I got my third tattoo the summer I turned 22. I was waitressing in Northern BC, fresh from four years at the University of Calgary. I spent the summer saving and preparing for a move to Oxford, England to pursue some big academic plans. I had a few courses left in my undergrad and big dreams of an MA in Political Theory, Anarchist Theory to be specific. Fortunately for me, those plans fell through. Thank god. Who would even do that?
I spent my time in Calgary doing what I wanted, nothing more and nothing less. I went dancing at Cowboys and drank free drinks. I went to punk rock shows the next night. I went to protests against the Iraq war and volunteered with refugees. I religiously watched American Idol and the OC with my dance-major roommates. I quoted Emma Goldman in class. I wore tiny little tee shirts with political statements on them that showed off my 22-year-old tummy. I just did what I wanted. I was “multi faceted”. However, with my impending move to England I wanted to reinvent myself. I wanted to be taken more seriously, especially in the activist community. More so, I wanted to eliminate all frivolous aspects of my personality and put my hardest face forward.
To solidify my hardened image, I made the decision to get my first overtly visible tattoo. Tree roots. I put a lot of thought into this one, more than any of the others before or after. I was living in the North, spending my spare time in the forest, it made sense to me. The roots tattoo was to serve as a constant reminder that the roots of oppression can only ever be conquered by grassroots movements which are fuelled only by an individual’s own personal roots.
I thought I was so profound.
Unfortunately for me, I’m neither profound nor hard. And while I can be serious, I love the frivolous side of life. My schtick failed almost immediately. I met no activists, only old money elitists, and they certainly were not impressed with my hard-ass tattoo. My MA plans changed too as I realised the cost and the fact I was totally broke. Plan B. After I officially graduated with my BA I left England and spent all the money I had travelling around Europe. And then I moved to Victoria and started being me again.
So, moral of the story? If you try to be someone you’re not, or even hide someone you are, you just may end up with tree tattoo that looks like an octopus.
This tattoo, my third tattoo, was the first time I realised that these life choices I’ve started making weren’t just permanent statements, but invitations for personal invasion. It was as though the moment I got this ink, people–strangers–felt like they could just touch me. Grab my arm and pull it in, run their fingers over, and just generally get up in my space with out asking. Eventually I just started responding, Yes, I have a tattoo. Please don’t touch me.
People are weird. Don’t do this. Tattoos are not invitations for touch. And the bodies they are on are not communal property.