Bodily Guilt

By Jaclyn Jermyn

Courtesy of Jaclyn Jermyn 

Courtesy of Jaclyn Jermyn 

I was 12 when I finally got my ears pierced.

It took my aunt gifting me the money for my first pair of earrings for Christmas to convince my mom that I could go through with the process. I don’t think she was ever against the idea but maybe because she thought that would be the only alteration I would ever make to my body, it could wait a little longer. My cousin Julia got her ears pierced as a baby. I chose a sensible pair of gold studs with tiny emeralds—my birthstone.

The needle didn’t make it all the way through the first time. They had to re-try, causing a subtle unevenness in the final product that it’s hard to look away from when glancing in the mirror. I thought I was traumatized enough to keep my body the way it was, seemingly forever. My mother seemed pleased.

Belonephobia is the abnormal fear of sharp pointed objects—especially needles and I developed it sometime in middle school. I think originally it stemmed from my intense fear of snakes (a fear I still very much have) as well as a few clumsy nurses tasked to draw my blood. Funny, I don’t think vampires have ever caused such anxiety in me. As I transitioned into high school and fell into a group getting and giving tattoos at a young age, I was still heavily cautious. I imagined tattoos to feel a lot like 10,000 flu shots. I brought tattooed boys and boys who looked like they should have tattoos home. It caused tension. 

Courtesy of Jaclyn Jermyn

Courtesy of Jaclyn Jermyn

I planned my first tattoo out for two years before I finally gathered up the courage to get it. Some people work on impulse. They go to the tattoo shop the day they turn 18 and celebrate crossing over into the world of adulthood with something permanent. I had to take two whole years to make sure my guilt complex didn’t out-weigh my desire to do something for me.

I settled on Orion’s belt, a simple three star constellation that my dad had taught me when I was young. I remember being on vacation in the Arizona desert and seeing those stars for the first time outside the confines of my backyard. It made me feel at home.

I got it on my ribs, a place no one was likely to see unless I happened to be at the beach or I was undressed. It felt private that way. After all, this was just for me.

My second tattoo happened in the dead of winter. I was six months out of an abusive relationship and needed a reminder that I was still alive. I held my best friend’s hand the whole time and rode the brown line home alone thinking about what my mother would say. My dad didn’t know about it until he came to the city to move me into a new apartment. It was May and I was in a t-shirt. He asked why I got it. I told him it was a reminder of personal growth. He didn’t ask any more questions.

Courtesy of Jaclyn

Courtesy of Jaclyn

The third was impulse. It was a delicate hand and flower piece of flash and it reminded me of Victorian imagery—something I wouldn’t mind having for myself, on myself. I had originally picked it out for my friend Matt but when he changed his mind, it felt like it was supposed to be mine (not that I wouldn’t get a matching tattoo with you Matt). I put an entire paycheck on it and went home the next month, nervous to show it off.

I look a lot like my mother. Everyone says so and I don’t think that is likely to change any time soon. It just took me almost two decades to realize that looking like someone doesn’t mean that I have to be that person. Loving my parents dearly doesn’t mean I quite understood their blatant disappointment with tattoos and those who get them. For so long I dressed the way my family expected me to. I got the haircuts that were approved of and limited myself to the brands they gravitated towards as well.

I don’t think I’m ever going to cover my body in tattoos but I think it’s probably about time I stop holding my own body hostage for the sake of someone, or anyone, else’s preconceived notions of what a daughter should look like. I don’t think loving my limbs is going to stop them from putting me on the Christmas card.