The 'What' of Tattoos by Chris Winterson
Updated: Jul 2, 2021
Our skin is approximately 2 mm thick, covers about 20 square feet of surface area, weighs 6 pounds, helps to regulate our body temperature, is perpetually gathering sensory information from the world around us, serves as the front line of protection for our immune system, and serves as a threshold to differentiate between what is 'us' and 'not us'.
For many of us, our skin is the primary point of contact through which we make sense of the world around us, and seek to define our place within it.
As tattooers, we are tasked with interpreting our clients' creative vision, and then bringing that vision into being by marking their skin with ink and needle. In this case, the skin becomes the medium through which we bring the external expression of ourselves into closer alignment with our internal selves; the invisible becomes visible, and our identity continues to expand and evolve.
Have you ever wondered what happens to your body when you get tattooed? Have you ever taken a moment to appreciate the mechanisms that are in place to help your body regulate and regenerate itself after getting tattooed? Have you ever given a thought to what skin actually is?
I recently discovered this Youtube video posted by the Institute of Human Anatomy which answers these questions in a clear and accessible way, and provides the perfect foundation for the deeper ideas and philosophical musings that Carrying Fire will explore.
By creating a foundational understanding of what actually happens to our bodies when we get tattooed, we can begin to explore the deeper implications of why and how we are choosing to tattoo our bodies; we can begin to explore themes of consent, power dynamics, spiritual seeking, ancestral connection, emotional and psychological empowerment/reclamation, and ultimately begin to explore the reasons WHY we get tattooed.
As clients, educating ourselves about what our bodies go through when getting a tattoo can help us to make informed decisions about how, where, and when to get (or not get) tattooed.
As tattoo artists, it is our responsibility to educate ourselves about the physical impact of our work on our clients' bodies, and consider how the physical experience informs the deeper emotional, psychological, and spiritual experience that we are participating in. By informing ourselves about what is happening to our clients' body while we work, we are better prepared to mitigate unnecessary harm, and provide our clients with the best possible chance to have a healthy and supportive tattoo experience.
If we, as artists, are positioning ourselves as authorities on how another person's body should be treated and marked, then it becomes our responsibility to be well informed and prepared to share that information with our clients.
The question 'what happens to my body when I get tattooed?' leads us to two fundamental considerations that should be made before getting a tattoo:
Based on my own knowledge of what happens to my body when it gets tattooed, am I comfortable subjecting my body to the tattoo process?
Based on my knowledge of the tattoo process, how might I be emotionally, psychologically, and energetically impacted by being tattooed at this time, by this person, in this way?
The first point challenges us to check in and recognize that we're making a decision that will have lifelong consequences for our bodies (they're about to change for the rest of our lives, after all!), and consider whether we have enough information to comfortably make that decision or not.
The second point challenges us to investigate the motivations at the root of our decision to get tattooed, and acknowledge that the experiences of our physical (form) and energetic (formless) bodies are deeply interwoven. While our emotions, biases, perceptions, expectations, and thoughts take up no space in our physical world, they carry an immense amount of influence on our actions, which directly impact the world around us. They also play a critical role in shaping our perception of reality, but that's a whole can of worms that would be best served in its own post.
Ultimately, the decision to get tattooed is a deeply personal and intimate experience that should never be influenced, pressured, or determined by anyone other than yourself. There is no right or wrong way to make this choice, but I encourage you to take initiative by asking questions, doing your research and acknowledging that your relationship with your body will change after getting tattooed. Being informed, feeling comfortable, and respecting both the gifts AND risks that come with tattooing will ensure the highest quality experience for you.
The decision to mark our stories onto our bodies is always a meaningful one, and there are a myriad of ways to go about receiving a tattoo. For my part, I consider my role as a tattoo artist to be a sacred service, and the multi-faceted experience of giving and getting tattoos is directly tied to my personal journey of spiritual evolution. I am humbled and privileged to take part in the growth journeys of my clients, and to have an opportunity to express my own soul's language through the art work and relationships that I create.