Tattoos: my body is my canvas

Katianna Mansfield

More stories from Katianna Mansfield

I am okay now
February 16, 2018

There’s a distinct moment, right before you get a tattoo, in which every second slows down to the vibrating needle and you. The world falls away. Everything touching you, looking at you, staring out from inside you, is gone; it’s just you and your skin.

Your skin is one of the most important things about you. The air you breathe affects it; how you eat, what you drink, your daily activities, the ground, miscellaneous objects, everything inside and out can touch it and change it. Many of these things are uncontrollable: a scraped knee, pollution in the air, unknown chemicals.

Everyone can see your skin, including you, so my philosophy is to decorate it the way you want to project yourself. The way a person wears certain clothes to accentuate their features, jewelry to show their style and things that are important to them. Everything outside one’s skin is a way to express themselves.

I’ve never been the best at outward appearances. Makeup makes me want to rip my face off; any other clothes than pajamas feel like seaweed wrapped around my body, and I’m far too distracted to put on daily jewelry.

However, I had been fascinated by symbolism through bodily artwork from a young age. I thought about symbolism and beauty in terms of my life in everything I went through. Symbolism in literature and cinematography ruled my mind like a prevalent dictatorship as I drew ties in my mind from objects to entire storylines and back again. Eventually, I didn’t need books or movies to recognize representation. I could see the symbols in real life, and that was empowering.

I can’t stand tattoos that don’t mean anything. A flower on the foot because it’s pretty, a football because you like to watch MSU play sometimes when it’s convenient, a YOLO because 2015 was the bomb; these are pointless. I thought about my first tattoo for years, debating idea after idea and discarding one after another because I needed to think seriously about what was so important to me that I had to get it permanently scarred onto my body so I could feel whole.

One day, I finally got an idea, and after months of internal debate, I got myself marked.

My little sister and I have a profound bond that puts her higher in my heart than breath and life, so I knew that my first tattoo would be commemorating her and how much she means to me.

Since she was little, she had this shrill, infectious laugh that made anyone who heard it smile. We would tickle her in public because it was just so heartwarming, and it would bring happiness to everybody around her. As she grew up, kids were mean and made her self-conscious about her laugh, so I almost never hear it anymore. It’s a rare once or twice every six months now.

Her laugh is so representative of everything she means to me and how well we know each other, I knew it was perfect. I recorded it on one of the very occasional times she would let go enough to laugh like she used to and translated it into sound waves.

I have the sound waves of my baby girl’s childhood innocence framed underneath my heart, right where she has always been.

Since my first tattoo, I’ve realized that I want each one I get to tell the story of my life. Small or big, I want the representation of my struggles and achievements plastered on me like billboards of my mind.

On my wrist, I have my mom and I’s secret goodbye that we show through closed windows and doors because we can’t talk. She is my go-to, the woman I never want to leave. The way we have found ways to cope with our separation issues, to say goodbye without saying it, is now right above my veins. Veins filled with the blood she gave me as a baby and made sure it stayed there. I love my protective mother bear.

On my hip, I have a rose going through the words “ama la vida,” the Ecuadorian and GalA?pagos Islands flags’ saying that means, “to fall in love with life,” in order to remember my first adventure by myself. The first thing I crossed off my bucket list. The rose represents a little old couple I met there from Georgia, they were silent most of the time, but the small woman would occasionally discuss scrapbooking with me. One night, they went out by themselves to explore the island without us science students, and they returned with a rose for every single one of us.

I plan on continuing to think about everything that means something to me and marking it on my body, just for me.

As the needle vibrates and I can feel my heart shaking with it, I tell my story, one ink injection at a time.