Tattoos: The art of self-expression

July 27, 2017
Source: Cecilia Siauw |
Tattoos: The art of self-expression

There are a few significant age milestones in the United States; 16 to drive, 21 to drink, but in the middle, is the magic number of 18. A few things that one gets when they turn 18 are the privilege to give consent, use tobacco products, and get piercings or tattoos, but the list doesn’t end there.


When I was younger, I skipped a grade in elementary school so I am a year younger than my classmates. This meant I had to wait an additional year before I got to do the same things they could do. As I counted down the weeks until my 18th birthday, I recall making my tattoo appointment four weeks in advanced because I was so excited. I just had to get my first tattoo the minute that the shop opened on my birthday! My parents were not pleased that I would be permanently marking my body, but since I was of age they couldn’t object except with discouragement. Prior to making my appointment, I spent hours on Pinterest trying to find the perfect tattoo and the perfect placement.



Throughout my childhood, I had a strong interest in horoscopes. In middle school, I remember waking up every day and checking my daily, weekly, and monthly horoscope on each day. I was a die-hard believer that the stars could predict my future. Looking back, it was a little ridiculous. Nevertheless, the significance of the Scorpio has stuck with me ever since and is the reason I chose my first tattoo to be a Scorpio constellation.


I vividly remember every detail of my first tattoo experience. Walking into ‘High Priestess,’ a popular tattoo and piercing shop near the University of Oregon was nerve-racking. I walked into a secluded room in the back of the shop where the artist showed me what he had drawn. It was a small and simple tattoo so I didn’t worry too much. He cleaned my hip and waist area twice before applying his traceable design on my side, I loved it! However, I didn’t love the next part. The moment that the needle touched my skin, I felt a burning sensation. It hurt a lot, but not the kind of pain where you want to cry, it was a pain where you wanted to scream and jump out of your seat. Since there were multiple stars to my tattoo, I would feel the needle dig into my skin and stop for short periods of time. Between each star, he wiped the ink and blood which came with a cooling sensation. After about 45 minutes of alternating burning and cooling, it was finally over.


Two weeks later I went home for Thanksgiving break and showed off my brand-new tattoo, dying to get more. I visited a tattoo shop in my hometown and showed him what I had recently got. He replied with the worst thing that anyone could possibly hear, “Um, I think your tattoo is backwards.” I was so angry but knew I had to get it fixed as soon as possible. The next day I went back and made an appointment to fix it. Since the first was permanent, my only option was to get an additional one to cover it. The result was a much larger tattoo which I didn’t enjoy. As time goes on, it’s growing on me and I’ve learned to love it.


Carpe Diem:

Fall term came to an end and once again I returned home for Christmas. I took advantage of my time there and decided I would get a second tattoo, ‘Carpe Diem’ on my ribcage. This saying is Latin for ‘seize the day’, meaning to never take each day for granted. My inspiration for this tattoo came from my high school graduation because my favorite teacher was part of the ceremony and ended her speech by saying carpe diem. This teacher has played a large role in my life because she helped me discover my passion in journalism. When I was accidentally placed into her journalism class, she opened my eyes to a different curriculum that I ended up falling in love with. Without her encouragement, I would have never pursued journalism in college and wouldn’t be at B&FT in Ghana.



The summer after my freshman year of college, I decided to add more to my tattoo collection but this time, I wasn’t sure what to get. I was home for the summer so I decided to make an appointment at the best studio in Bend, Oregon called ‘Monolith Tattoo’. Regardless of what I ended up getting, I was positive that it would be high quality since they charged $150 per hour. At the time, mandala style tattoos were trendy so when I made my appointment I had asked my artist to incorporate this while including a more feminine aspect. The result was a group of roses with a mandala style draping from them. During my first visit, I laid for nearly three hours as he completed the outline. Yes, just the outline. About three weeks later, I returned as he completed the shading which took another two hours over my still raw tattoo. This tattoo was the most painful, but in the end, it is my favorite. Nearly everywhere I go, whether it be around Oregon, the mid-west of America, or Ghana, I receive many compliments as passersby admire my thigh tattoo. A total of over five hours of blood, sweat, and tears (literally) has resulted in the most beautiful piece of art on my body, but as they say, ‘beauty is pain’.


Mountain range:

During my first year of college, I had such a large interest in mutilating my body with tattoos and piercings but I realized that these would be permanent and I had to think about the future of my career with these markings. As a result, I took a short break from getting tattoos as I started to question permanently marking my body. This only lasted about 10 months before I decided that I would get one more meaningful tattoo.


After two years of being away from home while I was attending college, I decided I wanted a tattoo that reminded me of home. Fortunately, my college is only about two and a half hours away but I wasn’t able to go home very often because I was busy with school. On my drive home, I always pass a large mountain range called the Three Sisters and every time I drive by it, I know that I’m almost home. In addition to the mountain range, I decided to include my favorite quote, ‘If it’s not okay, it’s not the end.” I came across this quote in seventh grade and I have stayed true to it to this day. To me, it means to never end anything on a bad note and to make sure that everything is okay before leaving the situation or relationship; the end isn’t truly the end until everything is resolved and at peace.


It is common to see people in the United States who have at least one tattoo, if not more. Coming to Ghana, I was surprised to see the absence of tattoos. From my previous lesson before leaving, I knew that religion is prominent in this country and I expected to see many tattoos of religious symbols such as crosses or bible verses. Though I don’t see them permanently tattooed on people, I have noticed that this pride is replaced by the large number of stickers that are on the back of taxis, tro-tros, and cars.