I got my first tattoo the day I turned 18. I can still remember the anticipation boiling up inside me as I drove through downtown Pittsburgh with two friends, searching for a tattoo parlor in the South Side. As I walked into into a room filled with people covered in tats and piercings , I remember feeling a little bit out of place. But I knew I wanted to get a butterfly branded on my foot in plain black ink to signify the moment that I became an adult, when I would finally get to spread my wings and fly. As cliche as it might sound, that first butterfly tattoo has been with me through life’s ups and downs, reminding me to push forward through the hard times.
Over the years, that single butterfly on my left foot has multiplied into three. Later this summer, I'm going to get my fourth and final tattoo. They are now filled in with beautiful colors, and they represent the members of my family: my husband, my son, and my infant daughter. They are meaningful to me, and for that reason I will never cover up my tattoos, even though I might be shamed for having them. Instead, I'm going to proudly display them every chance I get.
My tattoos are on my feet and ankles, and they are small but visible. With the summer months and sandal season swiftly approaching, I know that I’m about to get all the looks that I typically do on the playground or at the pool. People approach me all the time — sometimes to compliment me and tell me how much they love my tattoos, but others have no problem voicing their concerns that I’m setting a bad example for my kids.
Covering my tattoos would be shielding a part of myself from the world.
One time, we were away for a long weekend while I was still pregnant with our daughter, and there were two women sitting behind me at the pool who were chatting loudly. I could overhear them talking about how horrible it was that I had tattoos, that it was disgraceful and I was setting a bad example for my unborn child. Seriously, you can't make this stuff up.
The worst part is that these comments are always targeted at me and not my husband, even though he has all sorts of tattoos on his upper arms. If someone does approach him, all he has to say is that he got the tattoos in the military and it's understood that they are acceptable. It seems like most people think that it's inappropriate for moms to have body art, but for some reason dads get a free pass.
The tattoo-shaming is ridiculous, because humans have been marking their skin with tattoos for thousands of years, either to commemorate a specific cultural ritual or just for decoration. Over the years, they’ve become popular in different cultures and in different ways, but they're always a personal form of self-expression.
I got these tattoos because my family has added so much color to my life. Every day in parenthood is an adventure, and I wouldn’t be where I am today without them in my life, inspiring me and testing me to always be the best version of myself.
I view my tattoos as a way to teach my kids the value of self-expression, in whatever form that might take. (And before you ask: we've already talked to our 8-year-old son about how he has to wait till he's an adult before he gets a tattoo, and he's informed us that he has no interest in getting one. That's totally his decision to make.) Each of my tattoos has a deep meaning, and getting them was a process I never took lightly.
I have three butterflies right now that represent my husband, my son, and myself. Soon, I’ll have a fourth representing my daughter. The original, black-inked butterfly has been filled in with green and yellow, and the additional two are in purple and pink. I got these tattoos because my family has added so much color to my life. Every day in parenthood is an adventure, and I wouldn’t be where I am today without them in my life, inspiring me and testing me to always be the best version of myself.
I know that my experimentation with tattoos will stop here, as we’re done having kids and I feel like my little gang of butterflies are complete. But throughout the process of getting my tattoos, I want my kids to grow up knowing that my tattoos tell a story. They're a constant reminder every day to not think so much about how the world might perceive me, but to think about who I really am and what I value. And that's a lesson that I can feel good about demonstrating for my kids, day in and day out.
So while others might feel that I should cover my tattoos because I'm a mom, I know deep down that I just couldn’t. Covering my tattoos would be shielding a part of myself from the world, and I couldn’t go through life never revealing my whole self. It’s just not the type of person I am.