You may have wondered what that squiggly thing on my back is…
It features in a few photos I’ve posted here on the blog, but I’ve never really addressed it before. Mainly because it’s probably not that big a deal to anyone, but also because I often forget I have it until I look back at photos!
I personally love hearing about peoples’ tattoo choices and meanings, so I thought I’d do a Q&A about mine:
When and where did I get it done?
I had it done while I was in Bristol, 2 months after I turned 18. I’d been desperate to get a tattoo since age 15, but had to wait for obvious reasons. I went to a female targeted studio called Angels at Holey Skin, and they were great!
Design-wise, I knew I wanted Chinese calligraphy, and I knew what I wanted it to say, but I needed to get it translated and actually written. So (after triple checking the translation!!), I reached out to a Chinese calligraphy specialist in America to write it for me and send me the design; this actually cost most than the tattoo itself, but worth it for the look that I wanted!
Did it hurt?
I imagine your shoulder/back is probably the least painful place to get tattooed, and I wouldn’t really describe it as painful. A bit uncomfortable at first, as it feels like being scratched, but easy to get used to. I think it took around an hour and a half, but I can’t really remember as it was over 4 years ago now…
What does it mean?
Translation: ‘Life is but a dream.’
Firstly, as you may have guessed, I have a specific interest in Chinese culture. My dad used to have all these ancient Chinese artworks and philosophy books that I loved to look through, and I just think the calligraphy and art is beautiful.
One particular story has always stood out to me, and that is Zhuangzi’s ‘butterfly dream’:
Once upon a time, I, Zhuangzi, dreamt I was a butterfly, fluttering hither and thither, to all intents and purposes a butterfly. I was conscious only of my happiness as a butterfly, unaware that I was Zhuangzi. Soon I awoke, and there I was, veritably myself again. Now I do not know whether I was then a man dreaming I was a butterfly, or whether I am now a butterfly, dreaming I am a man….
Read the full version.
I’m not an expert on the intended meaning of this story, but that particular snippet has always been food for thought for me. Without going too much into my own strange beliefs about life and everything else, I like to think of this quote as a reminder that this is not the only life we might have, and that there’s every possibility that we may one day ‘wake up’ or begin a new ‘dream’, etc.
And yes, I often compare this to The Matrix for ease of explanation.
Why did I want it on my back/shoulder?
The location really was the only place that made sense for a long, vertical tattoo, but I also really liked the asymmetrical aesthetic of it as well. I think the shoulders and back are a strong, beautiful part of the body, so I wanted to accentuate that!
It also works out nicely that I only ever see it in flashes in the mirror as I’m getting dressed. I often forget it’s there because I can’t see it, but when it does catch my eye I love seeing it! Having it on my back just means I never get sick of it :)
Any regrets or other thoughts?
4 years on I have no regrets at all, I still love the design and I love where it is. It’s funny that I do forget it’s there (I had a massage the other day and the girl asked ‘What does this mean?’ and I was very very confused what she was talking about until she explained she meant my tattoo!), but as I say, I like that I don’t get sick of it by looking at it every day.
In terms of future tattoos, I’ve always had plans for another one on the arch of my foot, but I just haven’t got around to looking into it or planning. In Cornwall when I’m always at the beach or wanting to go swimming, it’s a bit awkward to have a tattoo healing on your foot! So it’s about timing, but also I’m a bit iffy about getting a tattoo that I can see all the time… the concern that I’ll get sick of it is real…
Do you have any tattoos? If not, would you ever get one?
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