Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Meaning Behind My Tattoo

Hello. My name is Cindy Brown and I have a tattoo. You can judge me if you want to, but I'm the President of something, so there's that.

It's true. I'm the President of the local Toastmasters club and I love it and I love my members. It's a public speaking and leadership club, in case you weren't aware. I will talk about my Toastmasters experiences another day, but today I want to talk about the Toastmasters' reaction to the concept of a woman with a tattoo.

I don't even remember how it was brought up. The topic of discussion isn't important here. All I remember is approaching the podium at the tail-end of a very short discussion based on a member's mention of a woman with a tattoo. The Toastmasters reacted to this idea with disgust.

"A woman with a tattoo? Never!"
"No, no, no. That's just not right."

Several disparaging comments followed. There was laughing from the members and a general feel of that's just gross and wrong filled the air.

I suddenly felt as though I had been hit with a baseball bat right in the heart as the words whispered out of my mouth so quietly that I'm not even sure if they heard me, "Heeey, I have a tattoo..."

I decided to save my opinion for a future speech topic, but it really gave me pause. Would they have made the comments and laughed disgustedly had they known I had a tattoo? Would they have said those things and reacted the way they did? My guess is that they would not have, but alas, they were either unaware of my tattoo or had forgotten and I found myself suddenly... hurt.

They obviously didn't understand tattooed people at all. I have as much value as you do, I thought. Then, how dare you?

Anyone who knows me is privy to the knowledge that I used to "hang with the rough crowd," as someone once put it. A tattoo was never something I judged a person by, however. It was always their character that caught my attention, not the tattoos they did or did not display. I've had artsy friends with artsy tattoos, Christian friends with Christian tattoos, a principal with a war tattoo, friends with funny, scary, and memorial tattoos, and on and on and on... and I couldn't care less. It is not a disgraceful thing to me by any measure.

I felt my peers' judgement was harsh and unwarranted. I also knew they would love me no less if they knew and would feel terrible for having offended me. Insert foot in mouth? Perhaps they would. Perhaps not. Perhaps it would spark a friendly debate, which would also make me happy.

I appreciate the artistic value of any tattoo. A tattoo is not something to decide on lightly. I wasn't young and impulsive when I got this tattoo. I've had it for a long time, but I was in my early thirties before I got my first tattoo. I only have the one, but I say 'first' because I do plan to get others in the future.

The face you see above isn't a random kitty. It is a representation of a cat I once had. Laugh if you want to, but this cat was like a child to me. It was before I had children and she was my everything. She was my baby. I loved her like no other pet. When she died, I cried for 3 solid days. I was heartbroken.

When I decided to get a tattoo, it was an easy decision for it to be dedicated to her. Although you cannot read it now, it says, "Mazie 5/01," which was when she died. I designed the paw print myself on the computer and did not even realize I had done it wrong until somebody pointed it out to me post-tatting. However, I found a way to justify the missing digit because I did have two other cats, one black named Lucy and a white cat named Jane. Due to an accident, Jane was left with half a tail and only three legs. Jane was awesome, too. I once saw her climb the tallest tree in the back yard and then cartwheel down like a rappelling mountain climber just as a horrible storm approached. I swear, I have witnesses. She rocked.

They were great cats, too, but they were no Mazie. Mazie would lay in my arms on her back like a baby. I would stay in an uncomfortable position for hours just so I wouldn't disturb her. She would sleep with me nightly and sometimes softly touch her paw to my cheek as if to say, "Oh, mama, how I love you." I adored her.

I had her cremated through a local service provider when she died. They put her ashes in a small wooden box in a cute little pink bag with a pretty silver ribbon and some colorful dried flowers for decoration inside. I kept her ashes until just a few weeks ago when I finally felt it was time to let her go. As I walked the beautiful path down to the creek, I tore a hole in the pink plastic bag and let her remains fall onto the earth and into the creek as I went. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. Goodbye, sweet Mazie.

Back to the tattoo. I forget I even have it. It's on my lower back and I'm only reminded when someone references it if it pokes out above my jeans as I bend over to do something. Do I regret it? No. It was very meaningful at the time. But especially in light of the fact that the colors have faded and the lines are blurred and the pretty script text is undecipherable, I wouldn't mind if weren't there anymore either.

I actually had a tick attach to the tattoo's eye once and the resulting itchiness caused me to scratch it to the point where my poor bedraggled Mazie tat now has what I call the "stink eye." She isn't very pretty anymore.

I will not get a pet tattoo again (no memorial Great Pyrenees on my booty after Buddy dies, sorry), but would love to get a Christian based tattoo and some artistic ones as well. Whether I decide to keep them where I can conceal them or not has not been decided. Will my Toastmasters recoil in horror at my blatant display of body art? I don't really care. Not to sound like a song from 1963, but hey... it's my body and I'll do what I want to, do what I want to, do what I want to... you'd tattoo too if it happened to you... bomp bomp ba da bomp.

Do you have tattoos? Tell me the story behind yours. I find each one fascinating.


