With about one in five people having a tattoo these days, we at trashfire wanted to know what inspired people to get inked. Did all tattoos have deeper meaning or just looked sick? In this new series, we interviewed people from all over to find out.
This week, we spoke to Brian, 48, who lives and works in Boston as a staff member at a music school and is the proud owner of this fellow:
I knew that I wanted something that would give me a little boost of inspiration whenever I saw it, but I wobbled back and forth between ideas for years before finally discovering this. It’s from one of my favorite pieces of art, done by a Japanese painter from the 19th century named Mori Sosen, and it’s got all these layers to it. It’s a monkey doing the Sanbaso dance, this very important dance of new beginnings and luck that’s done before weddings and theatrical shows. So the dance itself is a good tattoo for an actor or someone wanting to reboot their life…and then it’s a monkey doing it, with a look in his eyes like “I have NO CLUE what I’m doing” but still trying his best, and if that’s not a perfect metaphor for what I feel every time I’m writing or acting in something, I don’t know what is.
If you would like to submit your tattoo story, send us an email at trashfiremagazine.com.
Like the work we do here? Why not chuck us a quid or two here
Specifically, a long-running web series by artist Alex Norris called, well, Webcomic Name, in which every single scenario would end with the punchline “oh no.” It’s one of the most popular webcomics on Twitter with 262,000 followers and he is now speaking at conferences across the world.
Rewind back to January 2018. Having recently come out of a post graduate funk and grappling with the realities of employed life, I made a resolution: I couldn’t give up on being creative. If anything was going to get me through the long and often mindless hours of excel spreadsheets and dumb emails, I had to rediscover my hobbies, one of which being drawing.
The fact is there are so many amazing illustrators online, it can be hard to start when you know you have neither the skill nor equipment to achieve that. It is no secret that the art industry is mainly for the rich, with a lot of state schools having to cut arts GCSES and funding. However, this is where webcomics came in.
I discovered webcomics on twitter the same way everyone did (silly, silly memes) and something appealed to me instantly. Not only did they contain often a weird, visual humour which performing comedy often lacks but it seemed…accessible. Whilst this is not to say the illustrators themselves aren’t extremely talented but the simplicity of the style means that most people can join in, often with a range of media too. In my case, the humble pen and paper. I looked at the “oh no” comics and thought “I could do that”. It’s like when you are in the pub with your smarter friends and a subject you know comes up and you can FINALLY join in the conversation.
I went out and bought a cheap pack of coloured felt tips and a sketchbook from WHSmith . I started doodling. I tested various ways to draw myself. I made notes of all my odd thoughts in notebooks and post-it notes scattered everywhere. Eventually I drew my first comic.
Believe it or not you too could make something like this
Is it the best joke I’ve ever made? Almost definitely not.
However it was something. Friends reacted way more than I thought I would. People even seemed to like it. As time went on, the comics continued to allow me to test jokes I thought may be too weird or loose thoughts that needed putting down somewhere. They allowed me to learn and practice technical skills (guess who can finally use the magnetic lasso on Photoshop?). Most importantly, I was finally starting to develop my own style, something I had been wanting for years.
This opened a floodgate. Not only did I gain followers and join in conversations I never thought I could, but it gave me confidence and discipline to start doing other creative things. I started writing articles for Succubus, a satirical women’s magazine (which also helped me make a lovely community of online friends). I started my own podcast with one of my best friends (which you can all listen to here, cough cough). I even wrote a fricking play (which may still never see the light of day.) It’s started a flow which I can’t stop.
People started liking my work enough to the point I have even started designing posters, business cards and commissions. I sold a bag with one of my designs on it.
It may be nothing massive but the confirmation that finally people will pay for your art is pretty damn good. However. more importantly, it gives you a confidence to keep going and trying and putting it out there, no matter how shitty you think it is.
It has gotten to the point where I haven’t released a comic in a while, but only because I have been so busy getting several, much bigger projects up and rolling, this magazine being one of them.
Now I have set up my own arts and crafts comedy night, Comical which is something January me could have only dreamed of. The point? I want to help everyone make shitty cartoons of their own. After all, if it helps one person gain the confidence to put their artwork out there, it will be worth it.
You can follow Ruby on Twitter and Instagram at @rubymartinart
I’ve hit that pit again. It comes every couple of weeks.
“Why aren’t you hot yet?” teenage me screams awkwardly as I desperately try to ignore my reflection. I am, I insist as I try to admire myself in the mirror. However it is hard to shut her up.
If only you were a little thinner.
And you were a little less spotty.
And your teeth a little straighter.
