This I Believe

Katherine - Oakland, California
Entered on February 12, 2007

The body suit tattoo covering 1/3 of my body is proof in my belief that prejudices can be overcome.

Recently, I was turned down for a job because of my tattoo. My numerous awards, scholarships, advanced degree, union organizing and volunteer work in Africa are not worn on my sleeve. Instead, potential employers catch a glimpse of my tattoo and immediately think of one word: Irresponsible.

I can relate. Like others I also wondered what would happen when the tattooed grew tired of their so called “art?” Would they feel foolish when they no longer dated the “Lisa” scrolled across their bicep. What would happen when they no longer listened to the hardcore band penned across their entire stomach in old English lettering? I suspected these impulsive and permanent decisions signed in ink would one day be regretted.

Today, my tattoo drapes my entire back starting just below my neck and snaking down to cover my upper thighs in what is know in the tattoo industry as a “tortoise shell.” It is a magnificent work of art, which fades, expands and moves along with my body constantly in the process of being recreated by its own canvas.

My change of heart about tattoos resulted from neither a drastic decision, nor a sudden act of rebellion, but from years of constant exposure. As with Music or Wine aficionados, the more knowledge I gained about the history and technique of the trade, the more I grew to appreciate it. As I became more familiar with tattoos, I was drawn to different styles, not just shabby strings of barbed wire or a dolphin jumping over an ankle but intricate and delicate cherry blossoms or fierce and complicated dragon designs resembling the best of Japanese woodblock paintings.

Perhaps, if I had been raised in another culture, I may have grown up to see tattoos as a sign of beauty, maturity or royalty. But I didn’t. Instead, as an American, I was raised to associate them with the shady elements of society: circus freaks, thugs and wild women. Eventually, I came to a point in my life when I had to reappraise my own ideas about beauty. I came not only to admire but also to adorn myself with that which our society encouraged me to demonize. Over time, with exposure and understanding, that which was once ugly became beautiful.

Although sometimes hidden from sight, roughly one in four now has a tattoo. Body art is quickly becoming more common along with interracial marriages and gay parents raising children next door. All proof that our definitions of what is moral, acceptable, responsible and even beautiful are fluid and constantly changing concepts. I believe, perhaps naively, in time, with exposure and understanding, prejudices against a thing, a person or an entire people can also be changed. Despite my tattoo, and perhaps because of it, in the end I, like many others, had to find out for myself that real beauty is only skin deep.