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Our team consists of a very diverse group of women but there’s one thing that ties a few of us together – our tattoo stories. The decision to have something permanently marked on your body is one not taken lightly, but Nina, Elené, Isabel-Marié, Caré and Heloïse took the leap. And now they have some pretty cool stories to share.

Nina

I knew for a very long time that I would have quite a few tattoos to adorn my body. To me it signifies freedom – freedom to express myself and the freedom to decide what I want to do with my body on my terms. Since my first one at 18, I’ve slowly coloured in multiple areas of my body and with every new piece it feels as if a missing part is returned. My tattoos don’t have very emotional or personal stories behind them. To me they signify what I desire most and that is self-confidence.

My first one was a painful one. It’s a piece of scripture that reads: “She is clothed with strength and dignity and she laughs without fear of the future”. As a hyperemotional eighteen year old, I thought that the only way to internalise this mantra was to have it be physically close to my heart. In retrospect, I definitely would have spent more time on the font and placement but I still value the words.

My most beloved tattoos are those on my hands. My father’s first tattoo was a simple rose on his shoulder and back then it screamed “rebel”. I love knowing that he rocked that tattoo without a care for the backlash he’d get from the more conservative folk. Roses, in my opinion, are also a timeless aesthetic. My mother and I have the same rose tattoo on our wrist and glancing down at it still makes me giddy. On my left wrist I have quotation marks. I spend about 80% of my days reading and writing so this was my little homage to an element that’s so crucial in my life. It was also my first stick and poke tattoo and I’m still amazed at the quality and detail of it. If you have any idea of the ratchet context in which I received it (think back porch in the dark, beer in one hand and cellphone in the other to give the artist enough light to work in) you’d be too. A very impulsive line drawing of a set of arms grace the area above my left elbow. For this there really is only one explanation: it looks pretty rad.

Moving down, I have the word “woman” on my foot. I think there is power in the word and power in claiming it. I have never shied away from expressing my beliefs on feminism and while there are a myriad of arguments for how modern feminism is failing, the tattoo reminds me to go back to the basics. The reason why I fight an exhausting fight. Because I am a woman.

Elené

To me, tattoos are a very personal thing. I believe that you either like it or you don’t. It fascinates you or it does not. Personally, I enjoy the way my tattoos add to my personality, but I prefer tattoos that aren’t visible, making it a part of myself I only show to some people. I value my privacy, so I sometimes regret my tattoos that are visible, but I actually cannot imagine my life without them.

I have well-thought out tattoos, as well as impulsive tattoos. I do not regret either. What I do regret is not researching my tattoo artists enough for the impulsive tattoos, as that to me is one of the most important considerations when getting a tattoo – I have one or two that just looks rushed.
My first tattoo is underneath my left breast – it is an Emily Dickinson quote ‘Love is Immortality’ in a slanted font. When I was younger I had a very heightened fear of losing people I love. I used to be unable to sleep, because I used to stress about people dying. And I found this quote by Emily Dickinson that says ‘Unable are the loved to die, for love is immortality’ and it helped me cope with this fear and just became a type of mantra to me.
My second is a fleur de lis behind my right ear (totally impulsive). The fleur de lis is just an ode to French culture. I studied French at school and varsity and I’ve romanticised their culture, heritage, landscape and literature for years. I really just love the French.
My third is the date my mother passed away in roman numerals on my left forearm (people often ask me about this one because it is very visible and it is actually the most difficult one to talk about). When my mother passed away, it was such a massive event in my life. I stood astonished at the impact it had on the normal progress of life and I felt that nothing really commemorated it in the way that I wanted – nothing really shouted, ‘my mom passed and everything changed’ so I decided to tattoo the day on my arm to be reminded every day.
My fourth is an ouroboros snake on my left thigh with an upside down triangle, topped with roses and a Simone de Beauvoir quote underneath: ‘On ne nait pas femme on le devient’. I believe that life is cyclical. You will be happy and sad and happy and sad. On the other hand, I find it quite depressing to be trapped in such a cycle, so I put the roses on top to signify growth beyond that cycle. The upside-down triangle signifies water and as a scorpio and small child I’ve resonated with water in different aspects of my life. The quote is quite special to me – it says ‘one is not born, but becomes a woman’ and not a lot of things have rung truer to me in my adult life than this. It’s been an exploration and journey and every time I think I know what it means to be a woman, I find another aspect unexplored.

