I went to the Milwaukee Museum of Art two weekends ago and was able to see the Amund Dietzel Flash Tattoo Exhibit. It was stunning. Some of the designs he was drawing and tattooing in 1917 were something I know any tattoo inclined individual would love to have on their body today. Obviously, I love tattoos. I have a nice little collection started and many of my friends are tattoo enthusiasts if not tattooers themselves so ‘talking tattoos’ is something I’ve become familiar and comfortable with. While I was there I heard some pretty hilarious banter from ‘non-tattoo’ folks. I don’t think very many of the people I shared the exhibit with were there specifically for Amund like I was. I ended up spending about a solid hour combing over all the pieces of flash and personal photos and stories from Amund’s life while listening to passerbys say gems like ‘oh tattoos, this isn’t real art’ and ‘can you believe people used to get tattoos like this that said ‘mom’?’
Above is a tattoo flash from 1916! And also Amund’s tattoo ‘kit’ where he stored his guns and ink.
This got me thinking about how certain people – well I would comfortably say the majority of people look at tattoos as being limiting. Limiting in the sense that they prevent opportunities from arising or exclude the tattooed individual in a way that’s economically and socially negative. I could say in certain situations that tattoos are limiting. However, as I‘ve described before I’ve learned how to lead my double life and not feel like I’m betraying my identity in the process.
Thus, for me, I really believe my tattoos have given me infinite opportunities and a life I would have never led being tattoo-free.
Without tattoos I can easily name the following things I would not have ever done. I first would have never met the Dude because I would have never been friends with the person who introduced us. Despite the Dude’s ever-changing role in my life, I would have never visited Chicago and realized I loved it here – therefore I would have never moved here or have gotten my dream job. I would not know any of the people who I call my closest friends. I would never have experienced a Game of Thrones party, gone to Durango for a weekend I’ll never forget, have picnics at Sloans Lake eating friend chicken, or spend a weekend in Baltimore sweating to the greatest doom metal bands around. I would have never been comfortable being different. I would have not gone to Aveda and pursued an interest that was completely foreign to my previous education and lifestyle. I would have never met/dated/loved/hated a majority of the people I know and that I would never want to know a world without.
The things I love most about myself have a lot to do with my lifestyle as a tattooed individual. The funny thing is that if you ask me if I feel limited the answer is a resounding ‘no’ because I get to operate in both cultures of tattooed/non-tattooed. I guess I feel I get to be part of both easily. In fact the only place I’ve ever felt ‘left out’ was the pool at the Ritz Carlton in Tokyo – their culture still isn’t on board with bathing and tattoos. I’m not trying to sound like I’m any sort of authority on being tattooed because I am definitely NOT. Believe me I could name five friends in two seconds who have more authority in their little pinky on the topic. But the point is, I think the only reason I have the life I have is because I’m tattooed.
I’m thankful I walked into the right shop over seven years ago and made the choice to be different in a way that allows me to experience more out of life. I couldn’t imagine my body or my life without any of these tattoos and I would not change a single dot anywhere. My life is truly blessed as a tattooed woman.
I started my graduate process officially 3 years ago, but before that I had anticipated graduate school pretty much right after I graduated with my undergraduate degree. I loved my undergraduate economics department so I made the simple (if not lazy) choice to just go back to the department I was so fond of.
Graduate school was hard. I’m talking about days when I couldn’t even understand material and therefore questioned my whole purpose and place in economics. There were weeks of time, specifically, when I did NOT pass an Advanced Microeconomics class that made me feel like I was dying mentally and physically. My ‘academic’ ego was so damaged during this time that I even contemplated if I could finish the program. I was really hard on myself about this too. I had never ever done poorly in school and to not pass a class was devastating. Never mind the fact I was working at a very demanding start up oil and gas company, starting my serious relationship with The Dude, and trying to give 100% in every area – feeling like I was half-assing it all.
I did ‘alright’ in most of the classes and really well in less than a handful. Classes were tough, the material was sometimes written in a special economics code that I could not decipher without looking at it for days or weeks sometimes, and I made it harder by not blending in to the academic economics culture. My ‘re-do’ of the Adv. Micro class resulted in an A for me and a much better relationship with my graduate peers, professors, and my academic self. I also quit my job and focused on school like I should have done to begin with. But, fitting-in made the difference.
This is the thing I have regrets about. “Fitting in” – I’ve never really fit in anywhere. High School? Nope. Undergraduate? Had a ton of great awesome friends, but didn’t really have ‘place’. Hair School? Definitely not – but everyone at hair school is an example of not fitting in. I waltzed into graduate orientation with my ‘hair stylist’ attitude – tattoos showing, alternative thinking, and damn proud to rub ‘my identity’ in anyone’s face. That, with working and not physically being able to be at school to ‘bond’ led me to be alone. This stunk because I wasn’t there for the ‘break-thru’ mind melding sessions that allowed everyone else to do WAY better than me. There were two professors that understood me and knew my potential and my background – the others I had never taken a class with and my demeanor or perhaps my gender made them standoffish and not approachable for me. This made things really hard. I could pout even more and say they discriminated me because of my tattoos, my gender, and my lifestyle, but I isolated and discriminated myself. If I had ‘toned’ down my identity and censored certain parts of my life, I probably would have finished graduate school in 2 years instead of a grueling never-ending 3. I know what you’re thinking – ‘whatever if they don’t accept you then forget them’ well that kind of thinking doesn’t apply to the people who determine your academic future. It also doesn’t apply to your employer and ultimately I am glad I learned this hard lesson of censorship in school and not by being ‘discriminated’ against at a job.
I have learned to censor my life and leave some things hidden and secret – no one at work knows I’m heavily tattooed and I like it that way. There are not assumptions made (good or bad), comments made, or incidents that could be avoided if I had just toned it down. I don’t feel like I am pretending to be someone else – or hiding my true identity. I’m simply ‘fitting-in’ – now don’t worry I’m not going to start shopping at Ralph Lauren or Abercrombie anytime soon, but it’s nice to fit in with your professional peers. It’s easy.
I spent two and a half years being angry at graduate school culture, but ultimately I was mad that I could have done something to change it instead of feel like I was suffering. We have choices we can make to make our lives easier and harder. In my field of work, alternative lifestyles are not normal or easy to lead successfully in the open. This may change, it may not. But, I know that by not being so loud my life, my potentials are no longer limited. Plus when the whistle blows, I can take off my sweater and proudly show my beautiful tattoos and be me without sacrificing the career potentials for a rare tattooed-crafter-blogger-furmama-goofball economist like me.