Disclaimer: This is much longer than my normal posts. Each story was too precious to edit too much. I want to thank each of these women for their honesty and vulnerability.
I love the dichotomy of hard and soft, leather and lace, steel and satin. I adore wearing a pretty, feminine, floral dress with a leather jacket.
I think this is why I have an affinity for tattoos on women. The combination of soft skin and dark ink. Something traditionally masculine, on a feminine frame.
For me, I not only love how tattoos look on women, I love what they represent.
Tattoos are a way for women to claim their power as well as a way for them to give you a peek inside their soul.
(Let me clarify here, I love well done tattoos. Tats that were deliberate and/or well thought out. Not tattoos that were received in a drunken haze or on a dare.)
To me, a tattooed woman represents power; freedom; self-assurance.
She is in control of her life. She holds the authority to use her body as a canvas.
Tattoos denote a history, a meaning, a story. It is a way for women to say, “This is my body. This is who I am. This is where I’ve been. This is what I love.”
In a society that condones the objectification of women and tirelessly judges them on what they look like, tattoos on women say that they are in f*cking charge. That they have the power to do with their body as they see fit.
I feel women with tattoos have a strong sense of who they are and a deep love for their body; for where it’s been and where it’s going.
In my adult life, I cannot remember ever NOT wanting a tattoo. However, it wasn’t until my 44th birthday that I actually took the plunge. To read more about why I started getting tattoos in my 40s, click this.
My first time getting a tattoo, I actually got 2. On my hip, I got my mother’s handwriting, a personal message to me, along with a dragonfly. A symbol to remind me that life is short and we must live life to the fullest.
My mom passed away when she was 51 and this was and still is a tribute to her.
On my wrist, I simply put, “I love you,” also in her handwriting.
Two years ago I got my third tattoo. Two pink lotus flowers on my ankle. A large one representing my mom, and a smaller, unfurled one representing my teenage daughter. They are pink symbolizing breast cancer, which is how my mother died. Surrounding the flowers is water – representing me (for my love of the ocean). The water, connecting the two flowers, is the link between the two since they never had a chance to meet.
I started getting tattoos because I love the story they tell. I love being able to honor something important with permanence and beauty. I love being able to look at my tattoos everyday and be reminded of the incredible bond between mothers and daughters.
When I see my tattoos I feel love. I feel strong. I feel sexy. For me, it is the ultimate symbol of a woman’s power over her own body.
I have a couple more tattoos in my future. When the time is right and the inspiration reveals itself, I will get more.
I am always fascinated by what people choose to ink on their bodies.
I decided to ask some women I know about their tattoos. Why they got them and how they make them feel about themselves.
Each of these women are over 40. They have very different backgrounds and motives for getting tattoos. The one thing they share is they LOVE their ink!
(Eva LaFlamme is one of the first blogger friends I made online and she takes tattoos very seriously. She has an awesome blog, all about ink, called The Tattoo Tourist. Check it out here.)
Eva-Blogger, Writer, and Tattoo Expert Extraordinaire:
I got my first tattoo at 24. I felt like a total bad ass. I designed it myself and did a horrible job. The artist copied my crap design exactly. It was a wolf jumping in front of a red circle (filled with self-important crap symbology). It basically looked like the Greyhound Bus logo. I had it covered with a lotus flower several years ago by the legendary Madame Chinchilla.
I have two sleeves – nature images for my family on the left; a drawing my daughter did when she was 12 on the right.
A bird on my shoulder for my sister who passed away.
Flowers on my mastectomy scars.
The first tattoo was pure silliness, but the tattoos that really gave me “the bug” were the flowers over my scars. I felt like a “tattooed person” as they were visible and covered a lot of space.
Then I wanted a tattoo for my sister – a sparrow and a key with a thistle.
Then I just needed more. The drawing my daughter did is a surrealistic tiger with scenery and animals woven through it. Hannah Aitchison of LA INK fame did that one.
My other sleeve is for my family. Each of us are represented by a different critter and it was beautifully done by Tina Bafaro.
Now I just want some “fun” tattoos that don’t have to mean anything. If I was rich I would have WAY more. I’m very picky and only want to work with top artists – they are worth the extra money.
I rarely see my own tattoos as I tend to wear long sleeves. Sometimes, I notice them and sometimes I don’t. When I wear short sleeves in public, I will get double takes – mainly because people don’t know I have so much ink. It is kind of fun surprising people. I always enjoy answering questions.
