The first tattoo I ever got is always the last one I mention or show people when I go down my list of permanent ink. Of my 11 tattoos, it’s probably the most poorly executed piece of "art". I got it before I became the body modification enthusiast I am today and learned the importance of seeking out established tattoo artists whose healed work you’ve seen. It was my 16th birthday when my mother and I walked into the tattoo shop that we chose because it was conveniently located a couple of blocks away from our apartment on Chicago’s southwest side. After months of waiting to make good on my mum’s promise for this “sweet” birthday, I left the shop with Winnie the Pooh smiling from my left calf.
A poorly done tattoo of an animated stuffed animal is a prime example of why not all young people are prepared to make such long-term decisions about their bodies. A few years ago in my mid-20s, I asked my mother why the hell she let me go through with it. “You really wanted it,” she responded duly. I guess she was teaching me to lie in the beds I make for myself. She should consider it a job well done. At the time, it wasn’t weird that I was a high schooler with an over-appreciation for a children’s cartoon character. I come from a time and place where grown men had Spongebob Squarepants spray-painted on their shoes. Older women I knew had stuffed Tweety Birds in the same bed their boyfriends slept in with them. My younger cousin has two kids and still squeals when she sees Mickey or Minnie Mouse. Even today, Gucci Mane’s Bart Simpson chain is the stuff of legend, and this year hip-hop blogs went crazy when Quavo revealed an iced-out Ratatouille pendant. The point is that it wasn’t wildly inappropriate that I would get an innocuous being I loved the most placed permanently on my body.
During my teen years, your favourite cartoon character was a part of your individuality. It was on the same footing as your zodiac and, if you’re from Chicago, the high school you went to. I found Pooh to be cute and funny. He was also one of the few fat and happy beings in the media landscape, and I loved him for it at a time where I was still only pretending to be that way. When I finally started tapping into my own confidence in my early 20s, the tattoo started to feel more and more like a mistake. I hated that his belly was kind of square-shaped and his eyes are clearly uneven. I began to strategise what I might use to get it covered up. “I’m a grown woman with a fucking Pooh tattoo!” I would yell to myself in exasperation. But I had more in common with the greedy bear than I realised.
Thanks to the internet and another adult friend who loved the creatures of the Hundred Acre Wood just as much as I did, I did a deep dive into the larger themes and meanings behind Winnie the Pooh. It all began when the fan theory started floating around that Christopher Robin’s friends in the woods represented the seven deadly sins. Pooh represented gluttony, and I was triggered. I’ve battled an eating disorder that many people have mistaken for the same thing. That led me to a separate fan theory that each character represents a different mental disorder, with Pooh’s involving food. From there, the comparisons between the fictional bear and me felt more meaningful than ever, especially since I felt like I needed them so much.
You only need to do a quick google search of “Winnie the Pooh quotes” to see how the words written by creator A. A. Milne serve as digestible self-help advice. The themes of love, friendships, confidence, and even spiritual growth are an inspiration. I will find no shame if I’m the only single adult at the cinema to see Goodbye Christopher Robin this weekend. And I think I have the perfect idea to get my tattoo fixed and improved, not covered.