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Talia Hibbert

Inking Against Invisibility

Christopher Malcolm / Getty, Photo illustration by Katie Kosma

Talia Hibbert | Longreads | January 2020 | 8 minutes (2102 words)

When people see my tattoos, they ask me, “Did it hurt?”

My mind says, “That depends. Do you know what hurt is?” because my mind has a bad attitude and a flare for the dramatic.

My mouth mumbles, “Not really,” because my mouth is shy.

Honestly, I’m never sure what people mean when they say “hurt.” Most of the world is visited by pain; I’m handcuffed to it. I’ll describe it to you on the day you tell me what it’s like to breathe.

Another favored question is, “What do your tattoos mean?”

Most people are astonished and appalled when I say, “Nothing.” They can’t believe I don’t know what kind of flowers are inked on my right shoulder, or the species of the bird on my shoulder blade. They’re horrified to hear I have no particular fondness for octopuses, as if the one living on my left thigh might take offense. I rarely explain that the word ICON is tattooed onto my ribs because one day, while in an especially good mood, I heard Jaden Smith’s Icon and was delighted by the unapologetic rap-god arrogance. Aside from anything else, society generally disapproves of arrogance — but I needed it. My body needed it.

Some days, we still do.

The complicated truth is that the story behind each tattoo’s design means far less to me than my decision to get tattoos in the first place. Yes, they hurt. They stung and scratched and burned, some places worse than others, but I barely noticed. And if you read that sentence in a grim, rage-y, action hero voice — good, because that’s how I said it. I’m Judge Dredd the Barbarian Warrior Princess, also known as a sufferer of chronic pain. Ink marks the sites of my major physical trauma, because for years, people tried to tell me that trauma wasn’t there.
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