In which I think about my ink.


Say what now?

I’ve seen this “flowchart” bouncing around Pinterest and Facebook lately.

As someone who is trying not to take everything so PERSONALLY (and as a recovering addict, this is a daily challenge), I get that it’s a “funny” way to get people to think before they ink.

But as someone with a fair amount of ink, the assumptions this flowchart makes are – well – kind of insulting.

Now – I’m used to being insulted, both by total strangers and by people who know me. I remember showing up at a family reunion with half my head shaved and spending that long weekend enduring whispered reports that my hair was the topic of many discussions. I’ve had people come right up to me and tell me how much more “attractive” I’d be if I wasn’t dressed like a derelict. And I’ve gotten the stink-eye more times than I can count. This is part and parcel for anyone who’s made the decision to let his or her freak flag fly. I get that, and have tried to accept it ever since I was a teenager, when my friend Keith gave me the straight dope one afternoon in study hall: “Look, Lees – if you’re going to go around looking a certain way, you’re going to have to deal with people giving you shit for it. So either stop dressing like that, or stop whining about it.”

So I’m used to people expressing disapproval at my appearance, which isn’t even that extreme anymore. I now look like what I am: a somewhat-eccentric, “artsy” woman hurtling toward middle age. We’re a dime a dozen around here, and it’s safe to say that most of us have at least one tattoo.

I get why people don’t want a tattoo. What I don’t get is why some of these same people can’t accept that there are those of us who DO want them, and DO have them, without accusing us of possessing poor judgment, of being under the influence, or of lacking that nebulous state known as “class.”

And that’s what chafes me about this flowchart. It makes some pretty broad assumptions and/or sweeping generalizations which, I’m sorry, in 2012 are just fucking silly. Plenty of us tattooed folks hold “white collar” jobs. Plenty of women have tattoos on their lower backs and aren’t “easy,” nor do they particularly want to be thought of as such. And don’t even get me started on the homophobic undercurrent happening there.

So to the people who post this stupid flowchart on their Facebook pages, or repin it on their Pinterest boards, I ask you this: why are you wearing that dress? That hat? Those shoes? More than likely your answer will be that you wear these things because you like them, and you like the way you feel in them. Right? It’s decorating yourself, is it not? You’re making a statement about who you are and what you like. It is no different for us, only we’ve decided that we don’t want to take these decorations off.

The idea of permanence is uncomfortable for some. I understand that. Trust me when I say that I’ve weighed that particular concern very carefully, and ultimately came to the conclusion that I like the idea of my story – the people I have encountered and the things that have challenged and inspired me – right there, on my skin. And so I moved ahead with it. It is an ever-evolving installation. I have an artist I adore who understands me and – each time I come to him with another element of my story – works with me to make sure he gets it exactly right. My tattoos are about trust. They’re about enduring discomfort with the knowledge that when the discomfort has subsided, I will have something beautiful. That’s what my recovery has been about from the day I realized I had to stop drinking. And one of my tattoos reflects that concept: an cailín a bhfuil áilleacht an bhróin ina gnúis. It’s Gaelic, and translates roughly to “the girl with the beauty of sorrow in her face.”

Are there people who act hastily? Who get a little tipsy and make a rash decision that they may come to regret? Of course. In my experience, these folks are largely the exception, and not the rule. But you know what? They’re not “classless,” either. Think a minute. “Consider the source,” as my dad always says. That’s all I’m asking. I’m really trying not to whine.

Ask me about my tattoos; I’m happy to explain why I have them, provided you’re genuinely interested and not throwing shade.

Bumper Stickers



I was referred to the above article by an old friend of mine.  Curious, I clicked through to read it, and it took my breath away.  But not in a good way.


I imagine that Lisa Khoury is dealing with a veritable maelstrom of responses in her email box today, and in fact I wouldn’t be surprised if she’s just stopped checking her email altogether at this point.  So I’ll say what I need to say here.


There is a part of me that wants to cut this young woman some slack.  She’s a college student, writing an opinion piece for her school’s newspaper.  It appears that it was some kind of “point/counterpoint” project, where one writer defended her tattoos, and Ms. Khoury was assigned the task of arguing against them.


