The Body Electric-Tattoo Part IV (and V and VI): My Continued Response to the Crappy Magazine, “Inked”

Thomas Page McBee
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In my ongoing attempt to bring you amazing tattoos on queers and/or women--and the often even more amazing stories behind them--I have a treat for you this post. From the vault of a project I'm doing archiving the tattoo stories of people I like, I am happy to introduce you to Arwen--a fantastic artist, a beautiful writer, and an old friend.

Arwen graciously sent along multiple tales, and I was so blown away that I've included them all here. From Henry Darger to camels to "Eat Shit," her choices (and the often surprising stories behind them) demonstrate her playfulness and sense of humor as much as her unique and wonderful wisdom.

For most people, their individual tattoos mark moments in time--memories or fragments or advice to their future selves. Though this is certainly important, I hope that this archive also demonstrates that a collection of tattoos on a body also tells the story of that body in space and time, a map of how she moves in the world--in Arwen's case, I think her work tells of her graceful irreverance, her full-heartedness, and her joy.

Always feel free to share your own stories. Here our Arwen's, in her own words:


My name is Arwen, and I am a student in Cambridge, MA studying art history with the full intention of going on to museum studies after finally finishing my undergrad. I also work as a front desk person at a bed and breakfast, which serves to remind me how little I have traveled in my life.

I. Like a Bird From These Prison Walls I'll Fly


The first picture is of a tattoo I have across my chest - it is composed of two characters from Henry Darger's epic "In the Realms of the Unreal," Blengins (protectors of children), holding a banner that reads "Like a Bird From These Prison Walls I'll Fly." To be honest, the Darger imagery stemmed from aesthetic appreciation - even if a design is intensely symbolic, if it is not also attractive, you probably don't want it tattooed on your body forever. (Or maybe that is the appeal. Personally, I see them as adornment as well as carrying the possibility of meaning.) The quotation (which is from an old gospel song - the Sister Rosetta Tharpe version being my favorite) just seems so hopeful to me. Not necessarily implying death. I like the connotations.

The best reaction I have ever received was from a girl in at the grocery store who read it and stared at me for a minute before asking, "You were in prison?"

The only things I really remember about getting that piece (which was done at Redemption Tattoo in Cambridge by Jason Loui) was that it was the first one that hurt--I went back in for the second session and had to admit to Jason that I was scared that I was going soft because getting tattooed on my breastbone had been so painful. He was kindly sympathetic and told me that was normal - the vibrations in my skull weren't a sign of a decreased pain tolerance. Also, the color was done in two sessions so I spent a month with exactly half of my chest colored in, which looks as strange as it sounds.

II. Camel Dance


My friend Siobhan (who used to work at Darkwave in Roxbury) did my camel along with my friend Jenny's camel (her first tattoo!) as an homage to our hometown, Winston-Salem. W-S isn't really known for anything, but it is the hometown of Krispy Kreme doughnuts and Camel cigarettes. And camels are more attractive than doughnuts - although I may still get a doughnut on the other foot.

We went to get tattooed on a nasty, wintery-mix day two winters ago. I remember walking into the shop and having to peel off multiple layers of wet socks to get to my poor foot - we put my socks to dry so that the tattoo would not immediately get infected after it was done. I had to stand up so that the camel didn't come out distorted, and Siobhan's pseudo-pointilist style (that she created on the spot) made my camel a dead ringer for the one on the box (which was the idea.)

Jenny's camel is a little smaller and closer to her toe (cameltoes, get it?) and I got to experience the excitement of being with a friend during her first tattoo--anything you can't take back definitely changes you in a way impermanent alterations never can. For the rest of the winter, we would go into bathrooms together to take off layers of tights and soggy socks just for the fun of seeing our camels dance.

III. Eat Shit


This last one is a tattoo that I forget I have. My dentist thinks it's hilarious, and it's the one I don't show everyone - but I like this picture, so I added it just in case you don't get enough amusing submissions! My firm belief regarding lip tattoos is that they should be irreverent and the ones you can't show your mother. Their permanence is dubious, so they're almost temporary anyway!

Siobhan did this one, too, and it was inspired by a bad fall back when I thought I might learn to skateboard. Yeah right! Other lip tattoos I know of include "Dead Meat," "Balls," and of course, "Fuck."

I think think that sums it up. I don't love all of my tattoos anymore, but I don't regret any of them because they all have stories attached and I meet such the gamut of people just due to their existence.

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2 Comments Have Been Posted

Tattoo Photos Missing Stories and More Tattoo Questions

I've been following your posts on tattoos for a while and have found it fascinating to read about the thought that has been put into some of the tattoos and the stories that go with them. I haven't seen the film "9" , or gotten any of the tattoos I considered-at least so far myself thought about getting a couple on intimate areas. When I inquired once of a woman who did tattoos about how much getting a tattoo hurt she told me that she'd once had a guy sobbing while doing a very large one on his back. Another reader replied that it wasn't as bad as I thought but varied depending on the location. I've chickened out. I also chickened out of telling what I was thinking of getting written where. I suspect that one of the reasons the NY Daily News placed this photo at: (attempt at copying and pasting the image address) amongst its "Best Photos of the Week" not long ago was as much for her close to nude body (back view) as for the beautiful tattooed mural extending from her shoulders down to her knees. The caption read: "A tattooed woman is pictured at the fifth international London Tattoo Convention at the Tobacco Dock, in east London." "Credits: COHEN/AFP/Getty Images Published: 09/27/2009 11:04:39". No name or story behind the tattoo was given. Although there are many photographs of tattoos and tattoo art to be seen in the media and in magazines the interesting stories behind them are few and far between. It's too bad there was no story with the NY Daily News photo. On the internet so much of the coverage looks at tattoos as if they were just a painting. I liked reading the story behind the tattoo you related in your post previous post entitled: "Tattoo Part II: Big Beautiful" and have enjoyed reading all your other and subsequent posts on tattoos. I've wondered how much care one need to take with a recent large tattooed area, how long it hurts and about getting tattoos in scars.

My friend's ex just got a

My friend's ex just got a tattoo down his arm that says "You'll never walk alone" written in child's print, which I guess is what he used to say to her a lot. So that would be cute, except (and this is a big except) he dumped her last September and is still freaking out about it. And will now have to explain that to every other girl who sees his naked arm:D Scandalous! Or actually just stupid.

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