WHEN I was 23 years old, my husband died of skin cancer.
A week after his funeral I got a tattoo on the back of my neck as a tribute — an exact copy of the ‘all-seeing eye’ my late husband had on his forearm.
In my mind, it was the ultimate romantic gesture that would bind us together forever.
Unfortunately, ‘forever’ turned out to be a little too infinite. Six years later, I sat in a doctor’s office and begged him to refer me for a free tattoo removal on the grounds that my ink was “affecting my emotional state”.
Even on the back of my neck, that eye wouldn’t stop staring at me — or the man who now shared my bed!
When a woman is navigating the end of a relationship, she can be forgiven for spontaneous decisions.
Most don’t have permanent repercussions; your hair grows back, your hangover eases and you can take the stairs instead of the lift to avoid seeing the colleague you slept with.
The same can’t be said of a new trend in breakup behaviour, as a growing number of women are getting tattoos to commemorate the end of a relationship. Yes, it’s a thing.
The evidence is on social media, where Pinterest has a thriving ‘divorce tattoo’ category.
Designs range from symbols (a phoenix rising from the ashes) to motivational mantras (‘I will never walk in this world alone’).
One divorcee had the backs of her heels tattooed with ‘free’ and ‘yourself’, so her ex would see it as she walked away.
You’d think celebs might have learnt their lesson from Johnny Depp, who was stuck with an upper arm boasting ‘Winona Forever’ after his split from a certain Ms Ryder in the ’90s, and had to have it modified (it now reads ‘Wino Forever’ — he’s lucky it was that simple), but no.
Following her split from Robert Pattinson, Kristen Stewart had four lines cryptically tattooed on the inside of her wrist, although she’s kept hush-hush on their meaning.
We don’t know what’s behind Kelly Osbourne’s recent inking of the word ‘stories’ into her scalp, but it’s a safe bet Miley Cyrus was miserable about Liam Hemsworth when she had two (anatomically correct) hearts etched on her arm when their relationship came to an end.
Where celebs go, we follow. “We are definitely seeing a rising trend in people getting a tattoo mid-divorce,” says Terence Tait, owner of Queensland’s Ink Ur Bod tattoo parlour.
“Some do it to seek revenge on a former partner and some do it to celebrate the fact they’re single again.
“A recent client had a tattoo of a barber on her arm, representing that she is cutting ties with her past.”
According to Tait, it’s not only the chosen design but also the process that clients find cathartic. “I am half tattooist and half agony uncle,” he says. “[Female] clients are keen to talk about their back stories and get a male perspective. Many also say the physical pain is a release of the negativity and sadness they’re feeling.”
And we’re not just talking about serial inkers. One of my most straitlaced friends, a lawyer in her thirties, is about to go under the needle for the first time, after discovering her fiancé was unfaithful.
The paw print she plans to have inked on her ankle has symbolic meaning because she got ‘custody’ of their dog in the split, which her ex is heartbroken about.
“It reminds me I wasn’t totally defeated by him,” she says.
“He may have rejected me, but he didn’t come out of it unharmed, either.”
I can understand why it’s tempting to send an artistic ‘up yours’ to an ex, but I’ve learnt it’s something you may regret. I’m not alone.
According to the Cosmetic Physicians Society of Australasia’s 2014 survey, more than one in four Australians over the age of 20 have a tattoo.
However, one third of them are considering treatment for removal.
Of course some women do genuinely love their tatts forever, and there is the argument that mantras such as ‘always a lesson, never a failure’ can be empowering.
My grandfather got a tattoo of an anchor after the end of World War II to remind him of his strength in the navy. But let’s keep it in perspective; we’re talking about a breakup.
Over time, your bitterness will fade, your fashion sense will change and you won’t want — or need — a reminder that you’re a strong, powerful woman etched into your flesh.
“When getting a tattoo, the most important question to ask is who you’re getting it for,” says psychotherapist Marie-Pierre Cleret, who specialises in couples counselling.
“If you’re trying to send a message to an ex, you’re entering a one-sided fight. That tattoo will be on your body long after your former partner has moved on.”
She compares it to a troubled teenager who has ‘love’ and ‘hate’ tattooed on his knuckles: “It creates a permanent tribute to a life that may not always be relevant. There are parts of our lives we need to let go of. Part of the healing power of grief is that memories fade and events are in the past.”
Perhaps it’s due to our social-media mentality, where our pain, anger and sorrow become a public performance.
But you can delete that passive-aggressive Facebook post and hope not too many people read it. Oh, you may think you’re savvy getting a tattoo in a spot clothes can cover, but that just means your next boyfriend will discover it in an inopportune moment. A reminder of past romantic failures isn’t the best foreplay.
I’m now 30 and about to file for divorce, but I can safely say I won’t be buying into this trend again. My advice to anyone who’s tempted is to wait. Tattooists aren’t meant to ink a client who’s drunk; the same rule should apply to women under the influence of heartbreak. If nothing else, let the ink dry on your divorce papers before you inject it into your skin.
By AMY MOLLOY
Published in News.com.au