I myself wrote for my college newspaper, and had a regular column which pitted me, the vegetarian theatre major with the jet black hair and Amnesty International buttons all over her knapsack, against the president of the Young Republicans chapter (who happened to be a pretty good friend of mine).  We were given an issue, and we presented our arguments.  Frankly, I haven’t looked through any of these 20+ year old columns, but I’m sure if I did, at least 85% of what I wrote would make me cringe today.  Not because my politics have radically changed over that time (they haven’t), but because I was – well – 20 years old with the firm belief that I knew everything there was to know about everything.  I cannot even imagine what it would have been like to have had some of those articles go viral, as Ms. Khoury’s has.


But we have the glorious, wondrous internet these days, and once you’ve put something out there, it’s devilishly hard to control who reads it, to say nothing of where it gets re-posted for others to read.  And Ms. Khoury’s silly, poorly-written-and-argued screed about women with tattoos is now all over Facebook, and various other blogs.


“an elegant woman does not vandalize the temple she has been blessed with as her body.”


Funny word, “elegant.”  It means “of a high grade or quality.”  Ms. Khoury goes on at length about elegance and the personal satisfaction that can be had through the acquisition of new clothes, a manicure, and high heel shoes obtained for the purpose of accentuating” one’s legs.  I wish I were kidding.  I wish SHE were kidding.  She isn’t.


“Seriously, though. Your body literally has the ability to turn heads. Guys drool over us. We hold some serious power in our hands, because – as corny as this sounds – we hold the world’s beauty.  But something girls seem to forget nowadays, or maybe have not been taught, is that women hold the world’s class and elegance in their hands, as well. So what’s more attractive than a girl with a nice body? I’ll tell you what: a girl with class.”


I mean, there are so many things wrong with this I scarcely know where to begin.  Your body is a temple that is designed to make guys drool.  Don’t desecrate your temple by getting a tattoo, dress it up in trendy clothes and high heels.  Your “power” is not in your intelligence or talents, it is in your appearance, and if you are to be considered “classy” or “elegant,” you’d better not be thinking about getting a tattoo, because if you DO get one, you will most assuredly


“…find yourself in a rut when your future grandkids ask you what’s up with the angel wings on your upper back as you’re in the middle of giving them a life lesson on the importance of values and morals.


And this, my friends, is where I well and truly bristled.  A woman with tattoos cannot possibly know a thing about values and morals, choosing as she has to permanently mark her skin.  I realize this is an “opinion” piece.  Ms. Khoury is entitled to her opinion.  I just wish it weren’t so odious, elitist, and downright insulting.  I’d like to invite Ms. Khoury to meet some of my friends and loved ones.  I would like her to tell them directly how classless and immoral they are.


Please, Ms. Khoury, tell my friend with the row of daisies covering her mastectomy scar that her tattoo is meaningless.  Tell my best friend, who has a hummingbird tattoo on her clavicle, which she has there to symbolize her struggle with chronic pain issues, that she lacks values.  Tell my sister, who has her children’s names tattooed on her body, that she has no class.  And then look me in the eye and tell me that my tattoos, which I have gotten over the course of the nearly ten years I have been sober, to commemorate both my successes and mistakes, make me somehow less “elegant” than you.


Because “elegance” has nothing to do with your rigid definition of morality.  It has nothing to do with what you wear.  It has everything to do with respect, and tolerance.  It has everything to do with carrying yourself with dignity, which you can do in sneakers or in high heels, in a dress or in jeans, with tattoos or without.


“Has this tattoo, for instance, caused you to learn something new about yourself? Has it challenged you? Has it led you to self-growth? Nothing comes out of getting a tattoo.”


I disagree with this last line, not only for the reasons I stated above.  Getting a tattoo is about communication.  It’s about trust.  It’s storytelling.  It’s sitting with an artist and explaining your reasons for your tattoo, collaborating with that artist, and coming away not only with a beautiful piece of art, but with the feeling that something sacred, and real, and HUMAN, has transpired.  I’m sorry that Ms. Khoury (and sadly a great deal many others) sees someone like me and comes to the conclusion that I am trash, or that I haven’t been brought up “correctly.”


I’d like to believe that twenty years from now, Lisa Khoury will read what she wrote as an undergraduate, and cringe.  One can always hope.