My father once said to me as a child, “If you ever get pregnant, get arrested, or get a tattoo, you will be disowned and removed from this family.” My mother, after hearing that, would always negate the sentence with some form of “you can do whatever you want with your body-if you want a tattoo when you’re old enough, go for it” to remind me I still had agency over my body. Now, my father and I have a very complicated relationship; my parents, although still legally married, have not lived together since I was 12. If anything, I feared my mother more than my father growing up, especially since I have barely been in the same space minus text conversations and phone calls since my parents decided being a romantic couple was no longer an option (for the record, my parents are now better friends than they were when they were married and living together). While my father and I are on good terms now that I’m an adult with a Career, a Partner, and also Taking Care of The Family, the whole “no tattoos” thing has always bothered me. I felt policed in my body, a body that I already had tremendous wars in and continue to fight with, even before I realized what was happening.
I have always wanted tattoos. Tattoos to me were so cool, and then when you began to talk to someone about why they decided to get sleeves or certain pieces, they tell whole stories. It’s like having a living scrapbook; you know exactly when and why you got that art permanently on your body and it is a constant reminder of the messages you want to carry with you. There has always been a debate with fellow actors and colleagues of mine about having tattoos. A few friends refuse to get any art as they feel it may limit them in their careers, while others have simply said “fuck it, I’m doing what I want” and have been getting ink since they were 18 (or younger; I hang out with a semi-rebellious crowd and some got their first at 16 with fake IDs). While I had always wanted tattoos, I felt that because I look super young and work as an “18 to play younger” actor (meaning they don’t have to pay for a studio teacher or be limited to child labor laws), if I wanted art, I was going to have to be stealthy and get them in places that would be easily covered. I also knew I would be committing a rebellious act, albeit a small one, against not only current and potential employers, but also against my father. During the spring and summer of 2012, I was incredibly busy with work-I was doing convention appearances, promoting the first season of the show I was on as well as gearing to shoot the second season AND a movie, and was tremendously infatuated with someone. When things came crashing down, as they always do in my life, I ran to Northern California for three days to see one of my best friends, and on that trip, the only thing I knew I wanted in the middle of all this chaos was the tattoo I had planned for years.
My mother raised me on music. From the time she was pregnant with me, she would put musical toys on her belly that would play Disney songs (a pull-string Dog that played “It’s a Small World” was a favorite of hers). When I was a toddler, the only thing that would calm any fussiness was the music video for George Michael’s “Father Figure” (why that video, no one knows) and mix tapes and the radio in the car would play anything from Celine Dion to Bowie to Prince to Amy Grant to Moody Blues to Red Hot Chili Peppers and everything in between. However, the one constant was that The Beatles were on repeat in between all of this. Rubber Soul. Help!. St. Pepper’s. Abbey Road. A Hard Day’s Night. My mother was (and still continues to be) my champion, and the Beatles were the score to every act of parenting she did growing up. So my first tattoo was going to be “Let it Be,” my favorite Beatles song, in her handwriting on my left wrist. A reminder that no matter what happens to be in the moment and let it happen, especially with the lesson coming from her.
“Hey mom?” I said as I walked in the door after my road trip and greeted my dogs. “Yes, Pookie?” “Can you write out ‘Let it Be’ multiple times? I’m getting the tattoo next week.” A smile began to appear on her face. “Your father is going to hate this.” “Oh I know, but who the fuck cares? It’s my body.” I didn’t realize that the moment I said that was the moment I began to truly start owning the body I lived in, whether I liked it or not. I had waited too long and relied on too many people’s opinions — plus my own hatred of body — and I finally had enough. Sometimes, the smallest battles fought and won are the ones that begin to win the war. She wrote a grid of “Let it Be’s” on a sheet of paper, and the following Wednesday, on my half birthday, I got my first tattoo. Most people believed I would never get one, and so after I took the bandage off, everyone wanted to see it and admire my mother’s handwriting and the fantastic artistry of the tattoo artist who got my mother’s handwriting down exactly to the slanted dotted i. A few weeks later, before I started shooting my next movie, my father came to California for his yearly continuing legal education hours, and as we sat down to celebrate both of my parents’ birthdays, I brushed my hair out of my face with my left hand, inadvertently displaying my fresh ink.
“Excuse me, what is that on your wrist?”
My mother and I exchanged glances and started laughing.
“It’s a tattoo, dad.”
My father began to get the glare in his eye when you disobeyed him. If I were 10 years younger, I would’ve immediately retreated, but after a while of not giving a fuck, I just smiled. He then looked to my mother, who immediately sipped her Lemon Drop Martini and also smiled. He finally let out a large sigh and drank his vodka soda.
“Well, you’re an adult, I guess I can’t dictate every decision you make.”
While I had others who were having the same hesitation (anywhere from apprehension to complete meltdown), this small rebellious act — against my father, against those policing what I should look like — reinforced my decision of “fuck you, I do what I want. I have talent, I have a voice, I am me, and if you don’t like that, then please exit my premises.”
I currently have five tattoos — Let it Be and the Aquarius zodiac symbol on the inside of my left wrist, a music note in the shape of a heart and LUMOS stamped on the inside of my right wrist, and the outline of a paw print on my right ankle — with plans for at least three or four more. They’re small pieces and the memories and stories of why I got them have been told, but they are my own. I have battles every day internally of how I should feel, how I should look, and when you’re in an industry with constant rejection, it’s hard to feel comfortable in your body. But these are my reminders that I am me, I am no one else, and you can take it or leave it.