I wasn’t one of those kids who went off to college, high on legal adulthood, to immediately get a tattoo or a piercing. At eighteen, I was still very naïve, very sheltered, and somewhat afraid of the real world. To me, tattoos were for rebels, or people who didn’t know any better. I never wanted more holes in my body than the ones the universe gave me and the hole in each earlobe that I got before I realized what it meant to get a piercing (ouch!). The most dramatic alteration to my appearance I made when I left for college was getting bangs cut.
Fast forward fifteen years and I find myself, at 33, finally feeling like my body is my own. After losing nearly 80 pounds, I feel like I’ve taken my body back, and therefore, my self.
When you’re thirty years old, measuring 5’2” and weighing in at 220 pounds, it’s hard to feel a sense of pride in your body. How did I get so heavy? When did the weight pile on? Why can’t I stop eating when I’m stressed? There is the inevitable defensiveness and rush to put the blame on anyone but yourself. “My whole family is prone to gaining weight.” “My parents keep crap food around the house.” It goes on and on—it’s just another way of not having ownership over one’s self.
It’s taken a lot of time to turn around from being overweight and out-of-control of my body, to becoming an athlete. Even now, I have days where I stare at my body in the mirror, disgusted at how “fat” I look.
Fat. I wear size six jeans—almost a size four. I am NOT fat.
It’s taken a tremendous amount of strength to lose almost 80 pounds. I may not be at goal yet, and I may have bits of fat here and there that I need to burn off. But I’ve come so far, and done so much—that I get mad when I feel like it hasn’t been enough, that I’m still not good enough. And because of that, I decided I needed a reminder—something to show me, every day, that I am strong.
I am fierce.
What signifies strength? I thought about tattooing a cool quote or lyric; maybe something about courage from Harry Potter, or a line from a Keane song. Then it came to me—a lioness.
Oh, how cliché. Everyone gets lions. Google “lion tattoo” and hundreds of cheesy images come up.
But the lion idea wouldn’t die. I’m a Leo: a fiery, sun-ruled woman with a small, strong body and a big roar. Getting a small lioness tattooed on my hip seemed appropriate—but I wanted something to make her my own. To set her apart from the multitude of lion tattoos that exist in the world.
Then it occurred to me—my lioness wouldn’t roar. She would sing.
A signing lioness. Yes! I presented the idea to a few friends, and they all agreed it was perfect for me. The idea grew. I looked for just the right lioness. I found an idea I liked.
Then I set the whole thing on the back burner for a while. I thought about that future time when I would get a tattoo. It didn’t seem immediate.
And then, last week, I decided I wanted my lioness.
I wanted my physical representation of strength to look at in the mirror. I wanted to glimpse my lioness in the mirror before stepping into the shower and remember how strong I am, how sexy I am because I own my body now. The “fat” days are fewer and farther between, but they do still occur. I wanted my lioness to remind me that I am stronger than all of that.
On Friday, I worked up some courage to walk into a tattoo shop. My trainer recommended them; they are clean, they are safe, they are professional. I asked a few questions, I looked through portfolios. The artist whose work I was most intrigued by happened to be the one I spoke to. He put me at ease and was completely honest about the process, the discomfort, and everything that goes with getting a tattoo. He told me to think about it, and I left with his business card.
I spent the weekend thinking. I knew I wanted the tattoo. I knew I could handle the discomfort of getting it. My biggest worry, really, was that all these years, I’d been…not anti-tattoo, but more ambivalent. I’d never had a reason to have one, and I’d been raised by two people who think tattoos are for rebels.
It’s only been in the last few years that I’ve started thinking tattoos are actually sexy, or beautiful in their way. I see them not as damaging the body but as a way of decorating it. People have all kinds of reasons for getting tattoos, and their tattoos tell a story in their lives.
So today, I did it. I got my lioness.
She is dainty—just under two-and-a-half inches in height. She sits on my left hip, hidden from anyone I don’t want seeing her. Her mouth is open on a small smile, with a simple music note emerging from it.
She is beautiful and strong. I am beautiful and strong, too.
My lioness isn’t going to let me forget that.