I grew up in a family without tattoos. Without piercings. Without body modifications. Sure, my mother, grandmother, and many of my female cousins had pierced ears, but none of the men. I didn’t have an uncle with a Sailor Jerry-style tat on his chest. I didn’t have an aunt with a nose ring, or lower lip stud. And my parents and grandparents … well, their skin was pristine. Pockmarked and freckled, blemished and stretched, but otherwise intact. Otherwise “perfect.”
So where my love for body modification came from I am not so sure; all I do know is that I was asking for a belly-button piercing by time I was 12, I wanted to dye my hair “crazy colors” shortly after I turned 13, and a tattoo? Well, I started doodling on my skin with gel pens during sophomore science class, and I never stopped. I never looked back.
And while my mother let me get a second hole in my ear and small diamond studs in my cartilage (for my sixteenth birthday) that was as far as she was going. Everything else had to wait until I was 18. Until I was out on my own.
But I was young and impulsive. I couldn’t wait, I wouldn’t wait; and the day I turned 18 I decided to mark the occasion the only way I knew how: with a “passionate” tattoo. A spur-of-the-moment, “look, I’m an adult now” tattoo. A rebellious tattoo. A stupid, stupid tattoo.
Make no mistake, I love my tattoos — and my ear piercings, my navel piercing, my nostril piercing … and yes, my nipple piercings. But I didn’t get my first tattoo because I loved modifications or appreciated art. I didn’t get my first tattoo because it was meaningful or empowering. I got my first tattoo because I said I would. I got my first tattoo because I could. I got my first tattoo because I loved pissing off my mom. (Sorry, Mom!)
Since that tattoo, I have become something of a body modification aficionado – I have 14 body piercings, a rib tattoo, a thigh tattoo, an inner wrist tattoo, two “tramp stamps” (and, yes, both were acquired when I was 18), and a full sleeve. In fact, I have more tattoos than I can count, since most of my pieces meld right into the next. But you know what? My piercings don’t make me masochistic, a degenerate, or some sort of delinquent. My tattoos don’t make unemployable. And my body modifications definitely do not make me a “bad mom.”
You see, I’ve heard it all:
What does your mother think?
Oh, Kimberly, what will other people will think?
Are they permanent?
What will you do about your tattoos when you get older?
Why did you get your tattoos? I mean, you were so pretty; you were so smart.
But after my daughter was born, I heard a slew of new questions:
Will you get any more tattoos, now that you are a mom?
Do you regret your tattoos, now that you’re a mom?
How do you explain your tattoos to other moms?
How are you going to explain your tattoos to Amelia when she’s old enough?
I’ve always remained confused by these questions for the same reasons. But namely this: What exactly do I have to explain here? What precisely do I have to tell her? That her mother has a penchant for art and loves self-expression? That I am “different” and “unique” and damn proud of it? That my tattoos make me feel feminine, sexy, and beautiful? That my modifications make me me, and it’s for that very reason I am not sorry, and I will never be sorry?
I know tattoos and piercings aren’t everyone’s cup of tea. And that’s cool. (Totally cool.) But that doesn’t mean tattoos are wrong. That doesn’t mean piercings are bad. And that doesn’t mean those who sport body modifications are “scary,” dangerous, uneducated, or downright stupid. (Hi; college grad here — one who left with 3.9 GPA, and top honors.)
Because here’s the thing: My modifications don’t make me a bad mom nor a better mom. They are but a part of who I am. They are but a part of the woman I am. As such, I don’t identify as a “pierced woman,” a “tattooed woman,” or a “modified woman,” I identity as a strong woman. A smart woman. A fierce woman. I am a writer, a runner, a feminist, a mental health advocate, and a mom. Not Modified Mom, but just Mom. A mom who loves her daughter intensely, yet gently. A mom who holds her daughter closely, yet also gives her the space to learn, to thrive, to grow.
I am a mom who cries with her daughter, and in front of her. A woman who is as sensitive as she is strong. I am mom who encourages courteous behavior, a mom who acknowledges the importance of words like “please” and “thank you.” A mom who is teaching her daughter how to ask for help.
I am teaching her it’s okay to ask for help.
But I am also an active mom, a fun mom. Most afternoons, we sing songs in her tent every morning, we run through the park — chasing ducks and little boys. And we go for an “ice cream date” every Tuesday because, well, because it is BOGO day, and I cannot resist a free sundae. We read together. We sing and dance together. We laugh together.
Because I am a mom — a mom with piercings and tattoos, bright pink hair and a half-shaven head. A mom who loves her daughter.
Fiercely, endlessly, and unconditionally.