After many years of indecision, Elisabeth Lloyd finally found a way to disguise her unsightly appendix scar.
Very few people are aware that I have quite a large tattoo on my abdomen. Even my parents don’t know my belly is decorated with a pink flower on a black stalk, encircled by three coloured stars.
Operation discontentMy reasons for having a tattoo go back 35 years. I was 15 when appendicitis left me with a five-inch scar on my taut teenage belly. Bikinis were no-go for me from then onwards. Although my scar faded with time, it never disappeared and as a gawky, late-to-develop teen I felt acutely self-conscious about the ugly gash that cut across my tummy.
Aged 17, I toyed with the idea of having a tattoo to camouflage the scar, but I didn’t dare suggest it to my parents. I may be wrong, but I thought they would worry about infection from needles – the AIDS crisis was brewing on the other side of the Atlantic.
'Don't do it!'Besides some friends who tried to dissuade me, the person who most influenced my decision not to have a tattoo in my youth was my employer. The summer after my A levels, I looked after three children and a dog while their mother, a 30-something fashionista, went out to work.
She was stressed, warm, sociable and, to me, seemed the height of sophistication. She ran a trendy boutique and would slip me the odd garment to augment my paltry £25 per week pay.
So when I mentioned to her that I was considering having a tattoo, I expected her to back me up and perhaps even encourage me. Her response was negative in the extreme. “Don’t do it. You’ll regret it when you’re 45 and your stomach’s sagging and your skin is beginning to wrinkle,” she said. I was so shocked by her reaction that I parked the idea.
Scar troubleUnfortunately, my scar remained. In my 20s, I travelled the hippy trail. I spent five months backpacking in South-East Asia and managed to return without so much as a second ear piercing, let alone coloured ink etched forever into my skin.
Throughout my 30s, I continued to avoid bikinis and any display of my midriff. It was a shame, because my body was slender, cellulite-free and as good as it was ever going to get. But although in those days I had the time and money to spend exploring the Greek islands, I couldn’t enjoy stripping off in the sun because I felt everyone’s eyes would be instantly drawn to the scar. It was thick, slightly raised and whether I sucked my stomach in or breathed out, it was still clearly visible.
How vain was I?In retrospect, I know I should have been less concerned about my looks. We all have imperfections and in the grand scheme of things, a single scar shouldn’t have upset me so much. Why did it affect my self-esteem? My body worked. What more did I want? I have to confess that at that age, much like my teenage daughter today, I wanted the kind of air-brushed smoothness of skin depicted by the women's magazines I worked for. Even the baby mags only seemed to feature inconceivably perfect models.
I pondered tattoos again, but then I got pregnant for the first time. As my belly stretched, so did my scar. Mindful of stretchmarks, I rubbed in special creams religiously. I have no idea whether they helped, but as pregnancy took over my body, I tried to forget all about my looks and needs. I was going to be a mother; selflessness was more important.
The first pregnancy was followed by a second. Both my babies were born naturally, so the appendix scar couldn’t even be used again. Perhaps it would have been too high up for childbirth anyway.
My postnatal bodyBreastfeeding gave me boobs for the first time in my life and I enjoyed having curves, albeit temporarily. But when I stopped feeding my youngest, I looked afresh at my postnatal figure. Not too bad, considering.
But the scar remained. In communal changing rooms, I would undress carefully so that no-one saw my tummy. I was far more concerned about people seeing my scar than my postnatal lumpiness. Some might say I should have grown up and grown out of caring about my looks. I say that people who claim not to care about their looks are either lying or extremely fortunate. Lucky them. As for me, I'd had enough of hiding my midriff.
A permanent birthday presentSo, a few years later, for my 40th birthday, I had a tattoo. I wish I could say I’d been planning and researching a carefully thought-out motif with secret meanings and deep personal significance for years.
In reality, I walked into the nearest tattoo studio, in a dodgy area in downtown Granada, Spain, and asked the Italian tattoo artist for his suggestions. Our only common language was Spanish, but I’m far from fluent, so we discussed the ‘design’ as best we could. I searched my limited vocabulary and came up with ‘flores’ and ‘estrellas’; he drew on my tummy with a pen and I made an appointment to return to have the tattoo the following week.
I’m not going to lie: it hurt. But it was nowhere near as painful as dental injections. Or childbirth. Any woman who’s given birth naturally could easily withstand the tattooist’s needle. And, just like childbirth, it’s productive pain: you’re there for a reason and you get the result you were hoping for. If you're lucky.
A bellyful of regretIt’s exactly a decade since I had my tattoo. I can still remember the first time I took off my clothes on the beach (after the tattoo scar had healed) and how liberated I felt.
I also felt – and still feel – sad that I didn’t follow my instincts and camouflage my appendix scar as soon as I was old enough to do so legally. I’d have enjoyed two more decades of feeling more comfortable in my unclothed body.
I could have worn bikinis in my youth instead of sweating in one-piece swimming costumes. Because guess what: even though I’m nearly 50, I still like to feel the sun on my skin. I may be slightly rounder all over and my belly isn’t perfectly flat like it used to be, but is that really any reason to cover up?
Done but not forgottenSo I wish I hadn’t listened to the naysayers. I still like my tattoo. Okay, so if I had it done today, I’d probably choose a different design: a daisy, perhaps, instead of a slightly wonky rose-like flower. I sometimes find my gaze lingering over the works of art on offer at my local tattoo studio. I imagine the techniques and colour choices have progressed since I offered my stomach up to the Italian.
But my tattoo serves its purpose: it has turned a body part I loathed into something I’m quite happy with. In fact, I rarely pay that part of me any attention now. I’m always surprised when someone – usually on a beach or in a changing room – comments on my tattoo.
Sometimes I think back to the advice I was given about tattooed older women and now it strikes me as ridiculous that I ever worried about it. When I really am old and wrinkly, no-one will know my tattoo exists: I'll keep my mature flesh well concealed. Or will I? Perhaps I'll be the oldest tattooed lady on the beach…
My tattoo was not a fashion statementI would never have had a tattoo if I hadn’t wanted to cover up my appendix scar. It wasn’t a fashion statement. How can something so permanent be affiliated with the fleeting fickleness of fashion? I hate the expression ‘tramp stamp’, but I wonder whether the women branded with these marks will live to regret their hipster choice.
I would never have had a tattoo on part of my body that isn’t easy to cover up with clothes: I’ve always been aware that some people find tattoos repulsive. I’d hate my flower/stars combo to offend anyone, but then again it’s my body. If it’s good enough for David Dimbleby…
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