Late last Saturday morning, I went to a garage sale with my best friend/sister-in-law, Caitlin. (We were best friends before she fell in love with, married and had a baby with my year-younger brother). They were renovating and trying to move into our childhood home.
Caitlin was interested in a black, older but good condition table/shelf combo. After seeing it first, then walking around the small, unappealing garage sale, we returned to the furniture set, and she bought it for $10. A plastic, 1986 Bud Light mug with a bull terrier mascot was added to the purchase for my brother because it was kind of comical.
The older man hosting the garage sale was insistent on helping load the furniture into the back of Caitlin’s seven-passenger Yukon. He was taking a break from strategizing on how to fit both pieces when he noticed my tattoos half covered by my t-shirt sleeve.
Reaching his hand toward the top of my arm, the man acted as if he was going to lift my shirtsleeve up. He motioned for me to show him the rest of my tattoos, without a word about whether or not I appreciated his curiosity.
A globe, four-inches in diameter, covers most of the front, top part of my arm. It’s slightly old-fashioned with longitude and latitude lines filling the blank oceans. There’s some shading around the globe, with the phrase “We need not wait to see what others do.” staggered in two lines beneath it, in a straight-lettered, all-capital type of font.
It’s a Gandhi quote. Look it up.
Where the word “DO” ends, a separate, older tattoo begins, running parallel to my bicep. Two words, 12 letters, “keep swimming” is etched in a typewriter-like font from the middle of my bicep to three inches away from the top of my shoulder.
I’ve always received interesting but cliché remarks about my thoroughly simplistic tattoo. In the two years that I’ve had it, the comments I receive usually seem to fall into one of four categories:
1) General, nice pleasantries: “I like your tattoo.”
Thank you for being kind and respectful.
2) Something involving swimming: “Are you on the swim team?”
Do I really look like I’m on the swim team?
3) Finding Nemo themed: “Doesn’t Dory say that in ‘Finding Nemo’?”
Yes she does, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I got a tattoo inspired by the movie.
4) And the worst of all — an exclusively personal remark: “So what’s the real meaning behind your tattoo?”
I can barely tell my best friends the meaning, and I’m supposed to tell a complete stranger?
Now, I’ve added another tattoo that’s at least five-times the size of my original inquiry-maker. Since mid-May, the number of times people have asked me to lift my shirtsleeve to show them the rest of my tattoos is innumerable.
A few weeks ago, I was on my way home from the Matthaei Botanical Gardens with three friends when we started discussing tattoos. I made a comment about how I really don’t like attention being drawn to mine, and one of my friends made an interesting remark: “Isn’t that what they are for?”
Nearly having a quarter-sleeve on your upper-right arm isn’t really discrete. Whenever it’s hotter than 60 degrees out, the public catches a glimpse of my permanent artwork. I can’t be completely rude to random strangers for their annoying but innocent curiosity about my obvious tattoos.
Sure, there’s no need to be rude, but those interested in others’ tattoos need to be more mindful as well. I didn’t spend hundreds of dollars that I earned to have someone permanently put ink into my skin for anybody, but me.
After all, it’s me that wakes up to the daily reminders on my arm, visible in my sightline whenever there’s no clothing covering it. It’s me who has to endure the endless comments and jokes about things that are deeply meaningful to my life. It’s me who wears longer sleeves to larger social functions just to avoid seemingly critical eyes.
Listening to incessant comments and enduring endless staring makes me feel insecure about my tattoos, like the words, phrases and pictures I’ve decided to indelibly mark on my body are stupid, worthless or ignorant.
My body is mine, and mine alone. I appreciate when people admire the tattoos I hold dear to my heart, and I honestly don’t need validation for my decisions. But sometimes, it’d be nice if people just kept their comments to themselves.
Aarica Marsh can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.