9 Emotional Stages Of Getting Your First Back Tattoo (Spoiler: You Will Be Reborn)
I've been obsessed with the idea of getting a back tattoo ever since I started watching HBO's GIRLS. Lena Dunham's tattoos have always inspired me, and her sentiment of taking control of your body through inking really encouraged me to get more of my own tattoos. She was actually the first person to teach me that getting tattoos was an act of body positivity, creativity, and feminism all rolled into one beautiful package. It is her Eloise-inspired tattoo of a pair of houses on her back that has always struck me the most, though. Not only does the placement seem perfect and super sexy, but I loved the idea of the houses, too.
My friends, knowing of my deep devotion to Dunham, have joked about how I'd be getting the tattoo only because she did it. Of course, I love the idea of sharing a tattoo with one of my idols. But the significance of the houses on my back was also very personal, and meant a lot to me in terms of feeling safe — providing a sense of belonging wherever I go. With this new piece, I would be able to carry my home on my back anywhere and everywhere. So I found the perfect design, courtesy of my artist's Instagram, and made an appointment.
Whatever your reasons are for getting a back tattoo, make sure you know what to expect. I hadn't exactly communicated with my artist, 'Ol Ash (at Magic Cobra Tattoo Society in Brooklyn) about how it would feel, or how it would be vastly different from the multiple arm tattoos she'd given me before. It got a little tough at times but — as anyone who gets tattoos would understand — the pain was worth it. Here's how it went down, and how I was feeling every step of the way:
1. Blissful Confidence
This wasn't my first time at the rodeo. I strolled into the shop confidently, and with excitement I struggled to conceal. I always get super stoked before a tattoo. I love the process: The burn of the needle, watching the design come together, the conversation with my artist (the coolest girl you'll ever meet).
Anticipating showing off my new ink to everyone who will look, the seventh in my collection of tattoos, exhilarates me. Ashley slaps the design on my back after some altering and adjusting. I wait a bit as the stencil sets and she preps her work station. Once everything's ready, I settle into the chair and it's go-time.
2. Cruel Agony
OK, so it really hurts!! I was not expecting so much pain. I figured the back is a pretty broad and tough part of the body, and not a particularly bony area. Well I guess I forgot about my SHOULDER BLADES. And my SPINE. And the millions of nerves on and around the spine. I tried to disguise my agony, but my wincing and gasping gave it away I guess.
This is when my artist and I had the conversation about how a back tattoo is different from an arm or leg tattoo. Ashley was hugely comforting, and kept telling me how well I was doing. I felt like a little kid getting a shot at the doctor's office as I writhed and shut my eyes.
3. I Can Do This!
As time went on, I adjusted to the pain. I was getting into it, like I do with every tattoo. I let myself breathe and opened my eyes for the first time in 30 minutes. I distracted myself from the pain by talking to Ashley and my partner, who had come along to get an idea of what getting a tattoo is like. They were getting their first tattoo the week after — a bumblebee on their arm. I felt bad, and kept reassuring them that an arm tattoo is a way different experience.
4. Sugar We're Going Down
Despite my optimism and my attempt to be tough, dizziness hit me like a train on a track. I could barely lift my head. I tried not to panic or admit defeat, and informed Ashley of my declining situation. So we took a break, as I tried to downplay what was happening to restore my dignity.
All the adrenaline you work up during a tattoo or piercing can sometimes lower your blood sugar so significantly that you can become lightheaded or pass out. My artist was so lovely, and went to the convenience store on the corner to buy me a water bottle and Sour Patch Kids. That artificial sweet and sour deliciousness was just what the doctor ordered, and brought me back from the dead. I wanted to hug Ashley for such a kind and life-saving act.
5. The Rebirth
Now that my blood sugar was restored, I was ready for round two. We started again, and the pain really wasn't that bad. I was in the zone, and ready to get this tattoo finished.
6. Cold, Hard Defeat
You can't win 'em all. The pain wasn't bad, but my body was telling me it was all over. Dizziness once again washed over me, and so badly that I wasn't sure if I would be able to stand up. Ashley knelt next to me and hand fed me candy as she told me we'd have to finish the design another day. I knew she was right, but I was embarrassed that I couldn't finish it. She assured me that I did great, and I tried to believe it.
7. Reluctant Acceptance
As my artist applied ointment and wrapped me up, I realized that it would be silly for me to continue. It would suck if I was too lightheaded to make it back to the train. Plus, I had worked up quite an appetite (despite having kept a steady stream of candy going into my body throughout the process), so I wanted to make it to the restaurant a few blocks over in one piece. Food: My great motivator and my greatest reminder to take care of myself.
8. Whiny Baby Time
My back ached and stung a lot all through lunch, and I was sure to let everyone around me aware of this fact. On my way home, I winced over and over as I endured multiple people banging into my back. My mom, forgetting momentarily about the new ink, rubbed my back pretty forcefully. I almost broke down crying. I began to dread my next appointment, and was unsure if I could go through that again.
9. I'm Bringing Sexy Back
After I took off the wrapping that night to clean my tattoo, I got a glimpse of it for the first time. And it was glorious. I was in love with it, and was immediately assured that any pain I had gone through was worth it. The design was everything I imagined it to be, and I felt sexy. I got my back tattoo! I did it!! And now my back was arguably as sexy as Dunham's. Even though it's not 100 percent complete yet, I felt beautiful and accomplished as I marveled at my latest gift to my body.
Images: Getty; Giphy; skylar_belt/Instagram