Yesterday I watched a documentary about the extremes people will go to in order to be different, and the amount of pain they are willing to endure in their quest. This is the sort of television that captures my attention, so I listened intently.
One girl in particular spoke from the heart – through her armour of tattoos and piercings. I don’t recall her name but for the sake of this post I’ll call her Astrid. After some coaxing from the journalist, Astrid revealed her true reason for continuing to adorn her body with ink and metal.
Let me cut in here to say that understanding others softens our hearts, breaks down barriers and enables us to communicate on a more level playing field. Astrid was able to do this for me because she shared her truth. As a consequence, I now have a greater understanding and appreciation for tattooing. It can be—and it is—so much more than an art form to some.
Astrid also gave me an insight to the mind set of people who choose to be tattooed and those who make a living from tattooing others. I really like this girl. She’s the sort of person I would befriend.
Astrid was born into a European family that embodied strict culture. Of her siblings, she was the one who pushed the most barriers. In her own words, Astrid was “the black sheep”. Her straight-down-the-line parents struggled with controlling her.
For Astrid, tattooing and piercing began at the age of 16, as a way of reminding her mother that though she had given life to Astrid, Astrid’s life wasn’t her mother’s for controlling. This struck a chord with me. I distinctly recall saying these words to my own Mum when I was a teenager, followed by the punch line “you don’t own me Mum“. Harsh, but I meant it.
The rebellious streak, as well as our hair colour, is where the similarities between Astrid and I end.
Astrid: 30 something, 100+ tattoos, 20+ piercings, punk hairstyle, works as a Tattoo Artist.
Sue: 40 something, 0 tattoos, 4 piercings (2 in each ear) (2 of which have almost closed due to non-use), conventional hairstyle, various business interests.
On the surface, Astrid and I are very different.
As life progressed for Astrid, she came to realise that people she encountered weren’t able to see past her tattoos and piercings. Their opinion or judgement was formed before Astrid had even opened her mouth to utter a word. Don’t you think this gives context to the saying “you can’t judge a book by its cover”?
Astrid continued with her tattoos and piercings, with many of those being performed by Astrid herself. Clearly this girl’s pain threshold is higher than most, yet Astrid gave one of her reasons for decorating her body as “to avoid pain“.
She said that her tattoos and piercings acted as a way of filtering out people who are hurtful. She explained that if you can’t see past her appearance, then you are the type of person she doesn’t want to know. This, is what Astrid finds painful, not the tattoos or piercings. Hence Astrid’s body with all its decor, is Astrid’s armour, fending off pain.
Then came the part of the documentary that really pulled at my heartstrings and reaffirmed my belief that each and every one of us has a fascinating story for why we do what we do.
You’ll note I’ve been referring to Astrid, aged 30-something, as a girl. Her words, not mine. In Astrid’s culture, you are not considered a woman until you have given birth. (OK, so that’s another thing Astrid and I have in common – not being mothers.) Astrid had her fertility “stolen” from her by an ex-boyfriend. He cheated, contracted an STD, passed the STD onto Astrid, and she is now infertile.
Astrid believes she will never be a woman because she will never give birth.
This extraordinary (and beautiful) woman explained that her profession as a tattoo artist, quells her pain of not being able to give life to another being. The tattoos that she designs are her “babies”.
Who would have thought of inking and piercing as ways to avoid pain. Astrid is much more of a woman than she realises.
The documentary ended and I asked myself again, would I get a tattoo? The answer is still no.
However Trevor, never say never.