Keeping a positive tattatooed

Gina Nassivera, sports management graduate student, has “Famiglia,” Italian for “family,” tatooed on her lower lip.

By Elise Nall

Anyone with visible body art can attest to the fact that tattoos often draw attention.

I don’t consider myself to be particularly “inked up” — I only have five tattoos (and that’s including the one that my best friend punched into the skin of my ankle with a safety pin my junior year of high school), but the three largest ones are almost always visible. Thanks to my tattoos, I’ve been approached everywhere from concerts to the grocery store by everyone from soccer moms to little kids to drunk men. The resulting memories from these encounters are sure to stay with me forever.

I remember, once, while picking out a birthday card for my dad, a conservatively dressed woman who looked to be in her forties approached me with a gentle tap on the shoulder.

“Excuse me,” she said, “but are those butterflies on your arm?”

I nodded and lifted the sleeve of my t-shirt to show her.

“It’s so pretty!” she said.

We spent some time talking about the colors, how the tattoo is my version of a memorial for my mother and how the artist responsible is a young, talented female. “I’ve never thought a tattoo could be beautiful,” the woman said. “But you’ve changed my mind.”

I felt some small sense of accomplishment, knowing I had opened that woman’s eyes to an aspect of our society to which they had been previously shut. Although changing her perspective on tattoos was nothing life-altering for either of us, it was still very cool to know that the ink under my skin had affected her, even in such a minute way.

I was surprised to find, one day while shopping at Target with my roommate, that my tattoos seemed to have caught the attention of a 3-year-old girl. We walked by the girl and her father a few times while shopping, and the little girl kept pointing at me and saying to her dad, “Look! Unicorn!”

Upon passing the pair, I stopped to let the little girl look at my tattoo, while her father explained to her that it was a picture on my skin. After chatting for a minute with her dad, we went our separate ways, but I will always remember how charming I thought the whole exchange was. Remembering that moment months later still makes me smile.

However, the attention my tattoos occasionally provoke isn’t always so endearing. At a concert once, a very drunk, and apparently very handsy, young man stumbled up to me and began asking me about my tattoos. This man also felt the need to pet and poke at each of my tattoos, as if I had forgotten where I had placed them and needed to be reminded by his prodding fingers. “What’s this one mean?” he stammered as he grabbed at the Latin script on my wrist.

“It means, ‘Leave me the hell alone,'” I said with an attitude so uncharacteristic of me that my own words probably surprised me more than they surprised him. While I’m not one to endorse speaking harshly to others, I found out that night that I can be a firecracker if absolutely necessary (and yes, in that case, it was).

I don’t want to imply that everyone loves my tattoos — just ask any one of the policy-obsessed managers that have scolded me at various minimum-wage jobs. Besides initiating pleasant conversation with strangers at the supermarket, my tattoos invite dirty looks, mean comments and assorted rejections, but I wouldn’t erase my ink even if I could. My tattoos speak volumes about who I am, but the conversations they often spark give me a chance to listen to the stories of people who are otherwise total strangers as they speak volumes themselves.