The Lilith Blog 1 of 2

August 17, 2016 by

Tattooing Family Memories

anna lily“They are beautiful,” an elderly relative once admitted to me at a family gathering, “but now you have to find a nice Jewish man who will accept both you and your tattoos.”

I thanked her and laughed, genuinely surprised her reaction was not as harsh as I had imagined. Still, I wanted to play it safe and avoid any awkwardness, so I redirected our conversation accordingly.

While these words were coming from a good place, and from someone who values my happiness and wellbeing, they implied several things. First, that my tattoos are a detriment to my femininity. Second, that it will be difficult to find a man of my culture who will marry me with my now tainted skin. And, finally, that I am even looking for a man.

Tattoo culture has become a part of the mainstream, and the negative stereotypes surrounding them are slowly fading away. While my parents’ and grandparents’ generations would never have dreamed of getting a tattoo, I have nine. And recently even my mother has changed her view on tattoos. She is actually planning on getting one to match one of my own.

Some pieces are especially important to me as a person of Jewish heritage. On my wrist is the image of a lily on a pendant that my great-grandmother gave to my grandmother Elizabeth—her nickname is Lily—in St. Petersburg, who in turn gave it to my mother, who recently gave it to me. This is the lily my mother wants tattooed on her own skin—back shoulder, she decided. When her family left the former Soviet Union, they were not permitted to take most of their belongings, but they were able to bring the lily pendant. Even when I do not wear the necklace, I always have this piece of my family’s story with me.

People will sometimes ask me: why tattoos? Why permanently alter your skin when you might regret it? But my tattoos are more than just images on skin. They are collected, intangible things, like a feeling, a memory, a moment, collected things I cannot misplace. Each one of my tattoos is a prayer, a monument, a marker of time. Some pieces are more significant to me; others, less—but the act of getting or having permanent ink is in no way political or rebellious. My tattoos are for me.