My fifth one is a Matryoshka doll on my right-hand shoulder, with a lotus flower in the centre. When my mom was in her early twenties, she went on a Contiki tour. She nearly missed the bus in London, because she wanted to go buy herself this beautiful red and pink matryoshka doll. After that, she bought one every time she was abroad and got several from friends as well. To me, it became this endearing symbol for someone that I love and miss dearly.

I probably won’t get another. It marks such an important period in my life and I don’t think that I’ll ever be in that space again. I don’t really regret any of them. I struggled a lot with my mental health in my early twenties and tattoos for me was a big form of expression. A lot of the quotes and imagery is about womanhood, loneliness, loss and trying to fit in somewhere. It also formed such an important part of exploring my sexuality and loving my body that I am not able to write it off as a regret. I see it more as a celebration of that which had to be overcome, and that which had to be left behind.

Isabel-Marié

My inked journey started with a small tattoo. We were 5 best friends in our second year of varsity when we decided to get tattoos together instead of going to class one afternoon. Each one of us got a different tattoo on the exact same spot on our body. 

I decided on the Afrikaans word – Liefde. My all time favourite song will always be the song with the same name by Johannes Kerkorrel. This tattoo was written in the handwriting of one of the five friends that was on this afternoon adventure with me. 

Although we don’t spend so much time together anymore, this tattoo will always remind me of the many days I spent in Potchefstroom with five people who changed my life. 

I’m a lover of words, especially in my beautiful mother tongue so I only saw fit that my second tattoo also had words written in Afrikaans. 

Some time ago, when I still called Pretoria my home, I was called really mean things and decided to label myself with;

‘Waardig.’

Meaning that I am notable and/or important, despite her damaging words. I wanted the tattoo to appear exactly as it does in the Afrikaans dictionary. After I was called all those mean things, I had to remind myself that I’m not those labels and that I am the only one that can decide which labels I want to wear. So yes, I’m telling myself that I’m worthy. Every day.

I believe that your heart is where your home is. And mine will always be on a small flower farm in Heidelberg, Gauteng. If I ever get lost and want to go home, I’ll just add these coordinates to my GPS and off to Gauteng I go; back to find the place where I grew up, the place that will always have a big space in my heart. 

The most recent tattoo I got is one that is like a golden thread between all of the above. The outer lines of South Africa are for the obvious reason that I was born and raised in South Africa. But the places that shaped me into the person I am today are the places that is coloured in: Gauteng, North West and the Western Cape.

From my first tattoo until my last, and the ones yet to come, they represent the places and people that formed me into the girl standing in front of you today.  I see them everyday and it reminds me where I was and where I’m heading.The friends I made in Potchefstroom, my family from Gauteng, the girl she thought I was, and the place I now call home.

Caré

A month or so ago I got my first tattoo. I’ve always admired other people’s artwork and the stories that came with it, but somehow I could never gather enough courage to get one myself. So after I took the plunge and finally got it done, I’ve been pretty obsessed with the result. 

Most tattoos have meaning behind them, and mine is no different. Being a graphic designer is not just a career for me, it influences the way I think, argue, and see things. I dream in colour palettes and know fonts by their names. It’s who I am, and the CMYK circles on my wrist represent just that.

It might have been risky to get my first tattoo in colour, but I haven’t looked back on my decision for even a second.

Heloïse

When was the last time you did something truly brave?

Not jumping from a bridge into a river or going parachuting, but something that takes every inch of your being into consumption and threatens the security of your comfort zone. Oftentimes taking a leap of faith, standing up for yourself and being strong when you feel weak is the bravest thing that you can do.

This is the reason behind my tattoo: “Löwin” or lioness, if you translate it to English. It reminds me to be as brave as a lion(ess) and to do the right thing even if it is numbingly scary. I got it at age 19 to remind myself to be brave enough to conquer the nay-sayers, even if that nay-sayer happens to be me. Surprisingly, I haven’t grown to be braver since getting the ink, but every now and then I find myself reminiscing about the meaning and consequently auditing my mindset.

I guess you could say, what was supposed to make me more brave, in fact only made me more mindful about my fears and constraints and created a reminder to challenge that mindset. Ironically, I experienced this type of feedback whilst debating whether or not to expose myself in this piece, but here I am – so I guess it worked.

Author

The girl with the sleek cut that can shop up a storm in a second-hand store. I love a good story, and I love it even more if it is told well. Don't like my blazer? Don't care. Looking to be impressed? You should see me fly a drone.

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