Me aged 15 before I discovered grilled cheese sandwiches
Once, when I went to the orthodontist a couple of months after getting my braces off to tell him I was worried about my teeth moving back. He told me, in an attempt of reassurance, I “looked normal now.”
Is there a harsher insult you can bestow on a teenage girl?
Firstly, he did not say I looked nice but “normal”. Normal, firstly, suggests adequate but not overwhelming or amazing. What everyone wants to feel like, I’m sure.
Secondly the presence of the word “now” suggests that I did not look normal before. I was a weird looking freak before, perhaps. Part of me, regardless of how much I learn or improve will always want straight teeth, for fear that I will slowly revert to my old ways like a yokel toothed Cinderella. I will no longer be “normal”.
14 year old me knew what was up
One boyfriend tells me I’m not conventionally attractive, but I am attractive in an “unconventional way.” Whilst I get this is meant to be a compliment, just for once it would be nice to be conventional. To not have to work twice as hard to be considered loveable or in some cases, even worth your decency. For you fancying someone to be considered a compliment rather than a hilarious joke.
This stuff always comes back in my self-loathing periods. I find myself looking longingly at friends, strangers, women on the tube, constantly comparing myself and let me tell you guys, it’s exhausting. I can’t keep going like this. I’m 23 and according to bullshit surveys, I peaked five years ago. I even found a grey hair.
Despite this, the fact is my body is probably in the best shape it will be (without excessive effort) and it’s high time I enjoy it before one of my joints inevitably go out on me.
Something has to change.
A couple of years ago, an ex and I were wandering around a renaissance gallery. “You have a body just like hers.” he says, pointing to the reclining woman (nude, of course). Whilst it was initially difficult to take this as a compliment as many of this “women” were young men who posed for the artist and the artists essentially stuck boobs on, it stuck with me.
Taking my nude doppelganger as inspiration, I have formulated a five-pronged plan on how to love myself more.
For this plan to work, we need two approaches, the first being The Body.
Boners come and go, but self-love is forever
Gazing up at the soft form in the painting above me and also in countless paintings, it is easy to see that all these women are objects of desire. Whilst you would have difficulty finding these sorts of bodies in magazines or adverts nowadays sold as “sexy”, these gals were pretty hot shit back in the day. Their forms were seen as luxurious, a decadence to be enjoyed by the viewer.
She is what the youth would describe as “thicc”
Cultural tastes on what is attractive and fashionable has been wildly varied over the centuries (just think of the boyish figures of the 20s vs the 50s hourglass silhouette) and going by history it is reasonable to deduce that someone at some point has, and will, fancy someone that looks like you.
“But Ruby, your self-worth shouldn’t be based on someone wanting to shag you!” I hear you cry, and I absolutely agree.
The point I am also trying to make is that what is sold and therefore perceived as attractive and unattractive is decided by a small group of people, based on a number of varying factors (but particularly on what will make you spend more money with each year) and will change no doubt again when there is a new taste.
It would be like basing your self-worth on someone wanting raspberry ice cream one day and chocolate the next. It just doesn’t work. You may as well try and be happy in the way you are, and find someone who likes your flavour.
2. You are a sculpture, bitch
Now, this is a personal thing I find, but photos of me are normally strong triggers of the self-hating spiral as it can shatter the image you have in your head and replace it with a distortion of you at your worse angles in bad lighting.
This is not to say all photos are bad but the thing to remember about good photos is that it is a precise formula of composition and lighting that makes it work, and you?
You are a sculpture.
Cheesy as it may be to say, the sculpture of David by Michelangelo is not the same in person as it is in photos. The stature, the texture, the majesty, it just can’t quite convey the same experience.
Photos can’t capture truly the side eye he is giving
Next time you look in the mirror, look at yourself at different angles and try to appreciate yourself in a way an artist looks at an object. Not only is it good to remind yourself after a particularly bad photo what you actually look like (I find the “photo me” changes how I imagine myself in my head and not in a good way) but seeing your features in a more objective way can be a nice way to appreciate what you have. Maybe it’s the square of your jaw, the curve of your hair, the bow of your lips.
A good way of thinking about this, if that is difficult, is think of someone you loved as a child and what you loved about them. For me, I remember distinctly loving my mum and a mole she had on her chin. I thought my mum was beautiful even though she didn’t look like anyone I saw on TV. I think we should try and extoll that love and kindness we had as children towards these people onto ourselves.
After all, it’s only by removing cultural and societal standards and looking objectively that we can appreciate ourselves for what we are.
Which leads me to my second approach: The Mind.
3. Positivity vs neutrality vs #iweigh – why not all?
The thing is, this advice will not work for everyone. Everyone’s bodies are wildly different and interesting, and it is inevitable that body positivity wouldn’t work for everyone.