  1. I don't have one but I like them. The thing is to me they are like the clothes a person wears. I don't judge people on their clothes I don't even judge people anymore. As Ive gotten older and approach 50 in a few weeks I have come to realise that peoples actions are a result of their circumstance and if they hurt me well then I just don't interact with them anymore. No judgement because I don't know the reasons behind why they hurt me or acted the way they did. If you want another tattoo get one but get it for you.

  2. Interesting post on several counts.

    First, I too am a Toastmaster and was president of our club last year. A great organisation.

    Second, we have cats, 5 at the moment, have had up to 10 as my wife Sue worked for a vet and kept bringing home abandoned kittens. We brought 6 cats from Zimbabwe when we moved to Canada in 2004. One is still alive now.

    Thirdly, I can dislike tattoos without disliking the person who provides the skin for them.

    Let me explain. I would not even comment on a tattoo like yours as I would probably never see it. Even if you were wearing (or not wearing) clothing that exposed it, I would not see a tattoo like that as lessening your natural beauty.

    Huge tattoos that completely cover arms, legs, necks or chests of attractive young women are a different matter. My opinion is that they are ugly and make their owners less attractive. I am not afraid to make that opinion known.

    I do not assume they are bad people but I do wonder about their judgement and how they might feel when they get to my age and the artwork is now half hidden in wrinkled skin, a faded relic of its former glory.

    Fourth, my late father had his regiment's coat of arms tattooed on one forearm and the Union Jack on the other during World War 2, as was the custom. Many years later, he told me that after the war, he always regretted having those tattoos done. He always wore long sleeves.

    So Cindy, you would be welcome to speak at our Toastmasters club with your cat tattoo and any new ones, hidden or exposed.

  3. Have you considered getting your tattoo touched up? A good artist can make it something you may be prouder to bare.

    The funny thing about people who choose to make their opinion known about another person's tattoo is that they think they're opinion matters in the least to the tattooed. You never crossed my mind when I made my well-thought out decision to add this artwork to the canvas of my skin and you will not cross my mind again, except when I am reflecting on the ugliness of humankind, particularly who judge others for something on their skin. Why a person would think he/she has a right to comment on other person's body as to whether or not it offends is beyond my comprehension. I am not an object merely here for you to place your judging eyes upon. I am a person, an artist, with feelings, a past, and a future. Comments on my body are not only unwelcome, but harassing and objectifying. I have a large beautiful butterfly on my calf with the words "Follow Your Heart" written down the side and a trail of hearts. It is about 8 years old and still as vibrant as ever -- people thought it was temporary airbrush when I first got it. Luckily, the worst I've heard is "Wow that's a huge tattoo!" Lol. I also have birds flying out of a birdcage over both of my feet and a white semicolon on my wrist for suicide prevention. I want to get a big one on my back with books and wine and the phrases "In Vino Veritas, In Libris Libertas." I love tattoos and the expression they allow and the history behind the individual's decision.

  4. I like to look at tattoos, but would never get one for several reasons: 1) pain aversion, 2) my tastes change over time, 3) if it doesn't turn out the way I want I'm stuck, 4) the lines blur over time so it might look more like a bruise when I'm 80, 5) pain aversion. When I see a beautiful woman with good body art, I simply see it as more beauty. It's her self-expression, like hair color, clothes, makeup - albeit more permanent. A woman's chosen look is her concern, and if I don't like it that's mine. I don't have much to say unless she's blowing smoke in my face, shouting on her cell, or, oh I don't know, harassing minorities, contributing to global warming, or inciting war. Aren't there better things for people to spend time critiquing?

  5. I think over the past decade or so, attitudes have changes about tatoos. I used to be that it was only motorcycle gangs that got them (a sterotype, I know) but now more and more people have them. I have family members who have tatoos. For me, not my thing. The thing I don't like about them is their permanacy. I think teens and young adults in their 20s are idealistic and get them based on how they view the world at that age....without realizing that by the time they are 40 or 50 or 60, their views might change. And, their body might change. My daughter jokes that she'll get a tatoo of a grape so that by the time she is old, it will become a raisin. Anyhoo...I have nothing against people getting tatoos, it's their body. I would just encourage anyone who is considering it to give it serious thought because it's a permanent decision that can't be undone.

  6. Hi Cindy, a very interesting subject that quite frankly is by far on the serious tone versus the humor side of your writing. Permanently altering your body in any way is most likely a choice not an accident. I broke my nose about 4 times while playing college football and that basically was my choice by the fact that I continued to play. The alteration was not my looks but an irritation that I live with to this day. You can make an issue that any alteration that is permanent will be obviously for a lifetime. Those who comment negatively to the artwork of your tattoo have a right to do the same since you intended to display for others to see, even if it may be a limited few by where your tattoo is located. The human body is a beautiful piece of artwork created by God. If you feel that an alteration enhances the beauty, by all means, go for it and accept the comments good or bad as any artist should. Depending on where you locate your alteration of beauty will obviously provide the number of responses.

