Stylist always strives to examine the layer of personal meanings that frame our beauty choices. This week, freelance writer Amy Lewis shares the hidden story behind one of her tattoos…
Whether it was growing up in a house where tattoos had become de rigour, or just an obsession with stick on body art that went a step further than the norm, by the time I’d reached the legal age for tattooing I was already in the parlour counting up loyalty stamps.
Of course, I built up a small collection of tattoos which now serve as little more than an amusingly permanent reminder of how much my teenage-self liked colourful butterflies and flowers.
But then tragedy struck, and for me body art has served a far more symbolic purpose ever since.
In 2006 at just 45 years old, my beautifully tattooed mother died.
The more detailed whys and wherefores are probably for another story altogether, but the sum of it is that cancer took her away incredibly suddenly, and at nineteen I was bereft, with no real outlet for my grief.
Several weeks after the funeral took place, when the shock had started to fade away and real thoughts and feelings, raw as they were, slowly began to filter back in, I had a yearning to do something meaningful.
Something that was both symbolic, and yet also relatively private.
I didn’t know what exactly, but something.
It soon came to me that a tattoo was the only thing.
My mum had discovered the joys of body art in her late thirties, and had thereafter gone hell for leather in a bid to make up for lost time.
From delicately entwined flower bands to more questionable pink unicorns (none of us have ever really understood that one), they decorated the lengths of her arms and fell sporadically elsewhere.
I’d always had a favourite; a golden yellow orchid that spread over her forearm.
There’s plenty of research to back art as an effective and extremely healing outlet for grief or depression, and if I was any sort of illustrator I would have loved to have drawn something original and symbolically significant, then taken that to a tattooist.
As it was, and currently still is, even stick men drawn by my hand are in quite poor form.
Luckily, the orchid had originally been drawn by the tattooist who had executed all of my own art work (up until that point, at least).
I asked him to redraw a smaller version of it and etch it on the inside of my left ankle.
If you’ve ever had your feet or ankles tattooed, you’ll know I really mean it when I say it smarted. Close to the bone there, whether you enjoy the sensation or not I defy you not to wince even a little.
Having a purpose behind the tattoo however, a reason more than just liking the pretty idea of it, made the experience something close to cathartic.
I’ve had several tattoos since, and the peaceful high that comes with each one has never been quite like the feeling I had when I had my orchid done.
When people notice the tattoo and ask about it - which isn’t often given the discreet placement - sometimes I tell them the story and sometimes I don’t.
For me it’s a very personal reminder of somebody that I loved very much, embodied quite aptly in a sunshine-yellow bloom.
That it can be both a statement and a secret is all a part of the beauty.
stylist.co.uk has had a yellow makeover on 15 August, to celebrate our Yellow Issue and pay homage to the colour of the season. Read more about the most playful shade of all here.
This article was originally published in August 2015.