I am hoping to start a leg sleeve done by a variety of top female artists of all female characters. I have a standing appointment with Kelly Doty to do a Viking warrior maiden on my thigh. I also have a chance to go back to Hannah Aitchison and get a 1950’s pin-up style housewife pushing an old-fashioned vacuum cleaner with the cord spelling out “Suck It” on my calf. I may end up regretting that last one, but I seriously doubt it!
Kyoko-Math Grant Coordinator and Momma to Two Awesome Kids:
I was 21 and had thought about getting a tattoo for years. I went one day after work with two friends and it took 45 minutes. It’s a Japanese flag with my name written in kanji in the middle. I designed it! I didn’t leave it up to them to write the name wrong! 🙂
I don’t see my tattoo often! I like that I placed it so it could be seen, or not, depending on my swim suit! It’s faded, and stretched I’m sure, but I still like it. I only feel strange when I go to Japanese bath houses in Japan (you go completed naked). Tattoos are a no-no there & they have signs saying no admittance. I just plead ignorance!
I have been waiting to get another one. My daughter, son, and I want the same thing, symbolizing our family unit. We’re just waiting on the right design to come to us . . . then we will get it!
Barb-Child Care Director/Instructor and Exercise Nut:
I currently have three tattoos! I say “currently” because I am not convinced I am finalized with my body art.
My first tattoo I received when I was about 22, on my left shoulder. During this period in my life I was battling crystal meth, and it ended up being a disaster. Not only was it ugly, it was a constant reminder of my battle with addiction. Once I gained full recovery, at the age of 40, I had it redone. It was a freeing experience because I no longer had a reminder of my poor choices as a young adult!
My second tattoo I got when I was about 30. This one was a spontaneous endeavor, a daisy on my ankle.
My third I got in September of 2015 as a gift to myself for my birthday. After two spontaneous tattoos, this one I ruminated on for many years. After going from drug addict fuck up to a drug free, living life athlete, I gave the idea of the third a great deal of thought. I decided on the Japanese symbol for clarity, which is on my neck. Why clarity? At first I though about “faith,” but with everything I have faced in life, I already knew my faith was strong. Perseverance had been achieved as well. When I saw the symbol for clarity, I knew that was a relationship I wanted to build on with myself.
All three have a story and each one represents a time in my life of change.
Chani-Garden Therapist, Mama, and Lover of Peace:
I got my first tattoo when I turned 18. I had just moved to Oregon to begin my college career. It’s a flaming red, yellow, and green peace sign. At the time I thought of myself as a rebel for peace and pro-marijuana. The tattoo represented that. Now, as I sit here smoking legally, I look at my faded tattoo and it reminds me how little I have changed.
My second tattoo I got when I was 21. My boyfriend wanted us to get tattoos together so we designed my anklet to represent peace, love, friendship, and nature because those are the things that are important to me.
My third tattoo I got when I was 43. I have the sun tattooed on my left hip and have always wanted a crescent moon and stars on my right hip but was too busy, chicken, or poor to do it.
I was very sure at the time of each tattoo what I wanted and where I wanted them. Now when I look at them they remind me of the confidence I had before I was beaten down by life.
The one I recently got is a smiling crescent moon that represents me. The three stars around it represent my husband and our two sons. This one reminds me that what doesn’t kill you, does make you a stronger, wiser and more humble person.
My tattoos are like a poem that I have written to remind me of where I have been . . . so far! Tattoos are really addictive. Luckily they are really painful and expensive.
Carla-Television Assistant Director and Fiery Redhead:
I got my tattoo when I was 30. I was shooting in Venice and the Producer asked if anyone wanted to get a tattoo at lunch and I volunteered. He said the only stipulation was that he got to watch. I hadn’t really thought before that, ever, about getting a tattoo!! I did, however, get something that was meaningful to me, which was the Eye of Horus. I had studied Ancient Egyptian culture since I was in grade school and this was perfect for me.
I love my tattoo because it is very dear to who I am.
Janelle-Waste Water Treatment Plant Worker and Best Smile Award Winner:
I got my first tattoo on my ankle with my mom’s name Cecelia in 1998. I wanted to honor her. She died in 1994.
My life journey took me to a very low point in 2001. I became homeless, extremely ill, and clouded in a daze of booze and mental illness. In 2002ish, my dear friend who stuck by my side, gifted me a forearm piece of my favorite band at the time (Cold). As a birthday gift, I got Cold’s spider as a reminder that I was on the mend.
