I got my first tattoo when I was 21.
It was my penultimate year at university. I was married and miserable. But my rebellious streak was alive and well.
So I decided to get a tattoo. I’d always wanted one, and when else than on a birthday as significant as the 21st?
Of course it took me months to grow a pair and finally get it done.
My birthday was in February but I got the tattoo in October.
Eight months of prep for fifteen minutes of agony and a lifetime of did you design that yourself?
I remember sitting in the steel-cold room waiting for the buzzing of the tattoo gun to stop, as well as the excruciating pain of the needle being dragged along the skin on my foot.
It was meant to be exciting but I was terrified.
The friend that accompanied me had it worse as I was holding her hand so tight that my nails were digging into her skin.
She did say I could hold her hand though, so …. !
But when it was done and healed, I loved it. I still do.
Sometimes people ask me why I waited so long to get the tattoo after my birthday.
I tell them I was scared of the pain.
But if I’m completely honest with myself, I was scared of my mum.
That’s right. 21 years old and afraid of Mother.
Nobody admits to that out loud, do they?
Perhaps it was less of the fear and more of the roll-of-eyes-and-relentless-guilt-trips-about-what-a-dissapoinment-I-am-and-what-will-people-think?
I was afraid of the moment she saw the tattoo and asked me to explain myself.
I wanted to escape all the judgement in her eyes when she wasn’t saying a word.
I was avoiding that millisecond of looks between us every time she saw it and judged me all over again.
I didn’t want to listen to her go on and on about what people would think, like their opinions actually mattered.
I wanted to keep the peace.
So what did I do?
I covered my feet when I was around her for two years.
You read that correctly.
Two whole years.
In the summer, you guys.
It was a special kind of torture. I found it easier to explain why socks in the summer made sense, than to just show her the damn tattoo and get it over with.
So one random day when my aunt was visiting, I decided to not cover my feet …
… and see how long it took them to notice.
It was mid-afternoon by the time someone clocked it. And that someone was my aunt.
Her: I’m impressed you paint that on your foot every day and it’s the same as the day before.
Me: I don’t paint it on my foot every day, Khala.
Her: Oh, you don’t?
Me: No. It’s permanent.
[Everyone turns to look at me, horrified]
Her: What, is it a permanent tattoo?????????
Her: You’re going to Hell for that
I was ready for the onslaught of verbal abuse. I’d prepared (for two years, remember?) for what was coming. I’d rehearsed my answers already.
When they asked me why I did it, I’d tell them because I wanted to.
If they questioned my integrity as a Muslim, I’d make it clear they weren’t the judges.
And if they talked about Hell, I’d tell them I’d take my chances.
Turns out, I needn’t have prepared any of that.
Because nobody questioned it.
The silence was followed by more silence. But eventually, we went about our day as though nothing had happened.
We never discussed it.
The only time it came up was if we had toddlers in the house who were fascinated by this black pattern on my foot.
Then there was more silence.
But apart from that, nada.
Which makes me question – would it have been easier if I hadn’t hidden it from my mum at all?
What could I have avoided?
How more myself would I have been if I’d been honest from the start?
Would I have respected myself more?
Because when we lie to our family about who we are, we also lie to ourselves
We make it OK to be someone we’re not.
We give them permission to reject us because we’re already rejecting ourselves.
Their judgement comes easily because we’ve been secretly judging ourselves from the very beginning.
We agree that our decisions aren’t valid.
We accept that we’re not enough.
We say yes to control. To guilt. To subservience.
All because we’re avoiding the potential of their frustration and criticism.
And in the midst of it, we lose ourselves.
We deny ourselves, elevate them and we don’t even realise we’re doing it.
It feels unfair when they reject us, but we’ve already make it OK for them to do so.
Challenging their status quo by being yourself is a tough call.
Pushing the boundaries is scary, isn’t it?
One the one hand you have the delicious freedom of self-acceptance, and on the other, you have the challenge of evolving narrow-mindedness that’s been brewing for generations.
Is it your responsibility to change it all?
The simple answer is no … but instigating the change is in your control.
Create the ball that future generations can pick up. Push the boundaries one nudge at a time. Be brave.
They won’t change over night
But they will change.
As long as you nudge those boundaries.
One day they’ll lecture you about how wrong your clothes are, and a few years down the line, they simply won’t mention it anymore.
There’ll be times when going on holiday’s seen as frivolous and distasteful, but give them a while and they’ll start to show a slight interest in your holiday snaps.
Or they’ll tell you speaking to the opposite sex is haraam but eventually grow to start asking how your male friends are, because you talk about them so much.
It all depends on how invested you are in making changes.
And how far you’re willing to go for your integrity.
My tattoo fiasco was the beginning of many things I stopped hiding from my mum.
With each meaningful inch forwards, I’m feeling more myself.
But I’m not naïve to assume that I’ll make her do a 180 on her beliefs. I’m giving it a good go though.
I’m doing my part to make the lives of future generations easier.
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