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I Got My First Tattoo at 45, This Is Why

I admit to having been slightly prejudiced against people with a lot of tattoos. Why mess up God’s masterpiece? When a woman with a completely tatted body crossed my path, I often wondered, is there some self-hating going on—masochism, rebellion? My mother’s words echoed through my brain, “If God wanted you to have holes in your body or pictures on your skin, he would have given them to you.”

One thing I know for sure is that the older I get, the less I know and the more I learn.

Over the years, I grew to kind of like the idea of a tattoo—some symbol of defiance or exclamation point on my body, saying, “Here I am and this is what I stand for!” Plus, it will be super easy to identify me if die in some weird way. But I never found something so meaningful that I wanted it’s declaration stamped on my body forever.

My best friend and I, both tattoo virgins, had toyed with the idea of getting small, cute, matching tattoos, but we never got around to it. Life, work, and kids get a little distracting, ya know!

I Decided to Just Do It

So when my son, recently visiting home from college, asked me if I wanted to get matching tatoos, the soil was ripe. Something clicked and I was game!

He had already gotten his first tattoo the day he turned 18. I wasn’t so thrilled about it, but here I was, not only endorsing his second tattoo, but signing on as his partner in crime.

My initial plan was for something small (very, very, very small), dainty, and beautiful with deep meaning. I could live with that, I told myself. My 18-year-old son had a different idea. See, when you’re a 45-year-old woman and you get matching tattoos with your 18-year-old son, they have to… match. So, choosing a tattoo that we both felt comfortable with was a fun game of compromise.

We had very different ideas of what small meant—and what nice and beautiful meant too. Ultimately, we both agreed on a lovely tree, with roots formed into a heart and birds flying away from the top of it. This held meaning for both of us, as I am the tree and the roots (his foundation and home) and he and my other children represent the birds. I wanted my tree to be colorful, full of life—not barren. And we both agreed.

Unfortunately, our brown skin tone would not allow for the green we wanted, but we settled on a beautiful red for the color of the tree.

Positioning was another tricky decision. I explained to the tattoo artist, “I am a professional. I need to consider carefully where I place this tattoo.” As if no professional has ever gotten a tattoo before. He gave me a look that said I wasn’t that special, but was nice enough to help me figure out placement.

They tried to convince me to put it on my arm, but I envisioned getting on stage or working with a client with this distracting picture that I couldn’t hide. I thought about my calf, but a quick call to my husband ruled that out. He wasn’t thrilled about the tattoo to begin with. He was pretty sure this was a midlife crisis thing and I was making dumb decisions with my son in tow. He told me that he liked my legs just as they were and didn’t want them inked up.

This is where I got to find out which of my body parts my husband treasures the most. Apparently it isn’t my back because he agreed that he would be less upset about a tattoo on my back. My son decided to display his proudly on his upper arm.

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The artist, sensing my ambivalence, made a point to tell me something obvious, “Once I start, there’s no turning back. Are you sure about this?” The needle machine was hovering close to my skin. I gave him the go-ahead. That first sting of the needles sent a rush of adrenaline down my spine and throughout my body. I was really doing this!

The whole process was rather uneventful and within an hour, I had my very first tattoo.

I Have Lived a Full Life, and My Tattoo Honors It

I saw this as a new way to take ownership of my body—to say this is my God-given vessel and I can do anything I want with it, but also honoring that my body and soul have been life-giving, nurturing, and sacrificial for my family. And it will always be.

My seven-year-old daughter is now excitedly talking about the tattoo she will get with me when she turns 18. Although this gave me pause, I ultimately decided that this lesson for my daughter, seeing her strong mother take ownership of her body and honor her motherhood at the same time couldn’t be a horrible thing.

I have lived a full life. This body carries scars that remind me of mistakes, accidents, pain, and illness. My tattoo is the first purposeful scar that reminds me of my values, my greatest accomplishments, and what I hold dear. It is permanently etched as much a reminder as it is an honoring.

It is my choice and it’s okay if it isn’t yours. And it’s okay for the woman who wants to use her whole body as a canvas as well.

The best thing about getting a tattoo in midlife is that you only have half your life to live with it, and I’m feeling pretty good about it so far!

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Dr. Zoe is a licensed psychotherapist and relationship expert who recently jumped out of a perfectly good plane just for the experience.

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