In 2003 I was breaking stride and becoming a bit more normal. I was finally able to start seeing my baby girl again. I saved money and began the process of getting zebra stripes tattooed on my upper arm. I wanted a quarter sleeve of the zebra stripes because when I was pregnant with my daughter, my dad always asked when his zebra baby was going to born. My beautiful mixed race daughter was born on Oct. 20, 1997. My tattoo was always worked on with my girl in attendance. I gave her a place to be remembered. A reminder that she was a gift of love between two people and a crazy grandpa.
My chest piece was started when I had 8 years of sobriety under my belt. I was proud and I wanted two strong black women on each side of my chest. I chose the afro-mudflap girl surrounded by stars.
My last piece has been done as a growing remembrance. I started my left lower arm quarter piece with wild flowers and large stars. My mom, my grandmother, and grandfather all have places with the flowers. I’m at peace when I look at them. My heart is a little less broken when I think of the beauty I have within my flowers.
I added an empty star in 2010 for the friend who always stood by my side. In Aug 2010, she could no longer fight her addiction and she relapsed and overdosed on heroin. Her star at the base of my arm is empty.
I started late getting work done because I wanted my tattoos to tell a story. I was 32 when I began.
Sonja-Piano Teacher and Breast Cancer’s Ass Kicker:
I was 46 and it was March 22, 2014 when I got my tattoo. It was my 1st and is still my only tattoo.
I wanted to get my tattoo the exact day, one year later, from my breast cancer double mastectomy date of March 22, 2013. For me, that first of five surgeries was huge – physically and emotionally. That surgery represented getting the cancer out – being rid of it – attacking it. However, at the time, it sucked majorly facing the reality of having my breasts removed. It still hurts deeply and saddens me at times. But, I also knew that it meant never likely facing breast cancer again. It was a combination of harsh, sad news combined with a silver lining. Despite the surgery and my circumstances, I knew I never would have to go through yearly mammograms or have so much anxiety anymore about getting breast cancer. It weighed on my mind most of my adult life, as my mom and aunt had gone down this path. I always wondered if my number would come up.
When I look at my tattoo, I feel relief and closure usually. I feel proud of myself for keeping a chin up and not being a victim despite cancer. Instead of attending cancer support groups or therapy, I got a tattoo. (Not knocking the other options, just wasn’t my thing). Even though the pink ribbon is a universal object representing breast cancer, when I look at mine I see myself and feel like it’s unique to me.
I’ve played the piano since the age of 8. I now teach it, and knew something musical needed to be part of the tattoo since a love of music is so much a part of who I am.
What I’ve come to realize recently about my tattoo and it’s location on my wrist, (very visible), is that it opens up a dialogue with people whom I normally wouldn’t have one with. Complete strangers . . . women, men, children . . . ask me about it. Usually, they then share their breast cancer story with me. This has allowed me to connect with people I wouldn’t have otherwise. Such a wonderful blessing! I have no regrets about getting it. I absolutely love it.
Amy-Executive Director of Individual Giving and Devoted Follower of Christ:
I have 9 tattoos.
I got my first tattoo, my sorority letters, on my 21st birthday. I didn’t get another one until I was 35.
My second tattoo is the phrase, “Love Conquers All” on my upper back. I had been through a bad break up and in seeking healing, I wanted to permanently remind myself that love can and will rule in the end.
My third tat is an intricate cross on my left inner wrist. I got it when I was 40. I had been away from the church and a few years before the tattoo, I went back a made the decision to turn my life over to God.
When I was 41, I got tattoos number 4 and 5 in one sitting. The phrase, “Thy word is a light unto my path and a lamp unto my feet,” on the arch of my left foot, and “Jesus” on my inner right wrist. They were both motivated by my commitment to my faith.
My 6th tattoo is the word “God” in a heart on my upper left thigh. It was originally the letter “G” in a heart. I was engaged to a man and I got it as a present for him so he would know my body was only for him. Shortly after I got it, he postponed, and then called off the wedding. I had it changed to say “God” to remind myself not to give my body away to a man who did not value me in the same loving way God loves me.
When I was 43, I got my 7th tattoo; a cover of the tattoo on my foot. I still loved the saying, but it didn’t set right and looked all jumbled. I got a very large rose on my foot that extends down the arch to cover the writing. This was my first really large and expensive piece.
I got my 8th tattoo when I was 45 on my right upper arm. It is a compilation of a heart and paisley in a colorful mehndi style. It is my favorite. I got it to commemorate my first 90 days of sobriety.
I got the 9th tattoo at 46 (only a couple of weeks ago). It is a series of designs and flowers in the mehndi style that builds on the heart tattoo and has extended to a full half sleeve.
I got the first one because, at the time, the sisterhood of my sorority in college was by far the greatest experience of my life. The complete sense of belonging and acceptance was something I wanted to remember always.