  7. Tom, I so agree with what you said, "If you feel that an alteration enhances the beauty, by all means, go for it and accept the comments good or bad as any artist should." This is how any body alteration should be handled. However, it didn't remove the sting of their comments and they didn't even know I had a tattoo. I think I was disappointed with the image they must have of women with tattoos being so negative. But then again, I am an artistic type and many don't have that proclivity, therefore, they don't understand art in the same way. It is what it is, and I still enjoy seeing the different ways people interact in life. It sure keeps things interesting.

  8. You are right, Lisa! I think attitudes have changed about tattoos and more people are getting them than ever. I've seen some absolutely beautiful ones on men and women of every social status. Your daughter's joke is funny, but somewhat true. However, the tattooed person's body is like a canvas, a photo book, if you will, of life's snippets. And actually, tattoos can be undone, but not without some lasering at great expense or having an excellent artist re-render it. It's a big decision, but I still find it a neat artistic endeavor. I appreciate the stories behind tattoos. Every one has a meaning.

  9. Cara, the pain is only temporary, but it does depend on where you get it as to how bad it hurts, I've heard. Mine wasn't that bad. #2-4 are valid points, though. Still, it didn't stop me and probably won't in the future either. The hardest thing is deciding where to put them!

  10. Katie, yes, I actually have thought about having it completely redesigned, touched up, lasered off, etc. I love the tattoo on your feet. I think it's the cutest thing ever! You nailed it by saying tattoos represent personal expression and history. I love them, too. The main reason I haven't gotten more is because I can't afford them. The first one was free because the tattoo artist was a friend and when I went to pay him he told me it was free because he had a crush on me :)

  11. Peter, thank you for the welcome to the Toastmasters club. Funny, I attended a training this summer with a few hundred Toastmasters from the district and there was one other President there who had many tattoos and she was a very outgoing and wonderful gal. She didn't try to cover them. I thought that was very brave and unique and it showed her true spirit of "I am who I am and I like who I am" and I loved that! The only tattoo locations I don't like is anything on the head and mostly hands, although I've seen one on hands I liked. I don't think I've ever seen a head tattoo I thought was flattering. And oh no... please not the face! I feel that limits a person's chances at credibility. Other areas can all be covered. I do have standards, ha ha.

  12. There are so many reasons why people get tattoos. If people wouldn't judge so much and would take the time to talk to a person and ask about their tattoos and what they mean, why they got them, etc. they would be enlightened! It's living history in body art. I'm like you, bad people come in all forms, tattoos do not hurt people. People hurt people. I've been hurt the worst by people who would never consider getting a tattoo. You can't judge a book by it's cover, it's true. But it helps to have a good graphic artist! Hee hee. By the way, I am still hoping to respond to you one day about our previous interaction (assuming this is the Patrick C. I think it is). Take care and thanks for dropping by to leave a comment.

  13. Hi Cindy Yes its the one and the same Patrick C. I enjoy your blog immensely because its always thought provoking and we all need that in our lives. Thank You for taking the time to share with us.

  14. If you really want a reaction for what ever reason it may be, purchase a temporary personalized tattoo. Be sure to minimize comments on the subject matter of your tattoo and allow those critics to aim in on female versus male comments. Get really a big tattoo on let's say your arm shoulder area and wear a sweater into the conference. When it is your turn to speak, take your sweater off. I'll bet there will be a lot of body language reaction and very little, if any, verbal comments. You will get your comments when you show up to the next conference without a sweater and no Tattoo.

  15. Hmmmm, very creative idea, Tom! I don't think most people get tattoos to get a reaction, but more for personal reasons. But I do plan to give a speech to my local club about tattoos!

  16. Thank you for those kind words! When I update my "What People Are Saying About Everyday Underwear" page for the blog, I'll remember that :)

  17. I enjoyed this post. Then again, I always enjoy what you have to say, Cindy. :) Hmm…I'm almost afraid to toss my hat in the ring here but, well, ok. As a woman who is heavily tattooed, I understand the potential stigma attached to my choices. I also understand the looks of disgust from others but mostly my experiences have been positive. I've had many people approach me asking about my tattoos, even if they don't have any themselves. They are polite, complimentary, and curious. I always take the time to answer their questions, and I love that people have become more open to body modification. I made the choice to adorn my body with tattoos that have meaning to me, and represent my journey. I embraced the tattoo lifestyle and yes, it is a lifestyle, after considering all the valid concerns others have posted. Would I get sick of them? Pain…there's always that pain thing. How would I be perceived by others? I tossed that last concern long before I became the walking canvas I am today. I'm now close to 50 myself, and I can honestly say that I do not regret a single tattoo on my being. There are many, too many to count, so I simply tell folks that I have one giant tattoo. As they say: different strokes but I also say: live and let live. I like the meaning behind your tattoo but I am not a Toastmaster :)

  18. So great to get a nice long comment on my blog from you, Stephanie! I am glad to hear that your experience with people inquiring about your tattoos has been positive. I think it's petty to judge based on such a thing... as though you would judge someone if it were a birthmark or some other thing identifying their body as unique. I'm glad you have no regrets. That's an awesome way to live life - don't I know it's true! I have no regrets about my tattoo or anything else. It all adds up to equal who I am today, three-toed paw tat and all.