At Things&Ink we’re a curious bunch – we want to know about your tattoos. Why did you get that design? Why that artist? Tell us EVERYTHING! So we’re introducing our tattoo stories series, as a way to get to know you all better (and be nosy). First up is Caroline, a youth worker and creator of morbid art from Kent, UK sharing her tattoo story…

How old were you when you got your first tattoo, what was it and do you still like it? I was 18 years old and living in Eastbourne when I had a slightly abstract galaxy tattooed on my forearm. I am slowly blasting over that arm with blown up, large scale finger prints; but it’s still mostly visible at the moment. It’s not that I dislike the tattoo, it was done well and even 15 years later the white highlights have held up. I suppose it just doesn’t serve me any more. I’m not particularly emotionally attached to it so won’t be sad when it’s not visible. 

What made you want to get tattooed? Was there a person or experience? I didn’t know anyone with tattoos when I was growing up. My family were very middle class and very anti-tattoo and modification, so I didn’t really know tattooing existed until I noticed it on television and occasionally on strangers in the street. I remember noticing a man in the supermarket with a tribal sleeve and feeling fascinated.

Later, I started drawing on my hands and arms in school during lessons, and trying to make it as intricate as possible. My teen subculture was definitely goth, and we got our first internet ready computer when I was 12 years old, so as soon as that happened I was planning various body suits and hundreds of piercings. Perusing BMEzine became a daily ritual for me and it just escalated from there. 

Can you tell us about your tattoo collection, any favourite pieces/artists or experiences?The vast majority of my tattooing has been done by artists at Dead Slow in Brighton, and under its previous ownership as Nine. The artist who has done more of my work than anyone else is Jack Applegate, and I love working with him because it feels very collaborative and we’ve forged a great friendship. The way he works feels organic and painterly, which requires a lot of trust and communication. Last year he finished a leg piece on my right leg from ankle to hip inspired by Fenrir and Jormungandr of Norse mythology. He also finished my throat / chest piece which is hard to describe, but is essentially a Black Metal inspired necklace. Those two pieces have a special place in my heart. 

I’ve also really enjoyed being tattooed by Kirsty Simpson at Dead Slow. Once again I’ve found a real friend in Kirsty which has made the tattooing of my belly very comfortable, very professional, and almost emotional. I don’t think I’d want anyone else working on that part of my body. Knowing that Kirsty is very accepting, and appreciative of fat bodies has made the tattooing of this part of my body pretty enjoyable in a lot of ways. We have fun, we build each other up, and it all lends itself to a very warm and comfortable endeavour. 

Can you tell us about your latest tattoo and the story behind it? I have two ongoing projects, one with Kirsty Simpson and one with Jack Applegate. Jack is tattooing two satanic goats on my bum! At the time of writing, I have an appointment with Kirsty coming up to finish the new tattoo on my belly apron. I did the initial design myself, and it is a heavy black script of the word “Sanctuary”, and Kirsty has added her own flair to it. 

As a fat woman my stomach has often been the epicentre of my self-loathing, and the main target of abuse and fatphobia from others. At the age of 33 I decided that now was the time to do something drastic to reclaim it, embrace it, and start enjoying it. The fact my belly hangs and protrudes further than any other part of me, and yet it was bare and I’d tried so hard to ignore it, made it seem really stupid that I wasn’t tattooing it like the rest of my body.

‘Sanctuary’ came to mind as the perfect word to emblazon across it considering how horrifically I had viewed my body, particularly this part of it. Slowly I am coming to realise that my belly (and the rest of me) in all its softness is a sanctuary for friends, family, and lovers.

Hopefully over time and through actions like this, it will feel like my own sanctuary too. 

Do your tattoos help you to view your body differently? Over time tattooing has helped me reclaim my body, embrace and enjoy it. Through my whole life, from the age of five I have faced fatphobic bullying and abuse. Consistently I have been told that my body is wrong and incorrect, including what I should wear to hide it, what I should do to minimise it, what I should do to stop it getting “worse”, and what is and isn’t appropriate for my body to look like as a woman.

Tattooing wasn’t a rebellion, so much as it was a loving act.

The more tattooed I become, the less ashamed I am and the more I love my flesh. The decisions are solely mine, and I do not listen to anyone else in terms of what goes on my body. Despite the negative reactions I get, I am more and more comfortable in my skin since modifying it. I can wear a strappy top, shorts, or crop top and feel comfortable in a way I never did before modifying my body in a way that pleases me. That’s not to say I don’t have bad days, because I really do, but those bad days are no longer every day. 

What sorts of reactions do your tattoos get? The more tattooed I become, the more polarised reactions seem to be. I get more positive reactions than I did five years ago, with some people telling me that seeing me makes them feel more seen and embracing of themselves. People can be very kind and have genuinely polite curiosity. It can be refreshing to engage with someone well-meaning. My social circle is very small, and despite being the odd one out aesthetically, no one really acknowledges or talks about my tattooing.

My family seem to have reached a point where they just don’t pass comment anymore, when previously they had been quite negative. In my line of work it actually gives me a positive boost quite often, and young people I work with seem to respond well to me not looking like their teachers or social workers. I hope it helps them to see that you can be a professional and still look the way you like to look, and express yourself. 

Sadly, I also get more intensely negative reactions than I used to before. I face daily abuse when I leave the house. There is something about being fat, tattooed, and femme that makes some people think they can treat me like dirt. Perhaps it’s a trio of characteristics that makes people really angry. Walking my dog down the road will almost always lead to someone (or multiple people) calling me horrific names as they walk or drive past. I have had food thrown at me from moving vehicles, and I am regularly heckled in supermarkets and shops. On a few occasions I have been filmed without my permission and my image posted on social media.

It’s led to me isolating myself in a lot of ways, and some days I find it hard to walk out the front door. Most people tell me that I come across as confident and self-assured, and that I don’t appear to care what others think of me. More often than not I force myself to go about my day, refuse to react (usually because it doesn’t feel safe to do so), pretend I don’t notice. I don’t believe there is an easy solution to this. If I react I potentially put myself in harm’s way, and if I don’t maybe those people feel like they are vindicated in their nastiness. I really don’t know if it’s being fat or heavily tattooed that angers people the most. 

Thank you Caroline for sharing your story with us. Get in touch if you’d like to be part of our tattoo stories series.

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