I thought I had sort of narrowed down the kind of content I was going to be posting here but as it turns out random topics – or formats – outside my predetermined spectrum keep popping up. And who am I to resist the urge to write when the mood strikes?
With this briefer than brief prologue let’s jump into the world of tattoos, or rather one specific tattoo: my most recent one.
For some of us, tattoos are a way of self-expression, for others they represent significant things in their life. One gets a tattoo because they like the look of it, the other builds an image around a carefully thought out concept. Personally, my tattoos must have a meaning deeper than their aesthetic. I had my first one designed by a friend following my instructions, the second I borrowed from the cover art of an album, and the third was an idea, sparked by words. I simply told the tattoo artist this:
“I want a small green butterfly, on the right side of my neck. No outlines, just a splash of colour. About 5 centimetres across.”
Here, I have to cross over to a topic that I more than enjoy talking about, but that I usually refrain from writing about especially if I’m attempting to seem like I know what I’m saying. See, the source of the words that morphed into my latest tattoo, is one so emotionally laden for me that discussing it in a calm and collected manner feels like holding my breath while running up the stairs. This is a territory that my analytical grip cannot reach despite my best efforts. You are possibly wondering what sort of deity or magic I am referring to, but rest assured it’s nothing more mysterious than a rock band. How’s that for an anti-climax?
I do actually have some thoughts on the nature of music, and why I find it so difficult to describe with words but that shall be a discussion for another day.
There’s this band called Nightwish. And everyone who knows me well and is reading this, I’m imagining all of you sitting there with a smug grin upon your faces because you know how much I’m struggling to keep this together. The danger of soppiness is looming.
All you really need to know about Nightwish is that their music has been one of the nearest and dearest things to me for about a decade now, and that many of my most vivid and treasured memories are related to it. For the longest time I wanted to get a Nightwish themed tattoo, but one that wouldn’t be super obvious e.g. the band members’ faces as a sleeve (not judging anyone who likes that sort of thing though). Long story short, from amongst gazillions of lyrics there was one passage that, at a certain moment just lit up in my mind. I’m picturing this as one of those cartoon moments where a lightbulb appears above your head.
This is how it goes:
“An obese girl enters an elevator with me, all dressed-up fancy,
a green butterfly on her neck.
Terribly sweet perfume deafens me.
She’s going to dinner, alone.
That makes her even more beautiful.”
The simultaneous strength and fragility and everydayness of this situation always resonated with me, but then again, there are countless other bits in Nightwish lyrics that do. This it the one that feels personal enough to be the story of my tattoo though.
Let’s start with the butterfly. I am very profound when it comes to research, even the research of a tattoo. As I was already very drawn to how a butterfly would look like as an image on my skin, I focused on getting familiar with its symbolism. Across cultures and religions butterflies tend to represent some aspect of rebirth and freedom from earthly burdens. I don’t practice any religion but the thought of escaping from the weight of life is a compelling one; not through death but rather through dreaming, forgetting and letting go for a moment. A more mundane rebirth of the tired mind.
Very much alike, the colour green is the colour of life and growth. It can also be the colour of envy or of sickness, but perhaps the weightless existence of a butterfly can counteract those aspects; and of course any symbol carries a multitude of meanings depending on the person reading it. Nevertheless, my green butterfly is first and foremost a vessel of life and energy.
It is also a reminder of the temporariness of all things. The lifespan of a butterfly is brief, and its flight past one’s eyes easily missed in the blink of an eye. Kind of like the many little details of our everyday existence that are left unnoticed as we rush past them.
Where is that girl in the lift in all this then?
Although obesity is heavily frowned upon and considered anything but beautiful in today’s world, in this context it seems to bear no more a negative than a positive connotation. However, for me the notion of physical bigness relates to a challenge of my own. I admittedly view myself through somewhat dysmorphic lenses. Separating the distorted picture from actuality is a struggle that perseveres, and although I have never actually been of a size considered obese, something like that is how I tend to experience my bodily form. And of course the majority of women can relate to the sense of unhappiness regarding their appearance.
I find the thought that the aloneness of this girl makes her “even more beautiful” a particularly endearing one. Going out alone is another strange social taboo. As if we weren’t good enough just to be by ourselves. As if loneliness, or aloneness ought to be kept from sight.
That girl then, being obese – yet dressing up, and being alone – yet going out, directly opposes what is considered normal and acceptable, thus rising above criticism to live her life with a lighter mind. To resist condoning to norms and expectations asks for a little bit of bravery and faith in oneself and that in the long run many of the things we are easily judged by don’t really matter all that much. In the whole of the universe a human lifetime is only a blip in time, which might sound dramatic and deep but what it really gives me, is perspective and the license to stop and appreciate all of those other small, temporary things that will be gone in the next minute.
And there is the story of my butterfly, and how it represents things that I aspire to be and things that I find important to remember.