Girls with Tattoos: “Tattoos are a way to not take life too seriously.”

I’ve started a  project called Girls with Tattoos. It is a celebration of female and tattoo beauty, inspired by lots of things…

– questions I’ve been asked about my own tattoos and the wider questions these raise about expectations of female appearance /

– a love of illustration and admiration of the skill of top-notch tattooists /

– factors which affect female body image /

– a wish to share positive stories and images from tattoo owners/

 I’m excited that Michelle agreed to be my second participant…


Name: Michelle Kilkenny /  What I do: For the past ten years I taught high school math, but I recently changed careers to be an auditor for the state of Tennessee / Live: Nashville, TN / Age: 31

1. How many tattoos do you have?


2. If you could label each one of your tattoos, what are they called? 

Leaves, moth, pi symbol, key, skeleton wearing a sombrero, dagger going through a heart, space-themed Russian doll, girl wearing motorcycle helmet, vase of flowers, panther head, corn, dress form, roses, pine cone, Queen Anne’s lace, geometric owl

3. What is the chronological order of your tattoos?

My first tattoo was the pi symbol.  It is tucked away on my hip.  I was 20 and had just decided I wanted math to be my major.
Second tattoo was a large piece on my ribs of the skeleton wearing a sombrero and holding a jack-o-lantern.  I was 22 and my birthday is on Halloween, so I always knew I wanted something to go with that theme.
Third tattoo was an MI I got on my foot before leaving Michigan to move to Arizona at 23.  The script was poor and it was always mistaken for an MJ, so I later covered it with leaves.
The next one was a vintage key on my other rib cage.  I was 25 and my husband got a lock on his ribs to pair with mine.
I went a few years without getting tattooed and really considered if I wanted to venture into “visible tattoo” territory.  We also spent a couple years living in more rural areas, where great tattooing was hard to find.  This all changed when we moved to Nashville.  Nashville is where I’ve gotten the majority of my tattoos.  It started at 28 or 29, when I got the geometric owl on the back of my left arm.  It basically snowballed from there and I am currently getting close to finishing a sleeve of traditional-style tattoos on my right arm.  That arm started with the corn a couple years ago (gotten at a flash day on a whim) and I have been steadily adding to it since.

4. What inspires the subject matter of your tattoos? Is there a general theme?

When I first started getting tattooed, I spent much longer considering subject matter, placement, etc.  Currently, I am working on a sleeve, so it is basically what fits and what I enjoy aesthetically.  Right now that is mostly traditional-style tattoos, but I am sure I will venture into other styles/subject matter at a later date.

5. Do you have stories behind some of your tattoos?

Some of my tattoos have meaning and some do not.  The pi symbol represents my love for math.  The skeleton was my connection to Halloween and all things creepy.  The key (matching with my husband) we got shortly before we were married.  The dress form represents my love for fashion, especially anything vintage.

6. What inspired you to become tattooed, and have your reasons for getting tattooed changed as time has passed?

For as long as I can remember I always wanted to be tattooed.  When I was young I saw tattooed girls as women who were proud to stand out.  Now, I appreciate the process of every tattoo.  Not everyone can sit through the pain.  I also see it as a way to not take life too seriously.

7. Have your tattoos changed the way you view your body at all?

They have changed the way I look at my body.  The first thing you see when you look at me is tattoos.  This can be a good or bad thing.  They can hide imperfections, but they themselves are not perfect.

8. What has been the reaction to your tattoos by your world around you? If relevant, what have been the positive reactions, and what have been the negative?

I have lived in Nashville since making the transition to being visibly tattooed.  Tattoos are quite abundant here, so it is fairly normal to see people with full sleeves.  I definitely feel the disapproving stares of those from older generations, but no one has directly commented to me negatively.  Around here it is mostly “What shop does the person work at that did that tattoo?”

9. Do you feel the reactions to your tattoos are any different as you’re a woman, than they would be for a man?

I think it is becoming less rare for women to be tattooed, but we still probably have a lower percentage walking around with several tattoos.  I would guess that many people think women aren’t as attractive with tattoos, but I haven’t experienced that opinion directly.

10. Common questions I’ve been asked about my tattoos, include:

  1. “What are you going to do on your wedding day?”

  2. “How will you feel when you’re old?”

How would you answer these questions?

“Well, I am already married, so hopefully there will not be another wedding day.  I did not have any tattoos on my arms when I got married, and sometimes I wish I already had.  Tattooed brides look so awesome.  I know my tattoos won’t look as good when I am old, but I also will be OLD.  So instead of just being old, I will be old and bad ass.”

11. Do you feel there are expectations regarding appearance and body type in society today? 

I feel like tattoo perception has come a long way, but I think tattoos are still seen as “unprofessional” or “trashy” in some aspects.  For example, I wear long sleeves to work every day at my new job.  I have not had a conversation with anyone asking if it would be okay to show them.  I think tattoos in conservative offices are still taboo, and that is unfortunate.

12. Are there any tattoo artists you love above others?

I am currently getting many of my tattoos done by Mia Graffam at Victory Tattoo in Nashville.  She is an amazing traditional artist. (instagram @miagraffam).  I would love to get tattooed by Amanda Wachob.  Her style of tattooing is so unique and amazing.  I am also a big fan of Amanda Leadman.  Her color work is so smooth.

13. Can you name a best tattoo you’ve ever seen?

The flowers Amanda Wachob did on Keiko Lynn are pretty incredible.

14. Are you planning to get any more tattoos? 

My next tattoo is going to be a jeweled locket being added to my sleeve.  I think a scorpion will be next after that.

15. Do you think there’ll be a point when you’ll stop getting tattoos?

I think at some point I will stop getting tattooed so often.  Working on this sleeve always makes me feel like I am in the healing process, and that is very irritating.

 16. Is there anything else you’d like to add?

I think the general advice people give is, “really think about it, it’s forever,” but I would rather say do not over think it.  If you get a tattoo, it will not be perfect.  Don’t obsess over the details too much, and let the artist guide you.

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