For many people, tattooing is not just an art form, it’s an expression of how they see their identity. That realization brought Tass Cambitzi to the point of wanting to remove her 18 tattoos and begin with a new, better view of her herself. It was a long road for her to get to this point.
Tass began tattooing at the young age of 14. In an in-depth article with the BBC, titled Undrawing my tattoos, she admits that the first one was an act of teen rebellion. About this same time, she also began to abuse drugs and alcohol. Feeling abandoned by both her father and mother at that early age, Tass’ sense of self-worth was in a steady nosedive. Two rehab attempts to overcome her dependencies failed. But, mixing with many others while she was trying to get clean, taught her a lot about one of the key reasons many people get tattoos. “Damaged souls imprint themselves with tattoos.” she says.
Although not everyone who has tattoos also has the emotional problems that Tass experienced, hers is not an isolated case. Many get inked because of negative feelings about themselves. Others like her, she says, also fear losing things or people they love, and so they imprint the image of that important event, thing or person on their bodies.
Tattooing is on the rise among young people – in fact a US survey shows that at least 29% of Americans have at least one tattoo. The survey also says that 23% of those individuals regret it later and make efforts to have them removed. One reason for this, according to researcher Viren Swani of Anglia Ruskin University, is that as they grow older, people often discover a new, improved sense of identity. When that happens, they don’t want to be reminded of the old, harmful beliefs that they harboured about themselves or to have their past recorded on their bodies.
One of Tass’ first moments of desiring to be free of the tattoos came when she realized that they expressed how little she valued herself. Gradually, she came to understand that actually her source of self-esteem came from within, in that – as she said – “You're never going to find your value, or your identity, through anything externally.”
This is a pivotal point for many who, like Tass, struggle with self-worth because they have let external events, people or things define them. As they rethink what constitutes their innate value, many explore and discover some spiritual sense of who they are.
The desire to wipe the slate clean and to begin again is a good first step in finding a fresh identity. And shifting from a merely human to a spiritual view is a good second step.
Old beliefs about ourselves can be replaced by the discovery that our spiritual identity was actually never damaged or lost in the first place – it’s innate and permanent within each of us. Embracing this idea enables us to discover an original nature far more wonderful and valued than we realized.
When I think of Tass’ journey and what she is learning, I am reminded of a favourite quote by Mary Baker Eddy that encourages us to “… turn our gaze to the spiritual record of creation, to that which should be engraved on the understanding and heart ‘with the point of a diamond’ and the pen of an angel.”
Now that’s an indelible record.
Tattooed or not, seeing our identity as sourced in an entirely loving God can expunge a painful, imprisoning history and leave us free to begin again.
Anna Bowness-Park writes about the connection between thought and health, and the part that spirituality can play. She is a Christian Science practitioner.