Tattoo Placement: On Reimagining the Body

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A few weeks ago I was contacted by  @steveboese who hosts an online radio show called The HR Happy Hour. While I have offered creative approaches for HR problems before I wondered if  there would indeed be enough fodder for a one hour call in show for creative approaches about HR issues. Steve assured me that my general creative approach would be useful to the HR managers who usually listen to his show. We agreed that I could cover any sort of issue at all.

Today is a guest post from Shauna Moerke/@hr_minion and who formerly was a guest host on the show but called in because my presence on the show sounded interesting that evening.

I have discovered in Union Square that often the problem/question we start with often has deeper tendrils that attach to aspects we may not even be readily aware of. If we are brave enough we can follow those tendrils down and discover new things.

Please enjoy this creative approach from the perspective of someone who received it.

Enter Shauna:

I had a problem. Not an earth-shattering, life-changing kind of problem, but a problem nonetheless and it had been bugging me for months. I had asked my friends for their advice and mulled it over, but I was no closer to an answer. Then my friend Steve Boese told me he was having Matthew Stillman on his blogtalk radio show, the HR Happy Hour (full disclosure: I am the former co-host of the show), to talk about creative approaches to problems and I thought “What a perfect opportunity!”

So what was my month’s long conundrum?

I wasn’t sure where on my body I should place my next tattoo.

Hey now, no judging, I told you it wasn’t earth-shattering.

But it mattered to me and not knowing the answer was getting under my skin (pun intended). I currently have four tattoos that I have acquired over the last twelve years, each one well thought out with years in between. Ok, I’ll admit that the first one I got was at 19 and was more an act of rebellion but I have come to view my tattoos as beautiful expressions of myself and what matters to me. Thus you can understand why the simple placement of a tattoo on my body required such deep thought.

Or not, but that’s not the point.

The point is that I called into the show that night hoping for a creative idea for how to solve my problem and ended up with something much more and arguably better.

After listening to my background and asking me questions, this was Matt’s suggestion for me:

(Stillman notes here: the tattoo in question was the Chinese character for monkey)

First, have a couple glasses of wine (I was liking it already).

Second, get some old lipstick and practice writing on the part of my body I didn’t like the most (my tummy)

(Stillman notes here: I suggested writing the word “monkey”)

Third, try writing some other places as well. Now Matt admitted that he wasn’t sure what would come from this, but he thought the most important part of this exercise was to look at myself directly. He reasoned, once I was comfortable putting it anywhere, even someplace I disliked, I would know where to put it.

I thought this was a great idea.

Admittedly, I didn’t run into the bathroom and try it out right away. It took me a couple of weeks to get up the courage to actually follow through.

But there I found myself, standing in front of my bathroom mirror, in my underwear, pink lipstick in hand. And then I wrote on my stomach. Which I then couldn’t read in the mirror because it reflected backwards and was upside down. And I felt a little silly. So I reasoned I hadn’t had enough to drink.

One Moscow Mule later (Ginger ale and vodka), I was back in front of the mirror and determined to see Matt’s suggestion through.

I wrote more on my stomach, my arms, my thighs and resorted to x marks in places I could barley reach like my back. And then I felt even sillier, until I really started looking at myself.

There are always parts of our bodies that we don’t care for. Our eyes, nose, hair, legs, butt, etc. And most of the time we probably try to ignore or look past those parts. We cover them up and hope no one else notices.

Every day we look in mirrors to wash our faces, brush our teeth, fix our hair, put on make-up; but how often do we look at ourselves? Honestly and forthrightly look at ourselves? How easy do you find it to actually look at whatever flaw you think you have and not look away, cringe, or put yourself down over it?

Well, it’s a little hard to ignore your body when you have pink lipstick all over it. And it’s even harder to see all that and not smile. I am who I am, every last inch of me.

I’m not saying all my body issues disappeared in that instant, but I am saying that it is helping me come to appreciate my body more. Tattoos are beautiful and personal artwork I always have with me. What is the point of that if I can’t appreciate the canvas they are on?

So yes, Matt’s advice did help me, more than I was even looking for or was willing to admit I needed. And yes, I do know where I want to place my next tattoo even though I haven’t gone to get it yet. Where will it be? Well… that’ll remain my secret for now.


I am really grateful for Shauna exposing her experience for all of us. Her perspective opens up a  some broader principles that can be applied in other situations.

Of course the lowest hanging fruit of the principles is an approach to re-imagining the relationship we have with our  bodies. They are easily and often criticized. And while having a few drinks and writing on yourself with lipstick is hardly a silver bullet to you body issues it allows you to slow down and actually notice the whole thing as opposed to compartmentalizing our bodies. That is a step towards being whole with our bodies.

But we have other bodies besides our physical ones – emotional bodies, mental bodies, spiritual bodies and also very importantly…bodies of work.

Shauna wanted to add a tattoo to her physical body. The tattoo is a manifestation of an idea that she values and wants to literally embody and she was concerned about where it would go.

We often want to incorporate an idea into some aspect of our other bodies…we want to develop a new habit or develop a new attitude or range of emotion or put in a new feature somehow. We may not know how it fits in but we know we want it there.

The process is the same. Look at and mark as much of that body as we can. Know its curves and inlets and soon you’ll develop a new vision of its wholeness and the place for the new addition will be clearer.

Which body of yours needs reimagining? Can this gentle cartographic approach allow you to be friends with a hidden aspect of yourself?

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