One of the questions I get asked the most is about my tattoos, what they mean, whether they hurt or not, and how I chose my artists. Every time I decide on sharing their meaning and the inspiration behind each, I get held back by the fear of exposing my emotions too much, but then again if I can benefit only one person who is on the fence and needs some straight talk, then I’m all in.
To be very honest, the pain depends on your tolerance, expect the worst and you might be pleasantly surprised. If it’s a large tattoo the body numbs itself, hormones are released to make you relaxed and soon the pain will be pleasurable. But it IS after all, a needle constantly pecking on your skin, so expect some discomfort.
When it comes to your artist, do your research. In our day and age, you can access profiles of tattoo artists on Instagram and Facebook, as well as check their tagged photos by clients. See which profile relates to the style of the tattoo you have in mind, some are great with clean simple tattoos, others with freehand and 3D. Check the history of the artist, connect with some of his clients especially ones that have tattoos over a year to see how well it aged, reach out to him personally and ask him questions such as how long the session will take and how much it costs (they are pricier than you would imagine), keep an eye out for details such as the quality of the ink, and the line work. It is no matter to be taken lightly, but once you have made an informed decision, you will be in safe hands. Another factor that is tough to grasp online is chemistry. Sometimes you can go to the best artist in town but find him intimidating or the lines of communication aren’t flowing, then abort mission. You don’t need to be pressured into anything; you need to be walked through it especially if it’s your first tattoo.
I would also recommend to get your first tattoo somewhere that isn’t visible when you are clothed to figure out if you’re truly comfortable with more flamboyant tattoos. Someone advised me to get my first somewhere even I can’t see it, and I’m glad I followed that tip, every time I glance at the mirror to see it, I fall in love with it all over again.
Another important factor is aftercare. Your tattoo artist will give you instructions on how to wash and help heal your new tattoo. You will need to avoid heat and sun exposure for example, so it is best not to get inked in the summer. You must keep it hydrated with special creams and the list goes on.
For someone who has wanted to get a tattoo since their early teenage years and ended up getting the first at age 32 lays a long process. Many might consider it not a big deal and won’t mind getting inked on a whim, but I wasn’t going to let permanent art on my body be a spur of the moment decision. I thought it through for years. In the back of my mind there was always the what ifs, what if I end up regretting it, what if it turns out bad?
I got over the fear of pain because well, if it’s something one wants, then one must suffer to get it if needed right? The subject matter of my first tattoo was a no brainer, it would be related to my children, their birthdates, their names, or even abstract symbolism namely the Celtic knot of motherhood. But something in the back of my mind kept distracting me, I wouldn’t settle on a design and I felt that it was a sign to rethink things, so I slept on the whole tattoo idea for a while.
Two years ago in January, my grandfather had passed away two weeks prior to my due date with Fares. I went through the most awful period of losing a stoic person that had been in my life since I was born, and as much as I try to describe our bond I could never convey it. That loss meant loss of sleep for months on end, crying day and night, heartbroken that he wouldn’t be able to see my son whom he had waited so impatiently for, shattered at his sudden death when he was strong only a week before, relieved that I got to see him at the hospital a few hours before he ascended to heaven. I was determined to let his memory live on in the way I deemed fit, in the only way I knew him and of his adventures.
My tattoo appointment was on the eve of what would have been his birthday, and that happened by pure fate. I went in for my session with several images of Native American tribal arrows with a touch of Bohemian vibes, and after an hour’s design, the feathery arrow turned into an almost 20 cm geometric one. I had always been in awe of this culture, and having lived in the U.S.A. with my parents and grandparents, it was a part of me. I insisted on the arrow because my grandfather was a hunter, a traveler, a businessman, a jeweler, and a goal oriented man. Until the day he passed, he would always tell us of the adventures he had during his life, the people he met, their habits, science discoveries he would watch on T.V., and even old western movies. The symbol points upward to remind me to always follow my dreams, and like an archer to point that arrow to the direction I want and never give up. A few hours later, the tattoo was complete and I had endured the pain. The geometry reflects my logical side, the architect, always balancing art with function. The tattoo is me, and hidden deeper it is my grandpa.
My second appointment was a year later, I had been at a crossroad in my life and wanted a constant reminder of who I am and where I came from. I had a strong urge to etch on my skin the connection I had with air, water and earth, three of the four elements (the fourth which will be an inspiration for my latest tattoo). I wanted to get three small tattoos done at the same time, to sort of balance them out. In terms of pain they turned out to be worse than the first, I still am not sure if it is because of their location on the body or because they are so quick to be finished that my skin doesn’t have time to numb itself.
The tattoos are an airplane and a sailboat on each of my wrists, and an anchor on my ankle. Although they are pretty straightforward, they hold deeper meaning for me. For someone who lived their childhood abroad, the airplane was the norm. My entire family reaching back to my great grandfathers, both maternal and paternal are travelers and explorers, and our roots are all over the world. Does my feeling of not belonging stem by that? Does it symbolize my return to my home or does it feed my urge to explore? How badly do I want to go back to where my happiest days were lived? These are questions that are unanswered; the only fact being is that I have a calling to be where I’m not, physically and more than ever, mentally. The sailboat to me on the other hand represents peace, isolation, loneliness. Within the past couple of years I had gotten over what I considered a hurdle all my life, which was introversion, and how I mentally and emotionally need time alone with my inner voice, and the little lonely boat away from the shore summarizes my hunger for solitude. The anchor on my ankle keeps me grounded, and reminds me of my connection with the earth and Mother Nature. It is the hippie in me, the free spirit, and the barefoot in the sand child that I am.
My fifth tattoo is inspired by Native American culture, and the more I immersed myself in it, the more I understood that a chief had earned his headdress after years of battle, losses and victories, and that a young member of the tribe had to work a lot to earn a single feather. Each feather symbolizes a stage of battle, whether injury or otherwise, and for me to get one tattooed on my body meant that I had been wounded and had survived many hardships but came out deserving that symbol of bravery. As I was getting inked, my tattoo artist asked me if I liked fire, and when I told him I’m a fire sign, he was happy, and decided to create a fire feather. I asked him to steer clear from feminine designs and gear the tattoo to masculine energy which I feel I have a lot of. The outcome was a very special feather with a flaming tip, thus connecting my ongoing path to my element.
*Photo credit for the above is Hady Beydoun.
I am planning a sixth tattoo very soon, I already know what I want to get, and it’s only a matter of time. I can’t wait to share more of my tattoos as soon as I get them, and I do plan on more, in the end my body will be a timeline of my ambitions, dreams, victories, battles and losses.