Late in 1995, at the age of 34, I found myself in a grubby tattoo parlour in Cronulla, perusing the vividly coloured designs - endless skulls, skeletons, scrolls and flowers - looking for the perfect symbol with which to adorn my body.
I was looking for a rose. Yes, very cliché and just a tad narcissistic, considering my name is Rose … but that was just the point.
This tattoo represented much.
It was my rite of passage, my declaration to the world at large, that I had come to accept myself, love myself and was henceforth going to run my own life. A decade later, it still sits proudly on my left upper arm. I sometimes forget it’s there, but as it’s still one of the first things people notice when they meet me - I’m constantly being reminded. I sometimes wonder what’s going through people’s minds. What conclusions do folks reach about a 44-year-old woman with two fading tattoos? (I added a butterfly in 1996 on my ankle.)
I suppose I could have done the usual “chick” thing … and had the tattoo placed on a “discreet” spot on my breast or rear end. Ironically, the concept of either whipping a boob out, or bending over so a strange man could embroider me with ink seemed way more ludicrous to me, than walking around in broad daylight, with my tattoos on display for all to see. I never really considered the ramifications of having visible tattoos - I just wanted to be able to see them … to be reminded of what they represented. They were for me.
I actually have three tatts, but the other one - my first one, is barely visible. It was self-inflicted. In the early 1970s, my older sister discovered that by wrapping two needles tightly together with cotton thread, and then dipping them in Indian ink she was able to inject colour under her epidermis - permanently.
She put an arrow on her wrist and a Christian cross on her little toe. I thought they looked unbelievably cool. So, at age 11, I followed her lead, putting a cross on my right forearm (I’m left handed). It has faded a lot, but is still there. So I actually have three tattoos. I wasn’t going to stop at three … but after having my third child in my late 30s, my chosen spot for the next one (my hip) wasn’t looking quite so ripe and receptive. I gave the idea a miss. It probably would have been a dolphin.
At the time I had the professional tatts done reactions were largely negative. “What will you do when you are 70 and you still have a tattoo on your arm?” was the typical remark.
My response? “I’ll still be me - so I doubt it will be an issue.”
Of course, there are those two irritating questions. “Is it real?” (this question is usually accompanied by the person rubbing it to see if it can be erased) and “Did it hurt?”
I have two answers for that one, which alternate between: “Hurt? Well, compared to childbirth - which on the pain scale of one to ten is infinity times the power of the universe - the answer is No” and “Hurt? Only as much as a punch in the arm with a needle several hundred times would hurt … so yes … a bit”.
Most of my latter day tattooed brothers and sisters seem to agree on one point about their tattoos - they are addictive. One rarely stops at just one. If I ever meet someone with a new tattoo, I always ask, “Where’s the next one going?” These things tend to travel in pairs at least.
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