I Tattooed My Body Insecurities on My Arm—Here’s Why

hallie gould



This is about one author's personal, anecdotal experience and should not substitute medical advice. If you're having health concerns of any kind, we urge you to speak to a healthcare professional.

I always assumed I'd get a tattoo. I felt charmed by the idea you could stop a moment in time so permanently—inking it on your body for the rest of your life. My parents might call that a mistake, something to be wary of because we're all constantly changing. But to me, it's beautiful. Similar to the way scent can transport you backward, you can look at a limb and each time it acts as a passageway to a different you. For years I fantasized about what I'd get, vacillating between various song lyrics, author quotes, and images. I can conveniently say now that hindsight is 20/20 and I'm glad I never went through with any of those. A few years ago I came up with the idea for what I did finally get, a delicate line-drawing of a female upper body, and agonized over all the details. I tried to figure out who was best to do it, how much I could spend, and what the final drawing would look like. I pulled references from art, clothing, Instagrams—everything. But I never found myself taking any further action. I resolved for a while that if I really wanted it, I would have already gotten it.

Then, on a trip to L.A., I was eating lunch with a friend who had just recently gotten a new tattoo. I was admiring it while we ate, jealous she had the gumption to go through with it. I'm infamously indecisive, worrying about every last detail before making any important decision. "Should I just get my tattoo tomorrow?" I asked her, to which she quickly nodded her head. The next day, we walked into a shop she had heard was good near the restaurant we planned to go to. All my precise planning and research went out the window and 20 minutes later I was under the gun with the first available artist. I showed him all my references and he drew the perfect figure on his very first try. It must be fate, I thought, as I winced under his needle. In about three minutes he was done. I looked down at my new forever-accessory, beaming with pride.

When people ask, I tell them it's a celebration of the female form. It's a simply put explanation and doesn't require a lot of follow-up questions. Though, the real meaning is a bit more complicated. I decided to tattoo a woman's curves on my body—boobs and hips, to be more precise—because I've always been really uncomfortable with my own. I developed an eating disorder during my teenage years after they arrived, fleshy and not entirely tight, and continued to hate them on and off for decades afterward. My feelings about my breasts became particularly entangled in my quest for a different form. They're too big, too ugly, too obtrusive, I'd tell myself. After going through treatment and therapy, and years of learning to be kinder to myself, I decided to get breast reduction surgery. At that point, gaining back weight post-eating disorder had made it so my breasts felt like foreign objects—like a weight I had to carry around that wasn’t my own.

So, yes, my tattoo is a celebration of the female form. But it's also shining a light on my progress, a constant reminder as I continue through recovery.

My feelings after the surgery were really positive, I was happy with the results and felt far more comfortable in my body. But the scars remained and left an indelible mark on my confidence. I went from feeling ashamed of my breast size to feeling embarrassed about the scars. Needless to say, my body insecurities all centered around my boobs for a very long time. So I decided to tattoo them on my arm for all to see. It was freeing, really, to resolve to take matters into my own hands for the second time (the first being the decision to get the surgery). The tattoo's meaning feels secretive and transparent at the same time, allowing me to proudly display my fears and self-doubt in a really beautiful, permanent way. So, yes, my tattoo is a celebration of the female form. But it's also shining a light on my progress, a constant reminder as I continue through recovery—learning to love my parts but never forgetting how easily progress can vanish in an instant. I'm really grateful for it.

This post was published at an earlier date and has since been updated.

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