The body positivity movement and “loving yourself” has been critiqued for many reasons.
Firstly, a criticism of body positivity is that perhaps we shouldn’t be focusing on how we look at all but instead what we do. This was one of the main points of Jameela Jamil’s recent #Iweigh campaign, which started following a social media post from the Kardashian’s declaring what they weigh, social media advertising of dietary products and her own personal experiences with an eating disorder. The idea was that people would post achievements in lieu of a number, as women in particular continue to be objectified in conjunction with brands who simultaneously push this stuff whilst embracing faux-empowerment for capitalist purposes.
Celebrate who you are as a person. Big or small, whether you achieve amazing things or are just a kind and loving person, that is arguably way more important than what you look like.
However, living and breathing in our bodies in the society we do means it can be difficult to ignore perceptions of our body entirely. A second major critique of body positivity is that has been co-opted by lighter-skinned slimmer feminists (which I have to admit I physically fall into that bracket) despite being originated by black women. This has lead to a rise in what is called the body neutrality movement, which aims for body and fat acceptance and is about what your body can do for you.
There are often arguments on the internet which is best, which is often good in pointing out flaws and help improve these movements as a whole. However, it is also polarising in the way internet debates often are and by picking one doesn’t mean you solve everything (one of the complaints over the body neutrality movement is that it can not be inclusive of those with disabilities, especially if their body limits them doing something.) The online debate makes you feel you have to choose sides and accept and defend it,even if you don’t agree with all of it.
This is not the case.
You have to find what works for you, and there is nothing wrong in personal tailoring different philosophies and ideologies to work for you, your mind and your body. Honestly, there is no quick fix. We can only hope that as a populus, we learn to employ a multi-faceted approach to how we deal with the issues of bodies and be able to include all walks of life.
But in the meantime, enjoy everything that makes you, you.
Above all, be an ally
There was an exercise I used to do to stop myself judging strangers – after all, mean comments are always more about you than them – by finding something I liked. The idea was, by finding the positive in them, maybe I could find the positive in myself too. After a while, it manages to balance itself out so I longer judged people, and particularly women in a negative light. We need to consider where these small passing negative thoughts we have about others come from – we had to learn this attitudes from somewhere after all – and whether or not they can be challenged. For example, you may think fat people are unhealthy and therefore it is bad to “promote obesity” yet if you like or endorse the idea of a skinny women eating her body weight in junk food, you are not about “promoting health” either.
Something we have to remember is that just because you may sit in a more “acceptable category” of appearance does not mean you shouldn’t be advocating for your fellow larger, BME and disabled people. The more variety we accept, the more we can all accept ourselves and the ways our bodies can change and work. We live in polarising times where there is a continual pressure to get us to conform, even at the cost of young lives (eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric disorder), and we can no longer afford the luxury of complacency.
I look into the mirror and I pause. It’s time to climb out of the pit. After all, I have shit to do.
Yes, I may not be thin, but I have great boobs and an even better butt.
Yes, I may have wonky teeth but I have a nice smile.
Yes, I have spotty skin, but I’m a good friend and a hard-working, nice and intelligent person.
In other words, I’m pretty hot shit and you know what?
I am a gossip. I love a good scandal, love a good moan. I would happily watch Gossip Girl all day everyday if I could and if it wasn’t ruined by its stupid ending. In many ways, I even resent the stability in my own life for not being dramatic enough. As much as I wish I wasn’t, I’m definitely a messy bitch who lives for the drama.
I also know it’s not just me. I know people who openly brag about being shit stirrers, and group chats are rife with discussion about engagements, cheaters and pregnant former schoolmates. There’s a full industry built on celebrity gossip magazines, political punditry on unfolding scandals and newspapers printing the intimate details of people’s personal and professional lives. We like to know other people’s shameful secrets, we like to watch twists and turns unfold. If Kim Kardashian’s weekend antics don’t peak your interests, then perhaps Boris Johnson’s will. While you get the odd saint that claims (and maybe isn’t even lying) that they’re not interested in petty gossip, most of us are, especially when it’s someone we know.
At a very basic level, gossip might seem like harmless fun; as long as the person doesn’t know, and the information has been acquired in a legitimate way (probably a facebook status), then what harm can you plausibly cause?
But what makes something gossip worthy? Thinking about it, a good piece of gossip has to be at least one of two things. Firstly, and sadly, it probably has to require at least the potential for someone getting hurt. A cheating scandal is the classic one, but the same might be said of a jilting, someone who’s embarrassed themselves or someone who’s done something very wrong to someone else. It’s the case for any kind of gossip that revolves around someone’s bad or out of order behaviour. Unless, maybe, they’ve had a run in with the law in some victimless or righteous crime. Gossip often requires a negative to thrive; it makes it all the more shocking and emotional.
