Seeing Past the Ink: What Do Your Tattoos Really Say About You?

So a few days ago my family and I got new tattoos. (And ran into a reader! Thanks so much for saying hi, Nicole!!) I essentially got a backward “D” which is symbolic of Christ making all things new, but I’ll spare you another rant on that.

I don’t want to cry in yet another coffee shop.

Tonight I was in the gym and caught myself looking in the mirror and, for lack of a better phrase, checking out my new tattoos and how they looked on my skin: Fresh, puffy, shiny and new.


Before I got my first tattoo (the word “hero” in typewriter font on my shoulder) I imagined how it would make me more intimidating. I would be on a run and people would see me and think Wow…that guy has a tattoo! Or maybe the women would flock to me because I looked like I was in a rock band.

Whatever the motivation, I know the desire to get a first tattoo was urgent and eager. And the first few weeks, or maybe even months I had it, I felt tougher. I felt like I could get into a fight and win. Or like I could dive into a mosh pit and actually belong.

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Now I look at that ancient ink sunk beneath my skin and it’s not jarring and fresh. I am not surprised to see those letters resting just beneath my first layer of skin; they have become a part of me.

I am going somewhere with this, stay with me.

Tonight in the gym, (yes, most of my blogging inspiration hits at the gym. No idea why.) I started talking to a guy who also had a brand new shoulder piece and we chatted about it. His was significantly larger than mine, and most of his arms were equally covered in rich colors. I wondered if he had a similar feeling of empowerment in the moments he caught quick glances in the mirror of his new family crest portrayed on his arm.

Heck, if I got pumped seeing a tiny little “D” on my shoulder, he must feel really good about that giant piece on his shoulder. And he should! It’s a beautiful and unique art form.

But my mind continued wandering.

I wondered about someone I met recently who had a prominent tattoo on his forehead above his right eye. I wondered if he still saw his forehead tattoo, or if it had become a part of his flesh the same way you have a little freckle on that one spot on your forearm.

I imagine it was a big deal for him for a while, but eventually it just became a part of his body like his elbow; I imagined his friends barely saw it anymore when they looked at him.

I bet his friends, like any of our friends, look at his eyes when he talk instead of distractedly staring at the ink above his brow.

And I think that’s what any of us want: Someone who can see past the ink and look at our eyes.

Someone who sees through the things we employ to make ourselves more cool or intimidating and sees us as a friend.

Someone who doesn’t necessarily see us the way we want to portray ourselves, but sees us the way we are.

Isn’t it comforting when you can let down your armor of ‘hipness’ or ‘toughness’ and just be seen authentically? Aren’t those the best kinds of relationships, where you can feel like a vulnerable little kid in front of this person, yet feel completely loved as you are?

It’s refreshing.

I think this is why Jesus tells us to be like the little children when we come to Him. He doesn’t want us trying to impress Him with our facial tattoos, swollen biceps or bohemian clothes; he wants us to come to Him vulnerable and raw.

Because if He isn’t saving that person; that person who is most truly you as you are, then who is He saving?

Someone cooler?

Someone tougher?

Someone stronger or prettier?

F that.

In Brene Brown’s viral video, she talks about how the antithesis to shame is vulnerability. If you want to feel completely loved, you must expose every part of you. Otherwise, how can someone love you? Kind of makes sense when you think about it.

So I’m trying not to hide.

I’m trying not to hide behind the fresh ink on my shoulders or the number of pounds on my bench press. I’m trying not to hide behind how intelligent I can appear or how hard I can make you laugh.

Because I, like all of you, am looking for someone who can see through my tattoos; someone who can look me in the eye.

Whatever your forehead-tattoo-of-choice is, I want to leave you with this charge: Put it down. It doesn’t actually make you tougher, even if it feels empowering. It doesn’t actually make you prettier, even if it feels exfoliating. It doesn’t actually make you cooler, even if it feels ridiculously hip at the moment.

Fads pass, but intimacy grows. If you let it.

So let it.

May we be people who lets others see who we are beneath all the ink. May we be people who let others look us in the eye, and may we be people who can look others in theirs.

Vulnerability is hard.

Intimacy is hard.

But let’s try it anyway.

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Ethan Renoe
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Ethan is a speaker, writer, and photographer currently living in Los Angeles. He has lived on 6 continents, gone to 6 schools, had 28 jobs, and done 4 one-armed pull-ups. He recently graduated from Moody Bible Institute. Follow him at ethanrenoe.com or check him out on Facebook