Convenient Definitions: Tattoo Labelling

Convenient Definitions: Tattoo Labelling

Tattoos – are they for ourselves, or are they for others to see, to create an image of how we want to be perceived? It cannot be denied that any movement raising awareness of mental health is a positive movement, after all, ‘any publicity is good publicity’ and therefore, I have subsequently been debating the idea of getting a semicolon tattoo myself. When discussing the movement with a friend last week, she told me that her desire to get the tattoo was to portray a message of solidarity. It got me thinking – was it a personal statement, or did it have the danger of being a trend or fashion? Are we labelling ourselves? Creating some kind of club?

My friend then questioned my viewpoint, and asked whether I was resisting the idea of the project because, perhaps, deep down, I still think mental illness is something to be ashamed of. Indeed, it is hard for me to say “I have struggled with depression and anxiety”, and it would be even harder for me to have it tattooed on my body for the rest of my life. Quite often, I’m asked why most of my tattoos are hidden under my clothes, to which I respond… because they are not for anyone else, they are for me. Was this just my way of justifying my fear of being judged for having tattoos? I’m getting braver. With tattoos, and life in general… being proud of who I am. For the passing of the equal marriage bill, I had ‘Love is Love’ tattooed on my wrist, for everyone to see. I’m proud to say that I believe in equality, so perhaps I should feel equally confident when it comes to discussing mental illness.

Whatever motivates you to get a tattoo, it’s always a personal decision. If I tattoo West Ham United on my arm you may think I’m a football thug, or you may just think its nice that I’m passionate about a sport. It shouldn’t really matter to anyone but me. According to their founders, “Project Semicolon exists to encourage, love and inspire” and it’s succeeding. For me, it has encouraged me to question taboos surrounding mental health, and my feelings towards them. Maybe that’s a good enough reason to get a semicolon tattoo myself. All of my tattoos are for varying reasons: rebellion, love, politics, passion and reminders, They are an expression of my identity which will be interpreted by others, however they choose. I’m slowly learning we should be proud of who we are, tattooed or not, because (to quote my favourite film, The Breakfast Club)… “you see us as you want to see us – in the simplest terms, in the most convenient definitions.”

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