I really like tattoos. I like the way they look, the way they represent things about people. And besides personal symbolism behind the specific tattoos I got, I also got my tattoos because I love the way they look. For others the reason can be the same or can be something completely different.
There’s a vast history behind tattoos as they’ve been around for a long time. And I won’t get into it all here – mainly because you can also read about it on wikipedia.
Before Getting a Tattoo:
I think before you get a tattoo, it is a good idea to consider all the consequences and the ways that it can affect your day-to-day life. Even though I personally don’t think that how we look or choose to decorate our bodies should affect our daily lives. But before doing anything permanent it is always a good idea to review your decision and to be sure that you are 100% sure and ready for it. The same way you want to be super sure before you buy a house, a car, or move in with someone. Yes situations can always change, but it’s nice to know that at the time it very much felt like the right thing. If you want to read more about what’s good to think about before getting a tattoo, check out my piece here.
But okay! Here we are, we’ve passed the point of feeling sure that we’re going to get a tattoo and we’re actively doing it. For me personally, I knew I wanted a tattoo for quite a while before actually getting my first tattoo. I thought it over, I drew it on my arm multiple times, and I promised my mom I’d wait until I was 18 before getting anything. And no, I didn’t rush to a tattoo parlour on my 18th birthday. Instead, I waited some more until it was almost my 19th birthday, and I went with my dad to his tattoo parlour. I wanted a swallow, just like the one he had on his arm that represented me.
We went to get the tattoo and life felt beautiful and every day since (now 3.5 years ago) I am still so incredibly happy with my choice of getting my first tattoo (and all the others I’ve gotten since then). But what I also felt happy about was having waited to get it. It made me very sure that I wanted it when I got it and waiting made me that much more excited when I finally did get it.
So what about my tattoos? Well like I told you, I got my first one when I was almost 19, and my dad paid for it as an early birthday gift. A swallow. The tattoo was inspired by the four swallows my dad had gotten tattooed on his right forearm. His four kids. Later on he added two more for his two grandkids. Why swallows? It’s symbolism for numerous aspects but two major factors were that 1. swallows always return home to their family; and 2. when sailors would sail 5.000 nautical miles, he could get a swallow tattooed, and after another 5.000 nautical miles, a second one – the idea for the sailors was that if they were to fall overboard, the swallows would carry their souls up to heaven. I liked the symbolism very much and chose to get the fourth swallow, as I am my dad’s fourth child.
Something many people won’t tell you before you get a tattoo is that they are addicting. Or at least that is not something I was told before hand. Except my mom, she was a bit worried – and I guess rightfully so because I also had the same with getting my ears pierced. Not the first pair of piercings I got, but when I got an extra stud, the ball started rolling, and now I have seven piercings in my ears.
So my mom was right and three months after getting my first tattoo I decided to get a second one. And I am truthfully very happy with all my tattoos, the only thing I wish regarding my second tattoo is that I wouldn’t have done it in secret. I didn’t tell anyone that I was going to get it tattooed, and only showed my family two months later. It was a stick and poke done by talented friend. Three dots right next to one another, symbolising the Body, the Mind, and the Soul. It’s what I see as the holy trinity in my life.
I let some time pass before I got my third tattoo. I realised that it was a good idea to take some time and think about it. I knew I wanted more but I didn’t just want to get something because it looked cool or seemed like something pretty or nice. While these are all valid reasons to get tattoos, I want my tattoos to symbolise something in my life. They are permanently on my body and I want to feel great every time I look at them.
About two months after getting my second tattoo, I knew what I wanted my third tattoo to be. A poppy flower. It symbolises a lot of different, very personal things for me. While I was walking the Camino de Santiago, an 800km hike across Northern Spain, there were infinitely many poppies. Growing anywhere and everywhere along the path where they found a space to grow. And I love this. The idea that something grows anywhere it can – that it takes up its own space and dares to exist wherever it desires. Additionally, what I love about poppies, is that the moment you pick one, they collapse – in Dutch this is why they are called “klaprozen”: collapse roses. This seems like beautiful symbolism to me – you cannot pick something up and make it yours as it will perish, but let something grow and exist the way it wants to, and it will flourish and grow tall. It feels like a symbolism for life and those we love, including ourselves.
Number four was a special one too. I wanted something to symbolise love and my love for Italy and the connection I feel towards the Italian culture and lifestyle. Having lived in Rome for six years, during a crucial period in my life, it has shaped me in many, many ways, to be the person I am today. So after one of my friends who was spending the summer in Brooklyn got a tattoo there, I asked if it were possible to schedule a somewhat last-minute appointment for when I would be in New York two weeks later. He said yes and two weeks later, when my best friend and I had driven up to New York for the weekend, I got my fourth tattoo: AMORE. On my right inner bicep, and every day that I see it I reminded of many things: to love myself, to love others, to love the world, of Italy, and of the beauty of life.
Tattoo numbers five and six came together – or rather, I got them on the same day. I had initially planned to do it earlier in December, but when the tattoo artist was sick it had to be moved to December 31st. No problem for me, I was eager to get them. So on the last day of the year when my sister was making “olibollen” at home – a typical traditional New Years food in The Netherlands, I was getting tattooed. I came back over the moon, as I absolute loved both of my new tattoos and would for sure be showing them off during the celebration that night.
The shell with the arrow, which I got on my left inner bicep, represents the Camino. And not just the specific walk of 800 kilometres that I did, but the way the Camino lives on inside of me. How it has changed me every day since starting and finishing that walk (how this is so you can read it my book which I am hoping to publish very soon). The sun and moon mix was just a very simple, but symbolic choice. I love simplicity for my tattoos and this one was no exception. I really enjoy the way it looks and it reminds me that one cannot exist without the other and that they help each other exist and be. They go together, and together they change the way the universe flows. Quite magical if you ask me.
Tattoo number seven – one of my more recent tattoos. This one I got this past May when we were nearing my dad’s passing away. I told him I really wanted to go together to get this tattoo, a swallow to represent him as a guardian angel… as my guardian angel. I placed it right behind/next to the swallow I already had, to represent the idea that I’m off living life with my arms wide open, and he’s always there watching over me.
Tattoo number eight – my most recent tattoo. This one I had to postpone twice, as initially I had wanted to get this in June, before leaving The Netherlands for a while, as I wasn’t too sure about whether it’d be more expensive to get in St. Barth. But when my mom asked if I could wait a little longer because she wanted to talk with me about the idea, I decided that I was in no specific rush and that it wouldn’t matter if it were June or October. Then the second postponing was from September 10th to September 23rd, due to some health related reasons of the tattoo artist.
So my mom and I talked about why I got tattoos and whether it is just because I really like them, or whether it’s because of other reasons, like desiring change or something else. And we talked about it openly and it was really refreshing and felt good to talk about my reason for getting the tattoo, as well as for the previous tattoos I’ve gotten. And what’s been most wonderful is that, even though I know my mom isn’t a big fan of tattoos, she actually genuinely likes some of mine, as well as that (and much more importantly) she doesn’t change the way she feels about me or looks at me just because of my self-expression with tattoos. Her openness in this has taught me a lot about love and self-acceptation, but also about not desiring the acceptance of others and doing what makes me happy.