Etched Permanence

By Paige Wyatt
TW: this piece discusses body dysmorphia

Self-love is a concept that seems to permeate every marketable product or service these days. It feels insincere, overdone, and completely tone-deaf to people that look like me. Love myself, in this economy? With this body? The mirror shows me someone the world says is ugly. Those sentiments echo back to me, reverberating until they sink into my skin, imbedding into my bones. I dread looking into one, but it’s necessary at a tattoo appointment.

“Is it too high? And make sure it’s straight,” Annie says after she has carefully placed the stencil on my chest. The bright purple lines bleed into my skin, marking where I will be forever changed. 

The moment you check a stencil before a tattoo is always surreal. I am no stranger to this feeling. Her husband Devan has been tattooing me for four years, working on each part of my arms until they are full of his Japanese-inspired art. No matter how many times I go through this, I am always struck by the preview of my transformation. 

This time is different. Arm tattoos are easily covered. You might not realize how marked my arms are until I roll up my sleeves. But this one is intentionally placed to be seen. The top goes to the hollow of my throat and the bottom extends to the tip of my open heart surgery scar, right in the middle of my cleavage line. I’m always going to see it, and so will the world. 

“It looks perfect,” I tell her, and I mean it. Annie’s artistic style is versatile, but she specializes in a unique type of solid black and dotwork tattoo. It resembles Nordic runes in both symbolism and symmetry, coming together to form one cohesive piece that honors celestial elements and clean lines. 

This piece stretches from one clavicle to the other with crisscrossing sections that give it a lacy look without the frivolity. It’s feminine and strong as it stands out boldly against my pale skin. It highlights a part of my body that I rarely wanted to show off before now. 

“Are you ready?” Annie asks as I lie on the table, her machine buzzing in my ear. I say yes and she begins.

Annie knows of my battle with dysmorphia. She encourages me to love myself, and has been supportive when I am spiraling. She is covered in tattoos, a walking gallery of beauty and confidence. She tells me that loving myself is the most important thing I could do, and she says it as many times as I need to hear it. 

Wearing art for the rest of your life requires self-love because it forces you to take it seriously. It is a physical manifestation of a part of you that would normally be buried. Even if a tattoo doesn’t have a significant meaning, it still says something about the wearer. Making a statement like that is more than mere awareness, but the bravery of acknowledgement. When I booked this tattoo, I had to tell myself that it would look good on me and it belonged on my skin. To follow through, I had to believe it. 

As Annie works, we talk. We’ve been friends for a few months now, which eases any anxiety I might’ve had with another artist. The beginning of our connection traces to my years of being her husband’s client, and our mutual love of the paranormal deepened it. She is a good listener, a steady presence, a level head who thrives in the abstract. Quality friendships are a form of self-love. I always leave my time with her feeling fulfilled no matter what we’re doing, and this is no different. To have a friend etch this kind of permanence on me adds to its significance. 

Five hours later, the hard part is over and I get to see the end result. I’d gotten a few sneak peeks during brief breaks, but this is the first time I’ve seen it in its final, immutable state. As I inspect my new chest, words get stuck behind emotions I didn’t expect: pride and confidence. 

I didn’t think a tattoo could make such a difference in my fight for self-love, but this one does. It’s placement is flattering, and the dot work combined with heavy black makes it delicate yet bold. I’ve hated myself for so long that feeling proud of my appearance brings a sense of relief. I haven’t experienced this in a long time. 

The world tells us that there is a fine line between confidence and arrogance. I realized in a therapy session (another form of self-love) that I am afraid of confidence. Somewhere along the way I’ve equated self-hatred with humility and virtue. I’ve eschewed self-love in favor of becoming smaller in the eyes of the world. I’ve believed the false corollary that says if I allow myself to stand in my own power and beauty, then I will become conceited and self-absorbed. 

When I decided to reclaim “fat” as an adjective for my body, openly and without shame, it was freeing. This, too, was an act of self-love. Similarly, getting my chest tattoo catalyzed a new way of thinking for me. Every time I look into the mirror now, I see my friend’s art there. It stands as a reminder that maybe I’m not so unworthy. Maybe I’m better at self-love than I thought.

You can check out Annie’s art on her Instagram page here. She and her husband own Mythical Wizard Tattoo on the northeast side of Indianapolis. 


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