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Tattoos Changed My Relationship With My Body (So No, Nan, I Won’t Stop Getting Them)

image courtesy of the author
[TW: eating disorders]

I was 19 when I got my first tattoos. My first year of uni in a booth in Topshop in the Arndale Centre, Manchester. A little sun on my ankle and the outline of a heart on my ribs. I knew instantly they would not be my last.

Realistically, I’ve always known that I would get tattoos. Seeing older girls in the summer walking down the road in vest tops with pictures on their arms amazed me. Whilst adults made comments about “unprofessionalism” and how they would regret it when they were older, I was fascinated by the beauty and individuality of them. Long before I turned 18 I was making plans for what my first tattoo would be, desperate for the day it would become a reality. That reality didn’t actually happen until I was 19 as I realised that I didn’t have a clue what I wanted to be permanently inked on my body, so I made the grown-up decision to hang fire (a decision that I’m still pretty proud of!). My first two were tiny and quite spur of the moment but they instantly meant the world to me and I started to see my body in a different way.

I was 12 years old when my relationship with food changed. I’d always been a fussy eater as a kid but now it was different. I didn’t like food and ate purely to stay alive. Severely underweight and hating my body, I avoided mirrors and shopping trips at all costs. My Mum still recalls a time in a changing room in New Look where I sat on the floor sobbing because nothing fit and I hated everything. The shopping trip itself had been forced as I needed new clothes but despised every part of the process of buying new ones. It’s a feeling and an experience that I hope never to relive. As I got older I knew things had to change, but I was stuck in a real cycle. My relationship with food is still not an easy one, and a lot more work is going to have to go into improving that, but it was tattoos that helped begin the healing process.

image courtesy of the author

After my first two tiny ones, I forked out for a larger thigh piece. I spent hours looking at it in the mirror after I’d had it done, I was both thrilled with the result and in awe of how much it had instantly changed how I saw myself. I actually kind of liked the body I was looking at and I was actually looking at it, not covering up in front of the mirror. That piece kickstarted the desire for more. Floral arm pieces, script of a favourite song title, my Manchester bee, a Grand Canyon-inspired piece after a life-changing trip last year, and a new little snake friend. I love them all, they make me happy everytime I catch a glimpse of them in the mirror and, most importantly, they make me like my body.

My Nan despises them. Going round for Sunday lunch a few weeks ago after a couple of new additions, she audibly “urgh-ed” at me as I walked through the door. Every family event usually involves a conversation about whether I plan to get any more and why that is. I love talking about my tattoos and have a younger sister who has as many as me which is the best! But the constant judgement is frustrating. My new approach is to shut down the conversation by stating that it is my body and I can do what I want with it. My family are aware of the struggles I’ve faced over the years which only increases this frustration, but my ability to stand my ground is improving.

“They’ve allowed me to admire my own strength and beauty, to see how wonderfully my body has changed as I’ve gotten older and how strong I have become both physically and mentally”

image courtesy of the author

At the time of writing this, I have 14 pieces of art on my body; some big, some tiny, some with meaning, some without, but I see them all as art. They are everyday reminders that my body is a canvas that I get to decorate however I choose; that autonomy is powerful. They have given me the confidence to stand in front of the mirror in my undies and admire myself, something that I would never have done a few years ago. They’ve allowed me to admire my own strength and beauty, to see how wonderfully my body has changed as I’ve gotten older and how strong I have become both physically and mentally. So much work has gone into trying to improve my relationship with my body and there is so much more work to be done, but my tattoos have completely flipped the view I had of myself on its head. I no longer see my body as just a thing to keep alive but as a body I enjoy living in, and want to keep alive.

So next time I’m round for Sunday dinner, let’s skip the “urgh’s” and go straight in for the roast potatoes, okay Nan? Because who doesn’t love a roastie?!

Special mention to Joe Turner @jt_tattoo and Ella Storm @ellastormtattoo who I have been tattooed by several times over the last couple of years, and who I will continue to go back to for their talent and expertise.

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