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Mistakes and Markers of Time

Whilst I was procrastinating in the Rad Cam a couple of days ago, I glanced down at my hand, and for the first time in a while, I properly looked at one of the tattoos I had gotten two years ago. Of course, I catch sight of it every day as I’m washing my hands, typing on my laptop, and cooking, but I don’t often actually look and think about it. Part of the reason I so infrequently admire it is because when I do, I have to face the fact that it’s slightly wonky, weird-looking, and faded, as a friend of a friend ‘stick and poked’ me in her mum’s sitting room. The reason it is slightly wonky is because, during the process, I refused to tell her that I wanted the stencil position to be moved slightly to the right. I was too scared I would upset or offend her, so I let her tattoo my wrist knowing it looked off-centre. Because at that time in my life, I would have truly rather permanently altered my appearance in a way I didn’t quite like rather than stand up for myself. I understand how stupid this might sound to some of you. But now, when I look at my wrist, I don’t regret my choice, I look at it fondly.

It’s very easy to criticise and cringe at old pictures of yourself, wondering how your mum ever let you leave the house in your most treasured white ripped ‘joni jeans’, or knee-high DM boots. But to me, this evidence acts as such a time capsule. Dying my hair has been an important part of my identity since I first coloured it baby pink at sixteen. For some people, different scents or songs can transport them to different times of their lives, but for me, hair colour acts as a marker of time. My hair has been pink, bleached blonde, silver, black, red, brown, copper, blonde, and brown again. It’s a bit of a cliché that when faced with change you completely alter your hair, but I have to admit that when I broke up with my first boyfriend, I immediately chopped it all off and dyed it black. Similarly, before I came to university, riddled with anxiety about how I was going to be perceived, I got way too many layers cut and dyed my hair copper. And whilst I’ve learned to regulate this tendency, I refuse to feel remorseful.

It saddens me now to see teens of eleven, twelve, and thirteen wearing ‘trendy’ outfits, compared to the likes of influencers like Molly Mae or Matilda Djerf. It feels like these young people are missing out on ‘rite of passage’ experiences. Because without all those whacky outfit choices, and crazed makeup looks I’m not sure I would have found my style. Experimenting and messing up is an important part of building your distinct identity, and if we have children who never did this due to the pressure from social media to be ‘cool’, individuality is going to decrease. Amongst pre-teens, the rise and dominance of brands such as ‘Lulu Lemon’ which emphasise neutral tones and basic silhouettes are adding to the loss of originality. And that is not to judge older people who enjoy this style. It’s just I’m sure those adults had time to experiment with different styles before choosing that as their own. But when eight-year-olds on ‘TikTok’ are in matching beige sets carrying a ‘Stanley’ cup half the size of their head, you’ve got to wonder how we got here and what is to become of a new generation whose life is so documented online that they cannot bear to make mistakes or laugh at themselves. How do you ever move forward or become self-aware without learning from disastrous decisions that are only forgivable because of your youth?

These days, I wear my closed-up piercing holes and grown-out layers with pride. Each story behind them might not be my proudest moment, but I’m glad I have literal, lasting marks on my body to remind me of memories I would have otherwise forgotten. We live in an age of impulsivity and impatience, and whilst many of my piercings and hair changes happened for those exact reasons, I’m glad they led to physical reminders of all the experiences I’ve collected across the years. Because whilst the minute stick-and-poke flower on my right hand’s middle finger might often be wrongly identified as fireworks, shooting stars, or, in its worst moments, a magic wand, I get to always hold the memory of that drunken night with my two school friends when we gave each other the tattoos. And I’m certain that was not my last dodgy tattoo or failed fashion choice. But I look forward to reminiscing about the stories behind my future ‘mistakes’. 

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