The next several tattoos were all motivated by a desire to commemorate the words in my soul, on my body.
I love all of my tattoos. I love the way they make me look and the way they make me feel. I have such amazing fondness for the memories they remind me of. They also cause me to think of the meanings behind them
I have no regrets about any of my tattoos. I’m sure there will be more. I think they are beautiful, and when I see them, I feel powerful. This comes from having the courage to be vulnerable and brave enough to put my inside feelings on the outside of my body without shame.
Cindy-Momma to 2 Boys/Dabbles In Surfing and Playing the Drums, oh and the guitar, and the bass . . .
I was 31 when I got my tattoo. I chose a crescent moon with two stars and a swirl that wraps around the moon and connects the stars. The moon represents my given name, Cynthia, which is Greek for “goddess of the moon.” I didn’t have kids at the time, but ended up with two boys-they are the “stars.” I like to think that my husband Dean is the “swirl” that keeps us all together.
When I was very young, my parents used to take me and my cousins to the Pike amusement park in Long Beach. At 5 or 6, I would run off and duck into a local tattoo parlor because I wanted a Snoopy tattoo very badly. This horrified my mother and amused my father. Tattoos on girls weren’t that common when I was in high school or college, but I still held onto my desire. I met a girl in post-grad school certification program with beautiful tattoos and struck up a conversation. Her cousin was a tattoo artist in Laguna Beach, and on a very special summer day in 1997 I went to his shop and finally realized a dream.
I love my tattoo today as much as the day I got it. A few years ago, I went to that same tattoo parlor in Long Beach and had it re-inked and added some more background to make it bigger. My 50th birthday present to myself is to finally go in and get the Snoopy tattoo I’ve wanted since I was little 🙂
Heather, PhD-Writer and Past Life Regression Guru:
Tattoos are very important to me.
I started getting tattoos after my kids were born so I was probably in my late 20s or early 30s. My last tattoo (Number 15) was done in 2015. At this time, I have no plans for more tattoos, but as I’ve learned from experience, that can change at any time. As for the story of each, this may take a while:
1) Kanji for strength on my right groin – This was my first. I thought I would just like a symbol to remind me of my strength. I had been through a terrible ordeal and was healing. I did not expect to want more tattoos after this one. However, as many know, tattoos can be quite addicting.
2) Wolf and moon on my ass cheek – I was studying Shamanism and this image was important to me.
3) Bugs Bunny on my other ass cheek – I wanted an image that reminded me to not take myself too seriously.
4) Shell and treble clef on my right ankle – The shell was to honor my grandmother after she passed and the treble clef was to honor my dad after he passed.
5) Hibiscus on left breast – This was for my husband, Mark. I wanted something to represent our relationship.
6) California King snake on my lower back – A California King snake got into my house when I lived in the desert. I almost stepped on it but my border collie, Skye, warned me and saved me from the snake. The tattoo was to honor my beloved dog.
7) Celtic knot on left upper back – This symbol is for loyalty. I wanted a reminder to be first loyal to my self and not put myself last.
8) Knight’s helmet on the back of my neck – This was for my first past life experience as a knight.
9) Mermaid and Octopus on left thigh – This is a large piece, representing Yin/Yang, masculine and feminine with a water theme.
10) Water dragon and geisha girl on right thigh – This is also a large piece as a mirrored theme of my other leg.
11) Eiffel Tower and quill/ink on left ankle – To represent my love of writing.
12) Om symbol on left forearm. – This is was to represent the oneness and connectedness of us all. I felt this during my past life and needed a symbol for it.
13) Ultreia on my left wrist – The word is Latin for “Onward”. A reminder to keep moving forward.
14) Bee on right index finger – I had a dream that I had a bee tattooed on my finger and so I got it. Funny thing – my two biggest fears are bees and snakes and I have both tattooed on me.
15) Tribal turtle on right forearm – This was done in Tahiti by the traditional hammering method with bone. The turtle (honu) is the symbol Mark and I have all over our house.
I love my tattoos everyday and I’m glad I have them. Each one was a special event, at times a rite of passage. I never drank alcohol before a tattoo and usually spent the time before it praying, meditating, and having a special meal. They have been sacred events for me. At times, I may have to cover them for professional meetings but I’ve never regretted them and can’t imagine my skin bare. I find them intriguing, empowering, and sexy. I love seeing others with tattoos and I am always curious about the story behind them.
We each get ink to tell our story. And an extremely personal one at that.
Women with tattoos are literally wearing their heart’s on their sleeves. How lucky we are that they are willing to share them with us.