- "I struggled with massive depression and self-hate after my rape last year—my body had been taken from me, in a way, and so I got this tattoo, as a way to change my body, reclaim it, and love it again on my own terms. The center is a rose, because that's my middle name, but also because they're known to persevere and grow through adversity. On the left are two gladiolus flowers, for my parents, whose birth months are both August. My two younger brothers' birth flowers are on the right, a chrysanthemum and a hawthorn, for November and May.
I lost a crazy amount of friends after I was raped; almost everyone in my life tried to find ways to disavow my experience or make excuses for the rapist. So that really put my mom, dad, and brothers in perspective for me. What I went through made me realize that they are the only people in the world who are truly programmed to love and protect me forever, no matter what.” – Sophie, 23
- "I have the stars from the Harry Potter books on my right foot. I got them on Mother's Day 2014, a week to the day I cut contact with my abusive mother. I really identified with both Harry and Hermione—an abused kid who deserved better, and the brainy kid. In childhood, I actually took a lot of guidance from Sirius Black quotes like, 'We've all got both light and dark inside us. What matters is the part we choose to act on. That's who we really are.' [The stars] remind me to turn the page and that *I* get to write my story—no one else. I am the choices I make, not where I come from." – Kirsten, 29
- "On March 10th, I celebrated five years of sobriety! I got small tattoos inside my arm at three months, six, nine, 12, 24 and so on. It was a 'reward' for making it another quarter. My first one was an angel. I have courage, wisdom, a tree for my business logo, the title of my book, MY self, representing all of my accomplishments in sobriety. When I struggle with self-doubt or frustrations, I look at my arm and feel empowered." – Kelley, 39
- "I struggled with an eating disorder in my young adult and late college years. I chose the path of recovery to salvage the relationships I was losing with my friends and family because of my orthorexia, and it ended up saving my life. I am eternally grateful for the inner strength I was able to find to battle this awful disease, so on the two-year anniversary of my recovery, I treated myself to a recovery tattoo. This symbol is the official symbol of the National Eating Disorder Association and to me it represents acceptance, strength, self-respect, and love." – Amanda, 26
- "My beloved wife Kathy is a pancreatic disease survivor. Eight months ago, her pancreas suddenly stopped producing insulin and she was diagnosed as a Type 1 Diabetic and began insulin therapy. She now has to stick her fingers four to six times a day to test her blood sugar levels. She never gets a break, can never take a day off, and has to do this on top of everything else going on in her life.
So I got her initials tattooed in morse code on the three fingers that she pokes for her blood sugar tests. I wanted to get a tattoo to remind myself of what she has to go through every day, just to help me remember to be a little more patient with her and a little more kind." – Ras, 46
- "I have two tattoos: an owl symbol behind my left ear and the word 'Life' behind my right. I got them for my two great aunts, who were murdered in the Holocaust. One was named Chaya, which means life, and one named Bina, which means wisdom and knowledge, hence the owl.
They were in their early 20s when they were killed. I've always felt like I live my life for me and for both of them because their lives were cut short. It has pushed me to always 'go for it'—like moving from Canada to Los Angeles and writing my first novel." – Cassie, 28.
- My sister passed away from brain cancer when she was 18 and I was 16. I had lyrics from Taking Back Sunday's 'My Blue Heaven' tattooed on my forearm to say 'child, you are safe,' because a lot of their music really helped me in the years when she was sick.
A few years later, I decided I wanted a bigger piece of her with me, so I had 'Miriam, ma belle soeur'–'Miriam, my beautiful sister'–tattooed down my spine. I was obsessed with France growing up and I studied French for four years. The funny thing is, I've been to Europe seven times now and never made it there. That's what's cool about tattoos; maybe I am not in love with France anymore or using emo music to get through tough times, but just after the worst time of my life, those things meant enough to me to have them permanently added to my body. Both tattoos were incredibly emotional for me, as was the loss of her." – Kimberly, 28
- "In 2010, my father passed away unexpectedly, almost exactly one year to the day after my sister passed at the age of 28. The tattoo on my wrist is a tribute to him and a reminder to myself of my own transformation as a result of these experiences. The Phoenix is believed to consciously consume itself in flames to rise reborn from the ashes; it is through this resurrection that we find our true spiritual selves.
The music notes underneath are a reflection of the love of music my Dad instilled in me from the day I was born, as I grew up listening to The Who, Led Zeppelin, The Doors, and The Allman Brothers thanks to him. It's also a secret message, as the notes actually spell the word 'DAD,' serving as just one special way I remember each and every day one of the most incredible human beings that I have ever known." – Jessica, 34
- "I have a tattoo on the back of my neck for my father who passed away when I was 21. He was my hero, the person I looked to for advice with anything and everything. He inspired my love for health and fitness, which has directed me through my life and career to this day.
When he was diagnosed with a rare form of Leukemia, my world was disturbed. He approached his sickness head on, putting up an admirable battle. Sadly, we lost him in 2013 and with him, a piece of me was gone. I, along with my brother and sister, went to the tattoo parlor that week and got our father's handwriting on our skin, forever. It was taken straight from my last birthday card from him. Every time I see my tattoo, it's a great reminder to be more like the amazing, strong human my father was." – Shea, 26
- "I got my first tattoos last year, two at the same time, in celebration of my loves and children—my son who had passed away a year earlier before he was born, and my daughter, whom I was pregnant with at the time I got tattooed. The tattoo on my forearm stands for dignity in death, and the horns represent my son, Deacon Hart–hart is another term for a male deer. The three magnolias in place of a skull stand for femininity, new life, and dignity in our daughter, Lorraine 'Raine' Elizabeth.
It was a first experience for both me and Daniel Winter, the artist who worked on the design with me—he had never tattooed anyone pregnant, which seemed to allow us to both connect in an unexpectedly beautiful and vulnerable way. It was hugely healing for me." – Linsey, 35
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This article originally appeared on Cosmopolitan.com. Minor edits have been made by the Cosmo.ph editors.