“But what about when I gossip about a positive?” you ask. “Sometimes, I talk about people’s engagements and pregnancies.” A good gossip or bitch often requires another, second factor; us making our own judgment about what someone is doing. Take a look at your group chats. How often is this judgment actually a positive one? Or is it absurd that someone’s getting engaged too young, or has another new boyfriend? I am the first to admit I can be quick to pass judgment on other people, but when we do this, we in effect undermine and ridicule something that makes someone happy. We occasionally might be genuinely happy for someone, but in reality this probably isn’t true gossip.
So when we delight in gossiping, what are we actually enjoying? It seems like we’re either benefitting from someone else’s misery, or we’re undermining their happiness. While doing so might not be causing an active harm to a person, it certainly isn’t nice. Therefore, when it comes to whether I am, in fact, a ‘nice’ person, it seems like my living for the drama doesn’t really work at all.
If this is so unpleasant, then why do we want to do it? Psychologists posit that gossiping began as an aid to social bonding, and as a means of gaining knowledge about someone without actually talking to them. This becomes useful in a network so big you couldn’t possibly speak to everyone. These days, we have social media to do most of the leg work for us. However, we only get the information that someone else wants us to see (and social media knows this; see pinned tweets and featured photos for examples). A real scandal now is something off grid that they haven’t told anyone. By which I mean, they’ve told someone, who was very much the wrong person to tell. While the scandal is rooted in a mistrust, we want to know about people, and it’s a natural curiosity that gets the better of us. We want to know as much as possible; when we get good gossip, mean as it may be, it satisfies.
So, as much as gossip isn’t great, it is very much a natural part of being a messy, flawed
human being. It’s observed as being cross-cultural, and it’s something we’ve evolved to do. As bad is it may be, it’s a bad thing that everyone does, like fancying other people when we’re dating or being really gross when we’re alone. Not only that, it does perform a few good functions. Firstly, we have all said something rude behind someone’s back that we would never dare say to their face. We wouldn’t do that because it would hurt them, or damage the relationships around you. We say it behind their back because we want to say it, and we don’t want there to be repercussions. While ideally it would be better to keep your mouth shut, sometimes it’s best for your own well being that it comes out, and does so without directly hurting anyone. It’s not the best situation, but can be better than saying it face-to-face, or worse, through a public forum. Think how much drama could be avoided if indirect tweeting, or loudly saying that you’ve got no faith in your leader at the Tory Party conference, didn’t happen.
An undeniable consequence of my gossip habit is also that I’ve learned a lot about myself from the way I talk about other people. And that’s not just about the characteristics I dislike in other people, but also the characteristics I dislike in myself. Because funnily enough, sometimes the things that I can be very cruel to other people about are actually things that I’m very guilty of too, and when I say it out loud, I realise. The best, and most ironic given the subject matter, example of this is a friend I had when I was younger. A friend who I came to hate. The reason I did was because she talked about everyone – friends, enemies, boys, girls – behind their back. She had a viciously mean word to say about everyone, and in the end I felt very fed up. However, upon deciding I hated her, she became one of my favourite topics; I loved being horrible about how horrible everything she did was.
Sooner or later, the hypocrisy of my own actions did hit me. I learned that, as much as I
disliked that mean streak in her, I had a pretty big one myself. I might not have realised this so suddenly if I’d not been caught out on my obvious double standards. And the same has been true of a lot of my gossip. I’ve been rude about people when I’ve felt inadequate by comparison; rude about people who I think I actually wanted to be my friend; rude about someone because their actions hurt me and I wasn’t ready to admit it. It took time, and hindsight is 20/20. But reflecting on these conversations has been an invaluable tool in learning this.
Another important one, again coming from the psychologists on Wikipedia, is that it gives us information on social norms and guidelines for our behaviour. If we’ve never been through a situation, we might not know just how much it could hurt us, or how wrong an action was perceived. Gossip is a way in which we learn about this, by hearing other people’s reactions to a situation we’re not directly affected by. It’s another way of developing social and emotional intelligence, even if it’s not the nicest one.
I’m not positing that gossip is a good thing; in fact, I’d argue that it’s really quite a bad thing that we ought to try and limit. However, when kept reasonable, being interested in gossip doesn’t make you a bad person in and of itself. We all do it; it’s part of our learning and our outlet. Maybe one day we can be better, but for now, we’re all messy bitches. And that’s (mostly) okay.