A few years ago, a friend of mine moved back to California after living in New York for many years. The most shocking thing wasn't her much more assertive personality - it was that she had gone from having one tattoo to someone who had inked almost her entire body.
She had a three-color dragon tattoo that curled down from her left shoulder blade to the center of her back, vintage pin-ups on each arm, and gardens of exotic flowers on her legs. She was a breathing canvas for art, and it took me a while to remember that she was still my friend, the woman with whom I shared my secrets.
A recent study found that women with multiple tattoos have higher self-esteem than those with less than four, or none.
But the researchers also found that women with tattoos are much more likely to have had a history of suicide attempts, though the study did point out that multiple-tattooed women do not become more depressed or suicidal as their body ink grows.
Lead researcher, Texas Tech University sociology professor Jerome Koch said, "I think women are more aware of their bodies through, among other things, fat-shaming, the cosmetics and plastic surgery industry, and hyper-sexualized imagery in media. What we may be seeing is women translating that awareness into empowerment."
We know women sometimes replace a surgically removed breast with elegant body art. We wonder if more tattoos might be a way of reclaiming a sense of self in the wake of an emotional loss - evidenced by a suicide attempt.
It's empowering to turn something that pains you or that you feel is ugly (like a scar) into art, and even if you're not someone with tattoos, they are indeed an art form. Some people use tattoos as a way of remembering a death; either of a relationship or a loved one, as tattoos can be a map of a person's emotional life. They're a coping mechanism - something that gives them strength.
An article in Psychology Today put it this way: "As a symbol and a behavior, the tattoo has power." If having multiple tattoos makes someone feel as if they've got their power back and gives them more self-confidence and self-love, then tattoos are more than art... they're a survival skill.