Why I Will Never, Ever, Ever Regret My Tattoos
I got my first tattoo when I was a spindly 15-year-old ridden with angst, who was irrepressibly wild and intense.
My mother is very posh, very English and very AGAINST tattoos. When I was kid, she sternly told me I wouldn't even be allowed to pierce my ears until I was at least 16. By the time I was 16, not only did I have my ears gauged (gross, I know, but it was the early 2000s, give a girl break), I had an eyebrow ring (gross, I know, but it was the early 2000s, give a girl a break), a nose ring (considering doing it again. Thoughts? Message me, thanks), a lip ring (no comment), a belly button ring (a rite of passage for all high school sluts), and a tattoo. I was one of those teen girls who just knew how to get whatever the hell she wanted.
From the time I was a little kid, I knew I was going to be the type of adult who had tattoos. The idea of permanence has always been seductive to me. I'm big on recognizing pivotal moments. To me, weird, seemingly trivial things are massive life metaphors.
Like for instance, this weekend, when a bouncer in Fire Island searched my bag outside of a poolside drag show, and there was a f*cking pink can of champagne with a little pink straw that I had totally forgotten about tossed into my quilted Chanel bag, and I was forced to throw it out in front of a sea of judgmental lesbian eyes.
That was a MOMENT, and I knew it. I'm the ridiculous girl who wears an extra large quilted Chanel bag to a poolside drag show, who gets caught red-handed hoarding cheap canned champagne in her $2,000 purse.
I'm considering getting the Chanel logo tattooed on my arm, because that moment, the juxtaposition of being caught doing something trashy (hoarding canned champagne is NOT classy) while clad in exclusive designer, represents my out-of-context life perfectly.
I think that's why I get tattoos. Because I'm terrified of forgetting the experiences, the feelings and the moments that have shaped me into the woman I am today.
I bet you're wondering what kind of tattoo my little goth punk teen self chose. Was it a butterfly or a tramp stamp? Nah, darling, I might not have been old enough for a driver's license and might have screwed up my face with a questionable brow ring, but I still had pretty good taste even then. I chose an Oscar Wilde quote: "And wilder and wilder grew her song."
At 15, I was battling my own demons (an eating disorder, self-destructive impulses, sadness, repressed lesbianism -- the works!), but I felt strongly about not letting the demons knock me down. I wanted the demons and the scary experiences to make me TALK LOUDER, ACT WILDER and BE EVEN MORE EXPRESSIVE.
I knew I had to get those words tattooed on me because if I didn't by the time I was 16, I might have forgotten about my 15-year-old vow to stay strong and wild. I just KNEW that I had to have this reminder of who I was in that moment -- hurt, but still fearlessly expressive -- memorialized on my body for life. I didn't ever want to forget how it felt to be 15.
When I had my first physical trauma at 25 and almost lost my mind, I looked down at that tattoo and heard my pimply 15-year-old self encouraging me to stay strong and not let the bad things win. She is the reason I survived. The tattoo is the reason I remember her.
So how did I get away with getting it? Ha. I convinced my oldest sister, Jaymie, who is 18 years my senior, to sign a waiver saying she was my mother. The next thing I knew, Oscar Wilde's words were etched on my hip, just low enough that it would be visible when I wore my scandalous 3-inch zipper Frankie B jeans, but could still be hidden at home.
Of course, my mother saw it after two days. You really can't hide anything from a stoic English mother.
I was doing that teen thing where I was being overly chipper and cheerful on a Sunday morning to mask my brutal hangover -- you know, the whole unconvincing "ISN'T IT A BEAUTIFUL DAY!?" act you do when you're a dumb kid trying too hard to NOT GET CAUGHT.
Somehow, while acting falsely positive, I momentarily forgot about my secret tat, and as I was stretching my body toward the sun (because I was full of life and energy), my shirt came up and BAM: Mum saw.
"You get everything you want, don't you?" she purred in her terrifying English accent. Her hands were on her hips, her eyes were shooting bullets into my soul, her reading glasses were resting low on her button nose, and her Pilates body was draped in an expensive, pink silk robe. She looked like a chic headmaster of a strict private school, if headmasters were indeed chic and lazed around in luxurious $500 La Perla bathrobes.
She took a step toward me. "Aren't you worried you're going to have regrets, Zara?"
Suddenly, my hangover felt too heavy, too pressing to hide. My mouth felt like the Sahara desert and my brain felt swollen, too big for my little head.
"No, mom. I won't ever regret this tattoo," I said. "It's from the Oscar Wilde short story YOU read to me my entire childhood, and it's there to remind me to never be a shrinking violet, which is another lesson YOU taught me."
I felt emotional and full of love for my fierce mother. I realized the tattoo embodied rebellious independence, which is 100 percent an embodiment of the woman who gave birth to me.
Her hazel eyes met my hazel eyes. I nervously awaited punishment. I had recently been grounded for 7 months after sneaking out in the middle of the night, and I didn't want to spend another summer on lockdown. But she didn't utter a word. She walked away, the strong smell of her Jean Paul Gaultier fragrance hanging heavy in the air behind her.
In that moment, I instinctively knew that my mother understood, and was maybe even a little proud. But I also knew she couldn't dare tell me so, and I respected that.
Throughout the past 15 years, I've had six experiences that I KNEW I needed to secure on my body permanently with that bittersweet vibrating needle, or else I would risk losing the memory forever, which would mean I would risk losing a part of myself forever. Melodramatic, I know, but I'm a dramatic creature who needs to make bold statements when in throes of a passionate feeling.
Now, what if one day I do regret having the Metric lyrics "falling bombs are shooting stars" tattooed on my back? What if I hate that band/song when I'm 50? What if, in another decade, I just think that quote is super-lame and immature? Well, I don't care. Because I will always know that when I was 18, that song reminded me to stay young and use my imagination as a coping mechanism. I knew I was coming into adulthood and that I didn't want to lose my creative mind as I entered the real world.
And even if my feelings change, I will always respect that my 18-year-old self wanted my adult self to remember this theory. You can't disrespect your younger self, kittens. You can't throw away her theories, even if you've evolved in your thinking. She shaped you into the woman you are now, and she must never be silenced.
The last tattoo I got was just a month ago. It's the Lana Del Rey lyrics: "Summer's in the air and baby heaven's in your eyes."
It was my 30th birthday present to myself. I have this vivid memory of being 28 and driving my little yellow bug around Florida with my partner-in-crime, Eduardo. The windows were down, and the sea salt air was making me feel delirious. We were two sunburnt gay kids in their late 20s driving around aimlessly, blasting the music of our goddess, Lana Del Rey, from the speakers of my car.
"Red, white, blue is in the sky, summer's in the air and baby heaven's in your eyes," Lana wailed in her sexy, faux-innocent baby doll drawl. I felt intoxicated by the sensation of hot air and the presence of my beautiful friend Eduardo sitting pretty in the passenger's seat of my car.
This is exactly what life is about, I dramatically thought to myself. Nothing else matters. The feeling of bliss, the feeling of summer in the air and feeling heaven through the eyes of someone you love. I knew I had to get it tattooed on my body.
I knew the free-spirited girl I was in my 20s, the girl who lived for love and reckless fun, the girl who often felt drunk off a pretty day, would need to remind a more serious, grown up me that ~bliss~ is the ultimate goal. When I'm bogged down and stressed about work and other grownup bullsh*t, I look at my rib cage and I'm instantly back in the car with my best friend basking in a glorious little moment.
To regret my tattoos would be to disregard my past. And that's why I'll never, ever, ever, ever, ever regret my tattoos.