My friend lifts up my sandy shirt and presses down on my stomach for one minute. Her sweaty fingers press the design into my blank skin.
Her warm fingers pinch the outline of the picture as she slowly rips off the plastic. We laugh ecstatically as it’s been five years since we’ve attempted the craft of temporary tattoos; we stare at it from our various angles. The stomach. My stomach. Something we’re taught to hate. Something I learnt to hate is suddenly beautiful as, on its dull flesh, there lies a butterfly.
A flashback series. It’s Year Four and my mum’s cleaning my room and I’m crying. I pinch my stomach, feeling the flab, feeling the failure and I ask my mum: why am I fat? It’s Year Eight and my mum’s buying me clothes from Topshop and I’m crying. I pinch my stomach that rolls over the top of the jeans that I so badly want to fit in and I ask my mum: why am I fat? It’s Year Eleven and my mum’s downstairs working whilst I’m supposed to be revising but I’m crying at my reflection. I pinch the stomach that scowls back at me and I ask the sad-eyed girl looking back at me: why am I fat? It’s the end of Year Thirteen, the start of summer and the start of freedom; I don’t know where my mum is but I’m crying. I pinch my stomach that I am convinced has grown over A Levels and ask myself: why am I fat?
A year has passed. My best friends and I are drunk on each other’s company basking in the Mediteranean sun but this time I’m not crying. I’m laughing. Laughing because even though I’m not fat nor was I ever anything more than perhaps chubby, my stomach fat is beautiful and weird and great and belongs to me. I trace the butterfly that sits comfortably on my stomach and I smile at my body’s reflection in the shop window: it’s so beautiful.
Over the time that I had my temporary tattoo I did the unforeseeable; I tried to flaunt my stomach at any time possible. Open shirts, lower shorts, bikinis on the daily, stomach selfies on the insta, bralettes for shirts at the bar, no towels necessary if we are basically sisters living together, right? I suddenly felt a confidence inside my own body that I hadn’t realised I had always been yearning for.
Suddenly my body was permanently mine and it was all thanks to a temporary butterfly that made me realise that.
Over time, the tattoo faded but the confidence stayed. The butterfly was gone but the stomach remained. I love my body with or without the butterfly. Simply because it is mine. But, as the days passed, I missed having something that I had specifically chosen to be there. So a few days later, the day before my flight home after twelve months overseas, with my friend’s design of a fish in my hand, I entered the tattoo shop and submitted my body to a needle, potential parental and religious disappointment and most importantly, permanent art.
Bright lights, snapchat cameras, action. The tattoo artist advises me to take off my sand-filled bikini and to stretch my body out. I suddenly become the human canvas to his pain-inflicting art. I invite my wide-eyed friends to watch the permanent scarring of my body. I forget my boobs are on show to them. I forget that my stomach is proudly rolling over my jean shorts. I forget that even my stretch marks are being stretched and they are seeing my body at its worst. But I didn’t care; I don’t care and I hope I never care again. Because for a brief hour I was absorbed in this man’s art. His world where bodies are not built for insecurities but for drawings. His world where we control the designs on our bodies. His world where pain is from ink needles not from societally-instigated insecurities. His world where our bodies are the canvas and he is the artist and we are ultimately the masterpiece.
People constantly objectify people, especially women. Women shine like jewels to voyeuristic eyes so I took back my body and made my own crown. I present it in ways not how other people want it to be seen but in ways that I want to see when I look in a mirror.
Bodies are complicated enough, changing constantly. No matter how we look we’re taught to hate them and hate ourselves. Now, I’m not saying you need a tattoo to love your body but personally it’s the control that I needed to then love everything else about it. For the first time in my life I feel the fish that sits on top of my stomach flab and smile because I know that my body belongs to me and that’s beautiful. Confidence isn’t a straight path but when I have periods of low confidence I will always have the fish to remind me that at least there’s something I’ll always love about it. My body is my body and there was once a time where I loved it enough to brandish it with a design of my own. Because bodies can change drastically but the fish will always be there swimming in between my insecurities and my confidence.
What started with a temporary butterfly ended with a permanent fish on my rib and unforeseen body confidence.
Now, when I stand naked in front of my mirror, I smile because I focus on and see my chosen fish on the body that I never chose to have.