My “Alternative” Hair and Body Modifications Help Me Love Myself

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Photo by Jen Hearn

he year that I left my abusive marriage, I embodied just about every cliche imaginable. I colored my hair bright red. I pierced my nose. I got a partial sleeve tattoo. The following year, I added two more piercings and two more tattoos.

And my tattoos, piercings, and hair (now platinum blonde) make me love who I see in the mirror.

I see someone who isn’t afraid to stand out anymore.

Tattoos in my twenties

My first tattoo was my last name on my right ankle. I got it done right after my first wedding, because I was upset about being forced to change my name upon marriage.

My second tattoo was a celtic knot on my left arm, but I was scared of the pain and chose a size far too small for that part of my body. My fourth tattoo was a lotus to cover this tattoo up.

My third tattoo was a matching tattoo with my now second ex-husband after we’d been dating for about a month. It’s on my left ankle.

In my twenties, I had a habit of getting cheap tattoos. I never invested in the beautiful large pieces I admired on others. Investing in quality tattoo work was never something I allowed myself to do because it was so utterly indulgent.

How could I reconcile spending so much money on something that does not add value or productivity?

It took some time to realize that the value of investing in high quality body modifications is in the self-expression from curating my body into a work of art.

Finally making my body my home

I finally got over my frugality and designed a beautiful complement to my lotus, building on the existing tattoo and then circling around it in an array of different flowers.

Underneath the lotus are a zinnia, a dahlia, two violets, and a rose. Zinnia represents friendship, constancy, and lasting love — like the love I have for myself that I will always prioritize. Blue dahlias represent fresh starts and new beginnings. Violet is the birth flower of February, a tribute to my late stepfather who died as I was in the midst of my exit from an abusive marriage. Pink roses represent appreciation and gratitude — for myself and for those around me who helped support me.

Coming up and around the lotus are a larkspur and a Phalaenopsis orchid. Larkspur is the July birth flower, a tribute to my sister, and orchids represent proud femininity, new beginnings, and respect. Lotus, of course, represents growth from darkness. Each flower in this tattoo represents something precious and important to me, and it was a very healing experience to finally allow myself this act of self-care.

I am making my body a beautiful home decorated exactly how I want it.

My 30s are for cover-ups

Circling back to the first and third tattoos, my last name and the matching tattoo with my abuser, I’ve finally dealt with those too.

As I have now become estranged from both parents who gave me that last name and I’ve legally changed it to something completely new, I no longer feel attached to the tattoo. I covered it with a tribute to my new namesake.

And I have an appointment this week to cover the other one.

Tattoos are an expression of my personality, my journey, my growth. They are a way that I express my beauty. And they are gorgeous testaments to my commitment to be myself.

Prone to sudden bursts of encouragement. They/them. Queer, autistic author of bit.ly/GaslightingMillennials

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