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Tattoo Attraction

I’ve always been attracted to tattoos. I’m not exactly sure why, but for as long as I can remember I’ve gazed upon the artwork permanently etched upon people’s skin in awe and amazement. Actually, it wasn’t always in awe and amazement. There was a time that I looked at them in utter terror and shock. Since I lived in Nicaragua until I was eleven, I pretty much regarded tattoos with contempt, which is, for the most part, the way Nicaraguan society views them. I would look at the blurry, fading blue marks on the biceps of beefy-looking men in the street and think, “Yuck, that is so ugly! The color isn’t even pretty! Why would anyone want to do that to their skin?” These men permanently sported some of the roughest, most scandalous figures I had ever seen, which, in my young, innocent, impressionable mind, translated to “I’m an insane, homicidal rapist, and I will run after you the second you let go of your mommy’s hand.” Which is a pretty wild, paranoid thought to cross a ten-year-old’s mind. So what changed? How did I go from cringing fearfully at tattoos to oh’ing and ah’ing at them in sheer admiration? Simply put, we moved to Canada. I was eleven years old, still young, still innocent, still impressionable, and being faced with something unlike anything else I had ever seen before: the youth of the city of Toronto. A girl with around ten piercings in each ear and a nose ring knelt on the sidewalk by the park with a relaxed expression on her face, her stained, multicolored fingers working tirelessly with sidewalk chalk, adding the finishing touches to what I can only describe as one of the most beautiful works of art I had ever seen. Teenagers dressed all in black grinned as they unabashedly held up signs emblazoned with phrases such as “SEX! Now that I’ve got your attention, can you please spare some change?” Three guys stood outside the library, their multiple bits of jewelry glinting in the sun as I gawked at them in amazement, trying to figure out how they’d come up with such original piercing ideas (my sheltered mind’s concept of a badass location for a piercing was the bellybutton. I had absolutely no idea what snakebites and septum piercings were, and I would remain blissfully unaware of the existence of nipple rings for a very long time). Through the window of a coffee shop a bright flash of color caught my eye, and I stared, fascinated, as a boy pedaled briskly through the crowd, unstyled hot pink mohawk blowing in the wind. In Nicaragua, I lived in the typical, judgmental small town, where blending in is the thing to do, and good girls and boys are applauded and hailed as examples for the other kids to follow. But, overnight, I was submerged into a completely different culture. All of a sudden, everyone was not the same. People did everything they possibly could to stand out from one another. There was no such thing as a certain way you were supposed to be. There was no “perfect” role model for young people to follow. And, most importantly, teens weren’t expected to unquestioningly accept anything and everything they were told to think or do. These young people seemed to challenge everything around them, they seemed to look for every last rule they could possibly break, and do so in the loudest, most disruptive manner possible. It may not seem that way to someone who has lived in Toronto forever, but to me it was endlessly intriguing. I knew that, back in my old town, any girl that dared to wear white pancake makeup, black lipstick, and rimmed her eyes with thick, black lines, wouldn’t be able to take five minutes of people’s critical gazes upon her before she lowered her head, ashamed, and rushed home to wash it all off. But in this huge, colorful city it wasn’t like that at all. On the contrary, these strange-looking teenagers would hold their heads up proudly, and meet people’s disapproving glares with strong, fearless ones, holding their gazes steadily until the person judging them was the one to look away uncomfortably. I had never seen such courageous irreverence, such disregard for stupid, unwritten rules, and, above all, such questioning of authority. I was positively mesmerized. Needless to say, this changed my outlook on everything. I was still a good girl for the most part, and I definitely didn’t possess the courage to stand up to authorities and tell them to go to hell. But I had seen other people do it, and I liked it. And, even though I later on learned the difference between those “rebellious” teenagers that only acted this way for lack of something better to do with their time, as opposed to those who took the lifestyle seriously, from not being judgmental of others to political activism, their fearless, unconventional view on things would remain imprinted upon me from that moment onward. I would no longer have an