When I was in law school there was one professor that made most of the ladies—and probably some of the dudes—swoon. He was young and handsome but established. He was brilliant yet humble. And he was unbelievably cool; he drove a beat-up old Subaru and had a beyond gorgeous wife.
This professor without fail wore a long sleeve shirt and jacket to class. One of the very first law school rumors I heard was that he did this because he once got in trouble for letting students see his arms covered in tattoos (during a pick-up game of basketball if I’m remembering correctly). There was wild speculation about what they could be. Everyone was dreamy over the fact that such a successful lawyer could be such a rebel. In case you were curious, the field of law is still super conservative and visible tattoos are a giant no-no.
Well one day the air conditioning in the law school broke. It was 80 trillion degrees (at least by my estimation) and the school actually closed early. I was in his class and it was insufferably hot. So hot in fact, he took off his jacket and then, mid-lecture and in what felt like slow motion, rolled up his sleeves. Nothing. No tattoos. You could hear the wind collectively blow out of every one of my female classmate’s sails and a Facebook thread immediately went up about the busted rumor. We were all devastated. Maybe me most of all because, you see, I’m secretly super tatted.
I got my first tattoo at 17, at a time in Illinois when the legal tattoo age was 21. I was in an inexperienced tattoo artist’s bedroom and afterward I got drunk on Goldschläger to ease the pain.* I spent that entire summer in one piece bathing suits and long shirts even though low-rise jeans and crop tops were totally in-to hide it from my disapproving family.
If you met me today you would never guess I would be the sort of person to have multiple tattoos. What’s that they say about a book and its cover? I’m very reserved. I’m a rule follower and am exceedingly shy. I tend to be pretty risk adverse, am a homebody and a giant nerd who geeks out over stuff like water law in western states. But my personality seems to shift when it comes to tattoos. I will get a tattoo at the drop of the hat. For me, they are a roadmap to my life. I can tell you everything about where I was, what I was feeling, and who I was with. They connect me to people and places that may have fallen out of my life and they are, by far, my best memories.
I understand that by having visible tattoos I put myself out there in a way. I am also well aware that some situations call for them to be covered up and I do so without being the least bit bothered. And I don’t mind at all if people look at them or ask me about them (although whether they get the short or long answer often depends on my mood). What I am absolutely amazed by, however, is how far some people think it is acceptable to go.
I have had people physically grab me in order to get a better look at my tattoos. I have had people tell me I would be so much prettier if I hadn’t done this to my body. I have listened to a partner at the law firm I worked at rant about how dirty and uneducated and disgusting people with tattoos are and how they should be embarrassed about going into public with decent people. I have had people scoff and tell me how much I will regret my decisions in the future. I have even had a guy tell me I must like it from behind because I have a tattoo on my back. What!? Are you kidding me? How are any of these things ok?
My decisions are completely my own and I refuse to think poorly of myself because I did something in my own life that some don’t agree with. This is my body and nobody has any right to judge it or what I do with it. Perhaps I just don’t define beauty the way some do; my definition is certainly not limited to fresh, unmarked skin. And I will not be made to feel ashamed of my body because someone else has a narrow view of what is and what isn’t beautiful. Moreover, why should anyone else care if I’ll regret my decision to get tattoos someday? If I do, that’s my own burden to bear.
Most of the time I am really good about shrugging it off and letting people get their opinions out, but sometimes the things people say just really hurt. The group I am painted into because I have tattoos can be suffocating and how people think they know me just because they can see such a small portion of my decisions written on my body is beyond me. Because the things they couldn’t possibly know through these tattoos are the things that really define me. I am a lawyer and a wife, a sister to two, a daughter, I am a vegetarian who frequently tries to go vegan but can’t seem to give up cheese, and an unapologetic cat rescuer. I am more than my ink.
*I do not in any way recommend doing something so absolutely foolish. It was a stupid and reckless move on my part that I am lucky did not have negative consequences and one that I do not advise anyone to repeat.
Brandi is a lawyer in Denver who spends very little time actually lawyering. She can usually be found working for free at a non-profit, hiking up mountains, or bossing her husband around because he made the mistake of asking her for help with his business one time. She’s horribly technologically inept (unless people still use AIM in which case she’s a genius) and takes one bite out of every donut instead of finishing a single donut in its entirety, which is probably a metaphor for something but she hasn’t figured out what it is yet. You can read more from Brandi on her blog, Randi Nickle.