Last April, on an otherwise uneventful Thursday morning, I got my first tattoo. It was a quick and easy affair, done in between lectures at university, in a tattoo parlour very conveniently located just two blocks away from my department building.
I had been planning it for a long time, and I had discussed the matter pretty extensively, both with the very patient friends who listened to me rambling, and with myself. Nevertheless, before stepping inside the place I was full of doubts—and then the whole thing was over in around 15 minutes, and when I returned to the lecture hall, my professor wasn’t even back from his coffee break yet. (This is how university in Italy works: truth.)
Things went down so smoothly that I felt silly for stressing about it so much and questioning my decision for so long. But among all the things that I had foreseen, there was a quite important lesson that I had not anticipated: Adding some ink to my skin completely changed my perception of my body, and it did so for the best.
Because as the artist was tracing the outlines of my tattoo, and then as she was filling them in with ink, it never felt as if she were drawing on me, or decorating me in some way. It felt like she was scraping away the surface, and bringing to light something that was already there and was finally ready to show. My tattoo didn’t seem an addition to my body; it was never foreign or alien. It was something I had in me, and was only now deciding to allow everybody else to see too.
I saw this tiny black dot on my wrist, I watched it getting bigger and clearer, and I was completely mesmerised. I started thinking, “This is beautiful, and it’s going to stay with me forever.” Then a few seconds later came a second thought, “This is beautiful—and now I’m beautiful too.”
Loving oneself is not about conceit or vanity as much as it is about self-respect. Our bodies, just as our minds, deserve protection—reverence even—and it needs to start with us. For me, taking control of my body in a way as evident and permanent as marking it forever just the way I wanted somehow helped me realise that I was in charge of it, and that it was up to me to love it and look after it.
For the first time in my life, my body felt truly mine. It was no longer something I had been given, something I had found myself inhabiting. It was a part of me—the outside a mere reflection of what was inside—and I couldn’t possibly despise or neglect something that had stuck with me all this time. On the contrary, I needed to cherish it and protect it from both the threats outside, and the monsters inside my own head.
As soon as I returned to my seat for my other classes, I showed my fresh tattoo to the friend who had been sitting next to me. She grinned excitedly, high-fived me, and then proceeded to ask me just one simple question: “You’re already planning the next one, aren’t you?”
Yes. Yes, I am—and it’s going to be beautiful.