ingrained reaction to everything. On the contrary, I would question things before making up my mind. Now, fast forward four years: I was fifteen years old, walking down the hall on my way to class, and a girl I knew from my civics class was standing at her locker. As I walked up to say hi, she bent down to pick up her backpack, her shirt rode up slightly, and for a second I glimpsed a tattoo on her lower back. It was just a simple, lower back tribal piece, but instantly my Nicaraguan concept of tattoos came back. I wasn’t as shocked as I would’ve been when I was ten, obviously. I was pretty much caught in the middle – I didn’t know whether to freak out about it or to think it was cool. Tattooed people were insane, homicidal rapists who came after you the second you let go of your mommy’s hand, right? But she wasn’t an insane, homicidal rapist. She was actually really friendly and fun to talk to. Besides, the tattoo wasn’t a yucky, fading, bluish hue, it was black, the outlines were perfect, and it actually looked really pretty. Evidently, at ten years old I hadn’t really kno wn the difference between a crappy homemade tattoo and one done by a professional. I guess you could say that this was officially my very first positive tattoo experience. After that, seeing a tattoo was the same as seeing someone with a faceful of piercings – interesting, but not overly shocking. I pretty much put them out of my head. I had a ton of other problems to worry about. But, obviously, tattoos would come back into my life later on. One lovely summer day, a little over a year after my first positive tattoo experience, and not long before my imminent return to Nicaragua, I was walking around the downtown area with a friend, and we decided to go into the tattoo parlor to check it out. She told me the place we were going into had a really bad reputation, and nobody should get tattooed or pierced there – and for thirty bucks a tattoo, I perfectly understood why. So we went up some stairs and walked into a small, messily painted white room filled with a strong, unpleasant scent. I’m not quite sure what the smell was, but I know it wasn't supposed to smell like that. They used that same yucky, fluorescent lighting you see in school bathrooms that makes you look slightly washed out and pale, like you’re about to throw up, and the shop stock hung haphazardly all over the walls. As we studied the obnoxious skulls, roses, and hearts, we could hear a tattoo machine buzzing behind a makeshift wall made out of what looked like large sheets of Styrofoam. No one came out to greet us, not even to yell at us for being underage and in their shop without an adult. The place made me horribly uncomfortable, like one of those rooms in scary movies where the bad guy straps you down to a chair and pulls out your teeth with pliers. I was not impressed. Still, the idea of tattoos stayed with me. I wanted one. Badly. Even though the idea was new and thrilling, I still found it quite unsettling. Sure, I’d done some impulsive things before, like practically shaving all my hair off and bleaching the remains strawberry blonde with some leftover bleach from my friend’s green dye job, not to mention wearing a gold tinsel wig throughout the last day of school before the Christmas holidays. But a tattoo seemed way more "badass" (for lack of a better word) than anything I had ever done before. Somehow, walking into a tattoo shop and forking over my cash to let someone permanently engrave a design onto my skin seemed like a huge commitment, not something to be done on impulse. And it freaked the hell out of me. I tried to get the thought out of my head, reminding myself what a fickle person I am, and how it was very likely that I would just convince myself that I absolutely loved a design, only to come to hate it with a passion later on and regret the tattoo for the rest of my life. This seemed like such a horrible prospect that I was sure it would get that crazy idea out of my head. But somehow, I just couldn’t. The urge was still there, like an itch that I couldn’t scratch, and it was driving me crazy. So I decided that if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. I was going to look for a design that I liked and keep it in mind for any future tattoo opportunities. I must’ve looked through every single tattoo website on the internet, but in the end the only designs I could come up with was a gecko and the Sagittarius glyph, along with some generic lower back heart and butterfly tribal pieces. Original, huh? And although these were cute and everything, they just didn’t satisfy me. It wasn’t what I was looking for. Did I like them? Yes. Did I want them imprinted upon my skin for the rest of my life? Not exactly. Why couldn’t people come up with more original tattoo ideas? This was so frustrating. It wasn’t until we moved back to Nicaragua, and I started