I still remember the look on my mom’s face when I showed up to my birthday dinner the day I turned 18 with a shiny new facial piercing. “Is it real?” was the only greeting she delivered when I strolled up my Grandparents’ front steps with a hoop through my bottom lip. Rather than the usual celebratory exclamations, all I got from her was shock and disdain. She politely ignored me the entire dinner and when dessert came, callously placed a piece of cake in front of me while physically shielding her eyes, “I will not look at you with that thing in your face.”
The following year I was 19 and living in the big city of Minneapolis, MN. I was enrolled in the Harvard of all beauty schools, and totally basking in all the ways my creativity was being coaxed out of me. I was suddenly stimulated by a fairly diverse, urban environment which gave way to a new take on my individuality. Coming from a small town in North Dakota, my hungry little eyes were exposed to so much unexpected inspiration. I felt myself bursting and blooming as I colored my hair bright orange, took up a (short-lived) love of metal music, and enlisted a dear friend of mine to draw my first tattoo. I had arrived! And so had my new tattoo, afforded by student loan money. (Thankfully, I now understand the concept of financial responsibility.)
That summer I went home to my family, and me and my newly decorated chest made our debut. It either went unacknowledged, purposely, because Midwesterners can be a bit passive like that, or a generally troubled look was the response I received. Yet a glimmer of hope emerged when my mother followed me to a nearby gas station to fill my tank before I took off back to Minneapolis. “I think you look really cool…”, she whispered as she hugged me goodbye. My heart leapt! It was the sliver of reassurance I needed to realize that despite whatever way I looked, my character could prevail as long as I faced the world with the kindness and authenticity I so eagerly wanted to share with everyone I met.
My mom was an easy one to win over, being her own flesh and blood and all, but I knew that between the hard looks and lectures about having blemished my professional appearance, and stamped myself with some sort of damning stereotype, I was a well intentioned person. I had the work ethic of my father who built an exemplary reputation and much success from his determined approach to the things he wanted to conquer. I was going to be unstoppable just like him. I wasn’t minimizing my opportunities by getting tattooed. Everything I ever wanted was still attainable so long as I worked hard to prove my ability and commitment. I was going to be respected, I was going to be successful, and I was going to do it with tattoos and piercings. I was going to be beautiful and revered, fashionable and relevant. I was going to be as classic as Grace Kelly and as alternative as Daphne Guinness.
Several tattoos and a few more piercings later, I realize that my individuality (and my personal style) is forever evolving. People ask me all the time what I’m going to do if I don’t like my tattoos as I get older. To me it’s pretty simple. Being authentic means being comfortable in your own skin. I can’t explain to you the choices I’ve made concerning the forever-decorations I have on my body, just like I can’t explain to you why I absolutely love my boyfriend’s chipped front tooth. These types of sentiments are unique and my own. But will I still strive to love every inch of my body as I age? Yes. And am I aware that my tattoos will age just as I do? I want them to! What is wrong with chests and arms and mid-sections that soften and laze? Nothing. And nothing will still be wrong with mine, adorned with art. My tattoos represent a lot of things; mostly my upbringing and my family, but they also remind me of each moment in time they were acquired and the maturation they’re peppered with. I wouldn’t change a one of them. I’m proud of myself. I truly love and trust myself. And I’m so ready to infect the women I meet and work with with the positivity and confidence I’ve cultivated along the way.