I had failed back surgery 11 years ago and since then have suffered with chronic back pain and then was diagnosed with fibromyalgia. Both give me chronic nerve pain, mobility issues, increased migraines and exhaustion that you can't even imagine and has affected my whole life.

I was made redundant because I was so unreliable, lost friends that I have had since moving to Bournemouth 21 years ago, lost my busy social life, including performing burlesque.

These changes and the unpredictability of my symptoms have led to depression and anxiety and additional symptoms caused by the amount of medication I am on.

When I was experiencing a particularly dark period my Mum wrote to me and put in the card, "You come from a long line of strong women", which really struck a chord with me.

It made me not only think of my Mum and my Grandma, who was a strong woman, but also the other strong women who have stayed in my life. They have been there, through the good and the bad, they check in on me, are happy to visit and if I'm having a bad day are happy to lie in bed with me and chat or watch a film, or just happy to let me sleep. True friendship and extended family!

The strong women start with my Mum and Grandma; I never got to meet my Grandma as she died when my Mum was 12 years old from breast cancer. My Grandad remarried and it resulted in my Mum basically being told to leave when she was 16.

She ended up in London where she eventually met my biological father. Upon finding out she was pregnant and telling him, he left his job and flat and disappeared.

My Mum fought to have me, and struggled financially and emotionally until she met my step dad (who is ultimately the only dad I have ever known or wanted). To know someone loves you that much is really overwhelming.

So this tattoo celebrates all my strong women: My mum (the words), grandmother (breast cancer ribbon), Ally from Burlesque (the flowers), Michelle (who I call Bill and has been my best friend since secondary school), Kat (known since college) and Leah (the Manchester bee - I met her when living in the same block of flats). The butterfly represents new beginnings and purple is the colour that is associated with Fibromyalgia.

written by becky


Tattoos covering an arm and shoulder. They are all different coloured skulls

All my tattoos are skulls.

Skulls represent death. Death is certainty. My upbringing wasn't. The things you don't want to happen happened.

And we don't like to name it coz it can bring the mood down.

Abuse - check.

Shame - check.

Mental health problems - check.

Poor education - check.

Failure - check.

Prison - check.

Addiction - check.

Homelessness - check.

Hopeless- check.

I love knowing that one day I'll be dead and won't suffer no more.

Don't misunderstand though - I love life, I adore people.

In my coffin I'll wear a golden thong. Nothing else.

As a kid my body didn't belong to me. When I grew up I found out that it does.

My tattoos are all skulls.

written by ryan


An upper arm with a tattoo of a black dog and the letter B underneath

It’s of my dog Billie, the dog my family had from my teenage years, through to when she died in 2001. I was 27.

Half Collie, half Flatcoat Retriever, she was an unusually intelligent, even empathetic dog.

She became a great companion and comfort to me: a socially and scholastically unsuccessful teenager growing up in rural Somerset.

By the mid 90’s I had gone away at art college, and obviously didn’t see her as much, incrementally watching her turn into an ‘old dog’ when I’d come home for the holidays.

During the last few years of her life, I often vowed that I would get a tattoo of her when she died; to commemorate that great dog-friend of my boring, tricky teenage years.

I remember my Dad telling me on the phone that she had finally gone – it was the same week that Joey Ramone had died.

The rest of 2001 came and, almost, went…but on New Year’s Eve I suddenly realised that if I didn’t get the tattoo in the actual year of Billie’s death then I would use it as an excuse that ‘the moment had passed’ i.e. chicken out.

So on the grey afternoon of December 31st 2001, I hastily did a simple drawing of her, with biro on a paper napkin in ‘TastyStop’ (the local greasy spoon) and nervously took round the corner to ‘TattooLand’.

This big shaven-headed Welsh guy named Dean looked at the napkin and said -

‘Not bad that. People come in with some terrible doodles they’ve done and I tell them I’m not doing that but I don’t mind doing this one for you.’

He set about copying it onto my arm. He seemed in a bit of a rush though, because it was New Year’s Eve and he wanted to close early to ‘get some drinking done.’ So much so, he wouldn’t write the full name ‘Billie’ under the dog - ‘I’ll just do the ‘B’ if that’s okay, cos you know, pub’s waiting.’ I said that would be fine, because I was a bit terrified; by the act of getting a tattoo, by Dean himself.

The finished tattoo is pretty underwhelming . And at a glance many people mistake that abbreviation - B - for an adjacent dog shit!

For a few years I thought I should maybe have drawn a more prepared, better rendered drawing of Billie (with legs in better proportion, they ended up a bit long on the actual tattoo) and taken it to a better recommended (or at least, less hurried) tattoo artist.

But as further years passed, and more and more people got more and more elaborate and impressive tattoos, I’ve grown quite fond of the low-key, slightly crappy look of mine.

I think my more minimal one might suit me better, at the top of a skinny white arm, with no right hand at the end of it.

(I did choose, quite deliberately, my right, handless arm. Though I’m not quite sure why.)

written by joff