How tattoos help me reclaim my body
"I realised I could do what I wanted with my body, and that included my skin."
Learning to accept the skin you’re in is hard. I say ‘accept’ because ‘love’ is sometimes unrealistic. There are days when I simply accept myself and how I look, rather than being in love with what I see in the mirror. And that’s ok. I know I’m not alone when I say that years of dieting and obsessing over food have done me damage. I’m not sure I’ll ever fully recover. But I’m healing and growing in the right direction, and I take each day as it comes.
Getting tattooed has helped me nurture a healthier relationship with my body. I remember getting my first ones – a tiny Saturn on my left wrist and a crescent moon on my right ring finger, both in fine, black linework. They weren’t big, but they represented something radical.
I realised I could do what I wanted with my body, and that included my skin. For me, it also signified a change in how I presented myself to the world. I used to hate the idea of eyes being on me, picking apart my appearance and judging my cover. But I now invite people to look at me - I want you to see me.
Seeing parts of me in a new light
Fast forward a few years and my tattoo collection has grown a fair bit. At the moment, the bulk is on my right arm, but I have a feeling that’ll change soon. Every time I get a new piece, it helps me focus on a certain part of my body and channel appreciation to it. I want to show this vessel as much love and acceptance as possible.
For example, one of my favourite pieces sits on the side of my right arm at the top. Before the tattoo, I’d plague myself by worrying about how that part of me looked in photos or if it looked ‘too big’. Now, I look at it with fondness and it brings me joy to see photos of it in all its glory.
Something outside of my comfort zone
I recently decided to take the plunge and venture into the world of hand tattoos (my existing moon and tiny stick-and-poke dots don’t really count). The age-old warning to avoid hand tattoos if you wanted any kind of ‘real job’ echoed in my mind once or twice.
And the hesitancy in my mom’s voice when I told her I was getting them made me feel like a child again. But I know me and what I want. And I wouldn’t want to work for someone so old-fashioned anyway. So I felt the fear and booked the appointment anyway.
I instantly fell in love with my newly-decorated hands. Safe to say, I’m obsessed with how they look and how well they complement my hands. They’re an important part of my body - they let me create art, tend to my plants and garden, make delicious food and show love to myself and others. And now they’re celebrated even more with art I love - I couldn’t be happier.
Looking at my (relatively) blank canvas
I have many plans for more tattoos. And I often daydream about where and what I’ll get done next. This body is already beautiful. But each tattoo brings me closer to feeling more like my authentic self. And that’s one of the main goals I have in this lifetime.
I keep coming back to the idea of getting my stomach tattooed, which makes me a little nervous pain-wise! But I’m ready to celebrate this part of my body - one I spent the majority of my life trying to hide, suck in and shrink. I’ve vowed to do that no more. My body worked hard to get me where I am today. And, for that, I want to honour it with badges of pride in the form of tattoos.
Claude Knight is a writer, artist and model based in London. @claude_knight Photos by @agate.amara