I have a beautiful, day-old hibiscus quarter sleeve on my left shoulder. I’ve been coveting this tattoo for a while. I was going to get it to celebrate my passing of derby minimums. But, I needed to do it now. I needed it to feel alive and defiantly declare that breaking me will only make me more beautiful.
The Japanese art of Kintsugi means “to repair with gold.” When a piece of pottery is broken, people use this ancient art to repair the piece using gold or silver. The understanding is that something is more beautiful and more valuable for having been broken.
Kintsugi is probably the closest representation of how I feel about my tattoos. About my life, really.
The hibiscus flower is incorporated in a tattoo for several reasons. One of the most common things it symbolizes is devotion. Often, it represents a love from which you have moved on. In Malaysia, it represents courage and honor.
The most common symbol of a pink hibiscus is rare and delicate beauty. I like that one, because—while I am tough as hell—I am fragile too. My tattoo meaning is ironic: it represents fragility, but it takes a lot of pain and endurance to acquire it.
I read an article about tattooing that asked: If it didn’t hurt, would it mean as much? I think the answer to that is absolutely not. Enduring pain is something that is common in the human condition. But voluntarily choosing to endure pain in order to create something beautiful is brave. And kind of amazing.
Getting a tattoo is a lot like skating derby. You know it is going to hurt. And you do it anyway, because it is worth it. To steal a movie quote: If it was easy, everyone would do it. It's not a coincidence that many derby girls love tattoos.
I have been rewarded with some amazing things by enduring pain. My incredible kid, for example. I think this is why I put up with so much pain from the Earthquake. I believed (or at least hoped) that there would be something exceptionally beautiful and valuable that would be built from the broken pieces.
Well, I can’t always be right…
I have a large tattoo of a lotus on my left thigh. (I told my dad that I would only adorn and modify the left side of my body so he could stand on my right and pretend he had a normal daughter.) That beautiful flower grows by pushing itself through the mud to find the sunshine. I have pushed through a lot of mud. It keeps raining down on me. And somehow, I manage to find the sunlight.
I do like to think that my ink symbolizes amazing things. But for me, it is more than that. It is a way to reclaim myself. It helps make my world colorful. And it also helps create great beauty from great pain. When I look at my tattoo art, I remember the course of my life that led me to them. They are my life story.
They also remind me that I am tough enough to endure the pain and emerge with something quite amazing.