to all the beautiful, smoking hot, interesting, educated and loving 'modified' mamas i know xxx
I've been thinking a lot about body modification, the methods and wider implications in society. Since I left my job as a shift manager at Starbucks, I have been finally free to express myself in many different ways. Although in work my tattoos were hidden as a rule (so as not to offend sensitive patrons?) they were still lurking underneath, allowing me to still retain a sense of self under my uniform. I want to say I am lucky to be self-employed, but is lucky really the right word? When my day job was impacting on my desire and need for self-expression, that can't be healthy or right.
I never used to want tattoos - I used to have a paranoid idea that if the world descended into a dystopian future and I had to change my identity, a tattoo would be something that I could always be identified by. When you meet an incredible artist and see his work, somehow identifying your body as different seems an inspired thing to do. I grew addicted to the patterns that were inscribed upon my body and the long talks, the planning and the revealing. Like my real skin was being discovered underneath.
As a person who is fairly 'modified' as people go, I am not unaware of the looks I sometimes get from people. People who were expecting somebody to look a little less like, well, me. You hear birth worker or baby class leader and I know the average person's mental image does not measure up with my face. It is interesting to try and pinpoint when I went from being completely socially acceptable to dubiously - the nose ring was okay, the chest tattoos were okay. When I finished my beautiful half-sleeve things started to change. My other piercings became the nails in the proverbial coffin of 'passing' as a respectable person. I got my mohawk for the hell of it in the dire stages of growing out my pixie cut and that was fun. I really struggle to take my appearance as seriously as others seem to!
I walked the delicate balance for a while. When my hair was long, it was easier, as I was balancing my differences with conventional femininity. My tattoos were all ones that could be covered by most clothes and some people didn't realise I had so many when they saw me in my wedding dress! From a cultural perspective, I love the idea that I could 'pass' as a normal woman based on what parts of my body were revealed at which times. It started up a really interesting dialogue with people at my wedding who were interested to know who had done the work (Ez at Moko!) and what this did to their mental pictures of brides and mothers.
The image of the Mother is strong and pervasive. Somebody self-effacing and plain, sacrificing her looks in order to benefit her child. At the same time we are expected to conform to being Modern Women and all the time that involves: plucking, styling and shaving. "Be conventionally attractive, but not TOO attractive or you're neglecting your child" is the message I get. I agree that children are hard work, time consuming and having Judah added at least 5 years to my face! However, I really disagree that being a mother means I have to give up my personhood and sense of self. Or that having tattoos and piercings somehow makes me less able to bring up my son to be a decent person.
Going out into the big wide world as a visibly different person did come as a shock to me because when I was a stay at home mum I only socialised with my friends, who knew me pretty well. When you start going out into the world and meeting other people, other professionals and clients it's completely different. I am a fairly confident person. I have enjoyed seeing that initial reaction turn to friendship and mutual respect. I see it as a really positive thing that I can change people's perceptions of what a tattooed person is like, what a mother is allowed to 'be'. I have for many years looked very young for my age, and my knowledge about my chosen field and many many others such as literature and history has always been one of my favourite things to surprise people with.
Family have been disappointed and admonishing, as if they had partial ownership of me due to family ties. I would never dream of making somebody feel bad about what they do with their body and appearance because it is none of my business. Whether it's their hair or their weight, it doesn't make it any less rude to negatively comment about somebody's tattoos and piercings. I did not really like how I looked growing up no matter how normal and pleasing it was for everybody else. I just felt like a little drab bird.
In a way, living as a woman in the world that wants to claim ownership of my body, this is my way of taking that control back. Asserting my power and my right to my appearance fills with me with strength: my tiny F-you to everybody who believes that they own me.
I view my body as the house of my soul, but one that will one day disintegrate and return to the earth. I want to enjoy my body, to decorate it, adorn it with pictures and jewels that bring me daily pleasure and satisfaction. I will not subscribe to every small rule about what a woman should look like, no matter how strong those pressures may feel. I wake up every day with my favourite outfit on, one I designed myself, I enjoy seeing the effects clothes have on concealing and revealing different parts of my body art.
When I think about the pressure to be skinny, to be tanned, to have long hair, to have smooth skin, I see that as a lot of hard work. It also doesn't feel like much of a choice you are making for yourself if you feel forced to conform. If you really love all these things and would do them even if you were the last person in the world, then more power to you and you enjoy yourself. To me, a busy person, tattoos and piercings are literally a one-time investment that look beautiful forever. I really don't have time to commit daily to any other standard of 'beauty'. I don't have time to straighten my unruly hair but I never forget to put my tattoos on in the morning.
To choose to be different IS a real choice - who would choose to make things uncomfortable for themselves unless it was bringing them some sense of personal satisfaction? It isn't easy to stand out and look different. If you think about it, somebody who is fake-tanned with hair extensions and a full face of makeup is actually fairly body-modified, but at some point this became the norm. If I had gone down that route of self-expression I would still be fully accepted by society or even admired for my dedication to my look. Unfortunately for me, I can't stand having a thick layer of anything on my face, my makeup runs and looks dreadful and when I weaned myself off foundation I never imagined I would like the look of my bare, freckled skin but I do and I couldn't wear it again.
Judah calls my septum ring 'mummy's pretty' with the innocence of a child and a delight for the decorative. I hope from being brought up by my husband and I he will have learnt acceptance and not to judge people based on their outward appearance or what he expects somebody in a certain role to present themselves like. When I breastfeed him he strokes the birds that fly on my chest and smiles and stops to tell me what he can see. He traces the patterns of my husbands arm with his fingers, mesmerised, and, to me, that's beautiful and those memories I will cherish forever. That juxtaposition of fierce masculine and gentle babyhood never fails to enchant me.
I don't think tattoos and piercings are for everybody, like anything else, it is a choice to do what you want with your body. But for me, they are positive ways of enjoying your earthly experience in this fleshy vehicle of your soul. They are a choice I made, one I am proud of, one that I stand by and will never let anybody make me feel bad for.