(Trigger warning: Body dysmorphia and ED mention)
Tattoos have been a huge part of my identity and my life since I was very young. My parents and even my grandparents are adorned with ink. For some people the art itself has to have a ‘meaning’, for others it is purely about aesthetics.
One of the most common questions I get asked is about regret.
“What if you don’t like your design?”
“What if you want to get a job where you have to be professional?”
Most of the time I just reply with a smile. It isn’t anyone else’s business and I don’t really fancy telling every person I meet why I like being covered with artwork.
For as long as I can remember, I have had an eating disorder. I have no idea when it started or what triggered it. What I can remember is spending hours doing thousands of sit-ups in the dark after everyone else had gone to bed because I thought my stomach stuck out too far. I was 10. I was still in primary school and did every diet that was in Dolly Magazine or Woman’s Weekly that I could find. I had no idea what anorexia was, or why I felt sick when I looked in the mirror.
A lot of the pressure to be thin came from my family. My grandmother was a swimsuit model in the 50’s and was always warning me to watch what I ate, teaching me to count calories as a way of helping me to learn maths. I don’t blame her though, I realize now that she had an extremely unhealthy relationship with food (and still does). My mother was constantly dieting, The Dukan Diet, The Long Island Diet, every meal replacement and workout plan under the sun.
When my Dad remarried, his new wife was the only one to twig that anything was wrong. She constantly checked my rubbish bins for food and hovered outside the toilet door to make sure that I wasn’t throwing up whatever meal I just ate. I was self harming, dangerously thin, and close to organ failure. This went on until I was 19, after a few stints in hospital I finally recovered.
I still had a problem though, I had no idea what my body looked like. I had thrown out all of my mirrors and scales. I had endured years of being told by my family and bullies that I was fat, and doctors that I was too thin. I had scars all over my legs and purple stretch marks from being forced to put on weight in hospital too quickly. I did everything I could to cover them up, I bleached my skin with peroxide and lemon juice, I tried every tanning product to cover it but nothing would work.
When I went in with my (now) girlfriend to get my scars covered up with a gorgeous cupcake tattoo, the artist sneered at me and said something about ‘typical teenage girls, always looking for attention’. I rolled my eyes and didn’t bother arguing. Buzzing filled my ears and I focused instead on the sensation of the needle dragging across my skin. I loved every second of it, and the result was beautiful. I started getting tattooed on every part of myself that I previously hated. My thighs, my hips, my arms.
My tattoos slowly started turning into a suit of armor. Yes it makes me stand out, and it is usually the first thing that people comment on when they meet me. For some reason though, having people comment on something that I chose myself is easier for me to handle. It is something that I can hide behind.
I still have problems with BDD (body dysmorphia disorder) and relapse from time to time. I obsess over photos of myself and spend far too long poring over every detail in the mirror. I have no idea what my body looks like. Having designs that I hand-picked myself however, bring all of the separate features back into one frame. It helps, and I can’t regret that.