The solar system tattooed on my thigh transformed its meaning
By Alexis Zygan, Staff Writer
This is my way of reclaiming body autonomy and agency over how I present myself.
During the transition into adulthood, I felt animosity towards my appearance, consuming subliminal messages that diminished my self-worth. I believed that I was not good enough because of my stretch marks, birthmarks, and bruises. The perpetuation of an unachievable beauty standard by the media affects 91 percent of women who say they are unhappy with their body. Models walk the runway in skimpy lingerie, and photoshop has only become more accessible in the digital age. Discerning that bodies in the media undergo editing to appear perfect did not prevent internalizing shame for my not-so-camera-perfect body. I uncovered the art of tattooing through Tumblr, witnessing how tattoos transformed skin into a permanent art canvas.
Once I was nineteen (the legal age to get a tattoo in British Columbia) I emailed a stick and poke artist who studied fine arts in Eastern Canada. Her delicate tattoos spoke to a gentler side of myself I wanted to represent with my first tattoo; a self-soothing image on my thigh of all the planets in the solar system, including Pluto. This tattoo serves as a reminder of the vastness of outer space for when I felt alone in the universe. My problems are minuscule—I am a speck of dust on a planet that orbits the sun. After the appointment, I felt elated, attributable to endorphins released when the skin is punctured with a needle. Yet, once the euphoria faded, the newfound empowerment prevailed. Not long passed before I was messaging the artist to book another appointment.
For months I concealed the evidence of ink from my parents, who outwardly expressed their aversion to tattoos. However, once summer arrived and the heat made it unbearable to wear jeans, they caught a glimpse. At that point, I had three tattoos: a smiley face on my right calf, a frowny face on my left calf, in addition to the solar system. My mother responded with shock. Unsure of why I chose to “destroy my skin.” I retorted that this is my way of reclaiming body autonomy and agency over how I present myself. By decorating my skin, I am healing the unhealthy relationship I developed with my body in earlier years. After each new appointment, I felt more comfortable looking in the mirror.
I currently have over ten tattoos—90 percent located on my legs. Growing pains resulted in stretch marks and scars from chronic clumsiness. Tattoos have reduced my inner critic by admiring art instead of flaws. Not all of the tattoos on my body hold an abstract meaning. Some are musings of inner struggle; others are flash drawings that spoke to me at the moment. The single-needle rose on my ankle is beautiful, and I chose to adorn my body with beautiful art.
Altogether they represent a collection of memories. The solar system has transformed into a memento for the delicate beauty of growth. Pluto may no longer be a planet, and I no longer depend on tattoos to feel empowered. As I aged, I started to cherish the flaws—the stretch marks resulting from physical growth; and the journey towards emotional maturity that sparked radical self-love.