Over the past year of the  pandemic, I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting, as I’m sure many others have as well. Something about the fragility of life has become exceedingly apparent to me in this time and as a result, I’ve put considerable thought into how I want to live out the rest of my years, and some of the goals that encompass this trajectory.

What I’ve realized through this self-reflection is that I’ve spent the larger part of my 23 years living my life for others—never fully prioritizing my own needs and wants, and allowing others to make decisions for me.

In an effort to ultimately live my life on my own terms, one of my goals for this year has been to get a tattoo. This may not seem particularly awe-inducing or noteworthy, but this is a very big deal for me, particularly as a brown girl.

I’ve wanted to get a tattoo ever since I made my Tumblr account back in 2013. Aside from reblogging One Direction posts and music links, I would spend hours poring over images of tattoo inspiration, in complete awe of the beauty and intricacy of the designs perpetually etched on a human’s body. 

What started out as a reverence of the aesthetic and the sheer badassness of tattoos back in high school, has evolved into an appreciation for the messages that tattoos can convey. It’s so incredibly exciting to me that I could commemorate something meaningful or even not so meaningful to my life, on my body and be able to see it every day.

The issue, however, is that I am a brown girl, raised in a family where anything that deviates from being “simple,” is simply not allowed. Me getting a tattoo would be seen as cardinal sin number one.  

Allow me to elaborate.

I’ve spent my entire life fitting the mold of the perfect and “simple” eldest Indian daughter as my parents have expected me to. I grew up, not wearing makeup, dressing modestly, with my hair always in a ponytail and the same shade of black it’s always been, never getting that second piercing I so desperately wanted, and rarely, if ever painting my nails or getting them done. I mean, the list goes on.

I’ve come to realize that my body has never really felt like mine. The concept of bodily autonomy, what I would describe as the right to govern and control one’s body, has never existed for me. I’ve been raised on the principle that I must make myself more palatable for others by being “simple.” 

A tattoo would therefore be fundamentally against such a principle.

It’s also frustrating to me that when this same conversation around tattoos and body autonomy is raised for many of my male counterparts, there is a clear and undeniable double standard. 

Boys can get a chest piece or a hand tattoo and it's okay, because boys will be boys at the end of the day, and they can do whatever they want.  

For example, this past summer while many experimented with their hair through the pandemic, I decided to get eight piercings in the span of two months (although I would totally not recommend doing this in such a short period of time, my ears are still bleeding as I write this). 

I chose to do this because I knew my parents would not be impressed and I’d prefer to be lectured all at once rather than in repeated intervals. 

Safe to say, they were not impressed, and a lecture was followed by a lengthy silent treatment. There remains a lingering air of displeasure with my choice to this day. 

The word “simple” also makes me want to put my head through the garburator. 

I am anything but simple. I am a complex human being, as we all are. As such, I have diverse interests—I want to get multiple tattoos, I want to be able to wear whatever I want without scrutiny, I want to get my nails done monthly, I want to get more piercings, and hell, I might even dye my hair red (just kidding, I probably won’t). But is that all really so bad?  

These are all things that would give me the freedom over my own body and also make me incredibly happy. I don’t expect everyone to understand, but choosing my earrings for the day brings me so much joy, even enough joy to mask my parent’s displeasure and then some.

I no longer want to live a life where I’m suppressing who I am for the happiness of my family. 

If there’s one thing this pandemic has taught me, it’s that there’s no point in living life through a series of “should-haves” or “could-haves.” 

So instead of lamenting and living in this limbo of not ever reaching full bodily autonomy, I went ahead in a moment of courage and booked a tattoo appointment (paying my deposit and all) to get MULTIPLE tattoos next month. 

Since then, I’ve had sleepless nights, re-enacted every possible scenario in which my parents would react, nearly emailed the tattoo artist and canceled, considered purchasing the Dermablend tattoo cover-up, imagined the horror on aunties’ faces at future functions I’m likely to attend, and envisioned my own marriage potential shrinking as a result.  Once again, the list goes on.

But amid this constant state of panic, I’ve also reached a sense of peace within myself. While I value the opinion of my parents, this is something I want to do and will do regardless of what they think, because it’s for me and my happiness.  

When it comes to others within and beyond the family, I’ve also reached a point where I am so over the trap of “lok ki khenge” (what will people say). Let them say what they want. I no longer care.

The thing is, I completely understand where my parents are coming from. They don’t know or understand what body autonomy means. They’re amazing people who only want the best for me at the end of the day. 

I just wish they would see my side of it. 

Over the course of the next month pre and post tattoo appointment, my game plan is to (a) channel my inner bad bitch and not talk myself out of it (b) not tell my parents about the tattoo(s) but not actively hide them or choose hidden placements and (c) continue working on achieving body autonomy in my own way and ultimately banish the concept of needing to appease others (it’s a big undertaking, I know).

To all my brown ladies out there, that are navigating getting a tattoo, have gotten a tattoo, or are working on taking hold of their own bodies—I see you and I respect you. 

I’m not planning on getting a chest piece or a face tattoo (although I fully support anyone who is though), but I’m hoping my parents will learn to see past the very small and cute ones I am planning to get. 

I wanted to write about this because it’s been an incredibly emotional and stressful experience for me, and I’d love to provide some sort of comfort and comradery for anyone out there going through this too.

This article was first published on January 12, 2022. It has since been anonymized to protect the identity of the writer.

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