watching the show Miami Ink (which wasn't broadcasted on Canadian cable), that it hit me that tattoos should be custom pieces that fit you and only you, and that have a specific meaning or story behind them. They shouldn’t just be a random drawing you suddenly decided you wanted on your skin. The show opened my eyes to a whole new way of looking at tattoos. They’re not just a badass way to rebel and to do something different. They’re an amazing type of art (on the show I saw some of the most gorgeous tattoos I’ve ever seen), a form of self-expression, and a very intimate, personal portrayal of yourself and the different lessons you learn throughout your life. This really hit home. At that time, I was going through new experiences, living a life that I had only previously imagined, stepping out of my comfort zone and reaping the benefits, as well as learning how to deal with my mistakes as I got to know different kinds of people. I was transforming into a whole new person that I never in my wildest dreams thought I could be, discovering a side of my personality that I had hidden from myself by being shy and unsociable. It took me a while, and several enormous blunders, to find the correct balance between the person I used to be and the person I was becoming, and it was an incredibly rough and painful passage, full of embarrassing experiences regarding substance abuse and deceitful people. When I look back I realize I came very close to destroying myself, but I made it through, and I felt more experienced than ever before. It was the first time I had actually learned a lesson that would stick with me for the rest of my life, and I had taken this huge step all by myself. Sure, I had the support of my family and friends, but in the end the one that had to take everything that had happened, analyze it, and learn the lesson, was me. I learned that you can’t control what life sends your way, but you definitely hold the power over how you handle it. No one could figure out this seemingly uncomplicated lesson for me. I had to do it for myself. And I did okay. It showed me an inner strength that I didn’t know I possessed, and I had never felt so powerful and so in-control of everything. After going through all this, I finally understood the kind of life experience that marks people so deeply that they want that lesson forever imprinted upon their skin. It’s the consummation of the learning process, the physical embodiment of the patience, endurance, and pain that lead to that new lesson that’s made you all the wiser and ready to take on more of what life has to offer in the future. It shows that you’ve been through a little bit of hell and made it back to tell the tale. Etching a representation of this experience onto your skin closes the chapter, and reminds you of how strong you were and how strong you can be in future instances of life. With this all-new take on tattoos, I set off on my quest to find a design. I would customize it myself if I had to, but I would end up with something that was uniquely mine. I didn’t want a generic "tramp stamp" that I would later on need to learn to put up with – I wanted something that I loved from the very beginning, something that I would never get sick of, something that stood for me and who I am. As previously mentioned, I’m a very fickle person, so this task proved to be exceedingly difficult. I listed all sorts of symbols that I felt represented me accurately, but somehow none of them lived up to the standard of what I was looking for. I wasn’t even sure what I was looking for, but I felt that when I found the ideal design, I would just know. And I did. One fateful day, a friend asked me what my name – Shadi, which is Farsi for “joy” – looks like written in Persian, and nobody had a pen for me to write it down for her. Since we were in the computer lab at the time, I did a Google search for names in Persian calligraphy, and what started out as an innocent search for my name ended up as the discovery of my new tattoo. The design was gorgeous, it involved my Persian background, and it was my name – a word that I have always felt represents every angle of my personality flawlessly (unlike some people who hate their names because they don’t feel they fit them accurately). It was perfect. So how was my tattoo experience? In a nutshell: intense. It began the second I lay eyes on the design. The instant I knew that this was my future tattoo, the process began, and it was totally crazy – placement (after much consideration and bouncing back and forth from lower back to hip, I decided upon lower back), color (plain black, red outline, purple outline?), design (did I want tribal wings around it? How about wildflowers and butterflies? Would any of these detract from the name itself?), there was a lot to decide. After settling on the name alone, plain black, on my lower back, I began to