all the typical rebellious things. I dyed my hair funny colors and cut it into interesting shapes. My clothing was carefully assembled to represent my quirky, individual style. I pierced my nose, septum, and nipples. The cherry on the sundae was getting a large tattoo.
Like most twenty-something misfits in the 1990’s, I had a fascination with comic books. Graphic novels, anime, cartoons like Spawn and Aeon Flux, and movies like Chasing Amy ushered in a new era of geekdom. Instead of fighting the nerd label, people began to brand it on t-shirts. When my boyfriend at the time suggested I get a tattoo based on a comic series, I agreed with no further thought than how cool I would be in the eyes of my fellow oddballs.
The comic was called Witchblade. The series is based around a sentient weapon that bonds to its’ hosts, which are always female. Having recently discovered Naomi Wolf and gone on a serious feminist literature bender, it seemed like the perfect embodiment for my latest superhero persona, Madam Weirdo (or maybe Agent She).
With little coaxing, I decided on a shoulder cap that was supposed to look like a piece of bio-mechanical armor derived from the Witchblade weapon. If your nerd vocab is not up to date, bio-mechanical armor morphs with the wearer. It looks a bit like an exoskeleton of an insect, revealing the more delicate body underneath.
At the time of completion, it was still rare to see a young female in my town with a large amount of ink. It became my distinguishing characteristic, and I loved that. When I entered a room, I knew I was getting noticed.
But what was once my superpower became my kryptonite. Little did I know that every day for the rest of my life, some stranger would ask “so what is your tattoo?” I started out giving elaborate descriptions, but over the years have shortened it to “it’s a piece of armor.” I did not have the foresight to realize I would stop reading the comic almost as soon as my tattoo stopped peeling. I definitely did not know Witchblade would be made into a terrible TV series on TNT with no appeal other than possibly serving as material for jokes or masturbation.
I should have at least had the insight to understand I would not be a twenty-something weirdo forever. There is nothing more pathetic than an aging hipster. In my mid-thirties, I became a mom. No time to put together bizarre outfits and maintain surreal hair colors. I took a much more natural approach to my appearance, and my tattoo stuck out even more. I picked up my son from preschool looking like I just got released from the work detail.
I revisited my Clark Kent days, doing my best to disguise myself as Suburban Mom . My hair was highlighted and blown out. I matched my cardigan to my capris. I learned how to pronounce quinoa and traded my PBR for pinot grigio. But underneath my casual button downs, Rebel Girl was waiting to get out!
Maybe I got my tattoos to impress a bunch of geeks, but somewhere along the way, I grew into that persona I fashioned for myself in high school. I was still too cool to give a fuck. If I was going to raise a couple of little superheroes of my own, I needed to instill a sense of strength into them- not for how they look, but for who they are. I may be the only PTA mom rocking a half sleeve, but I’m just as dedicated as any other parent to doing the best job I can where my kids are concerned.
Besides, getting tattooed doesn’t hold the same power as it used to. Soccer moms are scheduling their ink appointments between tennis lessons and ladies’ luncheons. I’m gonna have to do something really crazy if I want to get noticed. Maybe I can harness my spectacular ability to grow hair, and be the first lady on the professional beard circuit. I have yet to see one of those Real Housewives do that.