Why Tattoos

Ok, I admit it. The link between raising money for effective charities and getting tattoos is tenuous at best. I've tried explaining the link to people quickly, but they usually seem a bit lost towards the end. It usually works best to tell the whole story from beginning to end like I do on the home page. When I don't have time for this my shorthand explanation goes something like this:

Each year for my birthday I ask friends and family to donate money to a specific, effective charity. If we reach the goal I set each year I add another piece to my tattoo. Each one of the four elements in the tattoo corresponds to the cause which we raised money for.

It took a lot of work to explain it that way; I was really miserable at explaining the connection at first. That works for most people. A few people ask me how I pick charities, which is awesome! That is exactly what I want people to ask! I get to talk about comparing philanthropic endeavors and why I think it is important to prioritize causes as well as as charities.  The question I've found that really throw a s me off is "why tattoos?"

So admittedly I live in Body-Mod-Mecca so my perspective may be a bit skewed when it comes to needing a reason to get a tattoo. The answer is actually really simple and comes down to a very primal, and perhaps selfish answer: I find them beautiful. I like the idea of adding beauty and art to myself. Creating art that I will carry with me for the rest of my life. Being able to support and advertise for a local artist. Aesthetically, I find them pleasing and they make me happy.

Part of what I find delightful about my tattoos isn't just the pure design, but the meaning. Having a permanent beautiful reminder of the things I value in the world is something I find irresistibly compelling. Every time I look at the lines on my arm, really look at them, I am reminded of the commitment I have made to foster sustainable change in the world. I remember how lucky I am, and that whatever troubles I have in life are likely not as important as they seem in the larger scheme of things. This is a permanent feature that will serve as a reminder of my values, and a touchstone to my ideals around helping others and always asking how we can be, and do better.

I latched onto the idea of tattoos for this project is because everyone always wants to know about your tattoos. It seems counter-intuitive at first that people would ask you about something that seems so personal. But they do! All the time!!

 Actually, I am banking on people doing this.

Actually, I am banking on people doing this.

I get to answer by talking about causes that I love and care about. It opens a door to engage with people about philanthropic giving and charity. I get to start the process of destigmatizing talking about our giving by telling people how important I think charity evaluation is and how much money we've raised. When people ask about my tattoos they are usually either people who are interested in tattoos and body art, or people I'm only acquainted with who are trying to make conversation. In both cases it is a great way for me to introduce EA ideas to people who likely haven't heard of effective altruism yet.

The placement of my tattoos is intentional; they wrap around my right forearm. This means they are usually the first thing you see when I stick out my arm to shake your hand. They are how I great the world and introduce myself. I feel like I am weary my ideals on my sleeve. Which is scary at first, but empowering, and yes, beautiful.

Body art is a way of claiming yourself. It connects your thoughts and your existence to your body. You look at a tattoo and remember talking about it, picking colors, drawing it, looking at pictures, staring in the mirror, trying to decide if this was ‘you’. You remember that moment wondering who ‘you’ is exactly.