The body as a canvas

By
November 6, 2003

Mills College Weekly

Sophomore Cameron Holly was only 13 years old when she came to
the realization that she wanted a tattoo. Last week, Holly’s long
held wish came to fruition. At One Shot Tattoo in San Francisco,
Holly brought along her own design, a huge pentagram made of vines,
to be etched onto her back forever. For nearly two intense hours,
the tattoo artist penetrated the black ink into Holly’s skin with
the vibrating needle of the gun. Throughout the process, as Holly
leaned over the back of a chair in the tattoo parlor, she closed
her eyes occasionally as she tried to focus through the pain.

When the tattoo was complete, Holly described feeling immediate
euphoria. “I felt endorphins running through my body,” she said. “I
felt reborn…transformed.”

Holly is not alone. Many students at Mills have at least one
tattoo, in various places, and many more are conceiving of their
first one. As these students decide on the perfect tattoo, they are
less reluctant to go through with it, as tattoo art has become more
socially acceptable.

“It’s like a bumper sticker from your life,” said Holly’s tattoo
artist, Dave Bobrick.

Tattooing has become a common way for students of different
faiths to express their spirituality through words and symbols.

Holly’s decision to have a pentagram tattooed on her back is her
way of expressing her spirituality. She said the pentagram
signifies the five elements: earth, air, fire, water, and the
divinity that forms life when the vines are connected.

For Francis Sarcona, a fourth generation Wiccan, her symbolic
tattoo of the triple Goddess- Maiden, Mother, Crone- was an 18th
birthday gift from her parents.

“My parents knew I was ready,” she said, adding that her dad
accompanied her to the tattoo parlor.

Senior Vicky Harris got her first tattoo to express her
spirituality as a Christian. She has “Messenger of God” in Hebrew
tattooed on her upper arm.

Getting a tattoo can be an individual’s sincerest way to make a
personal statement as well. It can be inspired by a particular area
of interest, or as a bold way to send a message.

Freshwoman Crystal Mitchell, fan of the band Stone Temple
Pilots, is inspired by the image of a three petal clover on the
cover of the band’s latest album. She plans to get the clover motif
along with the album title, Shangri la di da, tattooed on her
shoulder blade, not only to identify herself as a fan of the band,
but because the title makes a statement.

To Mitchell, having the saying tattooed on her body represents
her philosophy on life- that one should forget about utopia and
live life to the fullest.

Mills Student Zach Gagnier has a dragon tattooed in black on her
arm. She feels the dragon makes a statement which she identifies
with.

“Dragons are powerful, solitary creatures,” Gagnier said.

Tattoos are a common way to commemorate a life experience for
many Mills students. They can represent survival, triumph, and a
new beginning.

Junior Rachel Gardner has an intricate inverted triangle
tattooed on the back of her head. Within the triangle, which
represents an uteral symbol, is an eye, the symbol for infinity and
perfectly centered in the iris. Gardner explained that the tattoo
commemorates her battle with cervical cancer at the age of 17.

“I thought I wouldn’t be able to have kids,” she said. “[The
tattoo] is a representation of pain…of life experience.”

Freshwoman Helen Vance wants a tattoo of a phoenix on her lower
back, because the symbol commemorates how she has emerged from the
struggles in her life.

“It reminds me of my strengths,” Vance said.

To commemorate a positive, life altering experience, freshwoman
Kyla McKenrick wants a tattoo of two crossed oars that represent
the life lessons she has learned from being on the crew team this
semester.

“Crew changed me,” she said. “I’m a lot more appreciative of my
abilities and of my body. I’m taking better care of myself.”

Tattooing can also be a meaningful way for Mills students to
verify personal relationships whether the strong connection is with
a family member, a friend, or a lover.

Among the several tattoos Martina Chavez has a butterfly and a
dragonfly represent the bond she shares with her sister. The
butterfly is herself, and the dragonfly is her sister, Chavez
said.

Senior Mary Kay Chin, who has angel wings tattooed on her back
believes, “There is no longer a Hell’s Angel view of it. People are
looking at it as an art.”

She feels confident that because tattoos are more acceptable, it
will not affect her ability to find employment. “I don’t plan on
running for President, but I want a respectable job.”

Gardner chose the specific places on her body to get tattooed
where they can be concealed. She too plans to find a good job after
graduation, but is concerned about showing too much ink.

Whether it is widely acceptable or not, Holly feels the tattoo
is part of who she is – to accept her is to accept her tattoo.

“If a boss had a problem [with the tattoo],” she said, “then I
don’t belong at that job.”


The body as a canvas was published on November 6, 2003 in Features

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