obsessively research the procedure. I practically became an expert on everything, from the types of ink used and where it’s deposited in the skin to what an autoclave is and all the aftercare instructions. Knowing all this, I set off to inspect the body modification shop, in the company of a friend who was there to document the adventure on her camera. I was quite pleased with the shop. It was enormously different from the creepy, horror movie place I’d visited with my friend a couple of years earlier. It smelled like a hospital, but the decorating scheme was a lot more appealing. The tiny waiting room featured a couple of tall glass display cases filled with all sorts of body jewelry, beside which sat two funky, fluffy chairs. Behind a curtain we could hear the buzzing of the tattoo machine over some amazing music, and in no time at all a pierced, tattooed guy with spiked hair (the stereotype holds up in tattoo shops all over the world, it seems) walked out and greeted us. We went behind the curtain, where I expected a scary room – I guess I was still a bit traumatized from my previous tattoo shop experience. The place was quite pleasant, though. The walls were covered with great posters and artwork, and there were a couple of shelves filled with books on tattoos. The artist’s laptop sat on a table in the corner, where we got to see some of his previous work – all absolutely amazing. As we looked around the room, the artist worked on a fairy on a girl’s back (she was a completely unpleasant person and didn’t even say thank you when we complimented her on the tattoo, but we were too enchanted by the place to really care. Besides, the friendly staff more than made up for it). Still a bit paranoid, I went through the checklist in my head: the entire place was spotless, plastic covered the work surface, the artist was wearing gloves, he used single-use needles that were opened in front of the costumer…it was perfect. And I was even more thrilled when, during my own tattoo, he went through the entire safety procedure himself, instead of assuming that I already knew all about it. After the stencil was on my back, the nervousness kicked in. I sat on the work table, leaning over a chair and smiling at the camera as my tension mounted. I could hear the buzzing of the machine as he adjusted the needle, and I thought I would go crazy waiting for him to begin. Finally, he did. I suppose the anxiety build-up helped, because the first stroke didn’t hurt nearly as much as I had expected. Still, the new and unfamiliar experience had my legs shaking during the first half of the procedure. During the second half the pain really started to kick in as he filled in the outlines, and I turned my focus from my shaking legs to gripping the chair in front of me and breathing deeply, in order to keep the whimpers that were threatening to escape my throat under control. Finally, after about twenty or thirty minutes, my new tattoo was finished, disinfected, and bandaged, and I was glowing with pride and joy. I was given the mandatory sheet of paper with the artist’s contact information and aftercare instructions, which he went over himself, and was then sent on my way – not without a final picture of the artist and myself and a warm welcome into the world of tattoos. Did I have a good time? Yes, I had a blast! Would I do it again? Absolutely! This has proven to be a most gratifying experience, one of the few things that I can surely say I’ve done right. Looking at the last picture I took of my bare back, it looks strange and unfamiliar, like something is definitely missing, and every time I catch a glimpse of my tattoo, I can’t help but smile a little. The design that is permanently etched upon my lower back is faithful to who I am, and I know I will never grow tired of it. I can definitely understand why people love getting tattoos, and I can certainly say that I will be doing it again in the future. Probably the most common critique I get is, “Tattoos may look good now, but they’ll look awful when you’re sixty and your skin is all wrinkly.” What do I say to that? I say that anyone who gets a tattoo expecting it to remain unchanged throughout the years needs a serious reality check. Obviously the tattoo is going to look different as my skin ages – but does that necessarily mean it’s going to look ugly? I don’t think so. Firstly, you only live once, and, if you really want a tattoo, wrinkly skin is a pretty dumb reason not to get it. And, secondly, I think there’s nothing more badass than an older person with several amazing, beautiful tattoos with great stories behind them. It shows their life experience and serves as a sort of timeline for how they’ve changed and grown throughout the years. I think lead singer of HIM, Ville Valo, sums it up perfectly: “It just makes you look sexier and you’ve got more stories to tell.”

Photos of My Tattoo