Tattoos and Cardigans {Jamie Hanauer}

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Today’s post is from my friend Jamie Calloway-Hanauer. I am deeply honored that she was willing to share this here.

Nothing Gold Can Stay

Once upon a time, I was young.

I thought all the admonishments, advice, and wisdom of my elders would not apply to my life, and I shook off their words.

I believed but didn’t always live prayerfully.

I thought through things as wisely as I could, often better than most, but youth does have its shortcomings.

I got my first tattoo when I was fifteen. A friend performed the task, in my living room, using a hollowed Bic pen, thread, India ink and a guitar string. I was in a band then (Christian punk), and each member got the same x-eyed smiley face to commemorate our commitment to one another.

I received my second and third tattoos when I was seventeen. Fairly well done, this time by a different friend, using an actual pro gun, once again in my living room.

The fourth I got at age eighteen. This time in a professional shop, done by an elderly man whose hand shook towards the end.

The fifth and sixth I got as an adult—a parent and law student at the time, you might think I would have known better.

But I didn’t.

Truth is, I very much like tattoos of a certain variety (the Sailor Jerry type). I find them attractive and I often like the stories that they tell about those who bear them.

What I failed to consider as recently as eleven years ago, however, is that no matter how much we rail against it in our youth, we do actually grow up. And buy minivans. And join the PTA. And wear wedding gowns and become bridesmaids and take the children to the park in hot weather. We attend church picnics and pool parties and workout in gyms. And—surprise!—people will see us during these times.

And people will judge.

Tattoos have become commonplace in my generation. I served on the PTA with women (and men) who had a few. After getting to know someone well, the presence of a little (or a lot) of ink usually goes unnoticed. But in those first moments, that first glance, or even when wearing a short-sleeved Easter dress for the first time to a church you’ve attended for eleven years, eyes travel to the vivid color on pale skin, and minds begin to calculate (or recalculate) just exactly who it is they are talking to.

And believe it or not, I don’t like this. I don’t like the knee-jerk assessment, the reassessment, or the stoic attempts to be “accepting.” And so by the time I hit 30, I’d learn to invest, heavily, in cardigans.

Thankfully I live in Berkeley. That has multiple benefits, one being that it is, well, Berkeley, and the other that it’s fairly cool here year-round. Most women carry a sweater with them at all times, and so my long sleeves in July warrant nary a glance.

We are, however, about to move to DC, a place not known for its temperate climate. I will be making new friendships, new first impressions, searching for a new church, and in general trying to develop a new community with whom to laugh, cry, and pray over the coming decades.

That isn’t something to enter lightly.

I wonder: should I or shouldn’t I? Meaning, should I swelter in the August heat until I’ve solidified my “personality” and good graces? Or should I live in relative physical comfort and risk being labeled a “type?”

Some might say, “Who wants to be friends with those who would judge or ‘type’ you anyway?” If only life were that easy. I have children. I have a spouse. As an adult, friendships are often born of what your children choose to do on Saturdays, or where you/your spouse finds employment.

Over the last seven years, I cannot tell you the number of times I’ve heard someone say in incredulous tones, “You have tattoos? You?? You are the LAST person I ever expected to have tattoos.” This statement comes from a belief that a mini-van driving, church attending, faith writing, non-smoking, non-drinking, non-partying mom of four would ever, EVER, think to get a little (or a lot) of ink.

They are both right and wrong. Would I today, being the person who I am, get tattoos? No, I wouldn’t. Do I regret, being the person who I am today, having gotten them? I would say, emphatically, yes. Does that have to do with me and how I feel about tattoos or how others do? Sometimes the line gets blurred and something born of societal influence becomes an “I’m doing it for me” type thing, but in reality the chicken and the egg have become a bit confused.

There are those who wear their tattoos as a badge of God-accepts-me-and-you-should-too honor. I believe that, but that’s not who I am. I don’t want second looks, discussions of a past life, assumptions of a present life, or a walk through Leviticus. I just want to be.

A friend once prayed for me that I would know I am more than “tattoos and cardigans.” As I move from my well-established home here in Berkeley to a life full of new friends, new church, play dates, and summers spent at the pool, I find that prayer coming back to me time and again. I have taken bold steps already—I purchased some new cap-sleeve dresses. I put a picture of my largest tattoo on Facebook (much to my mother’s dismay) and answered honestly when someone who I’ve known for years asked whose arm it was on.

I’m echoing daily my friend’s prayer for my life, and I’m getting closer to baring it all. But I don’t think I’m quite ready to throw in the cardigan.

Jamie Calloway-Hanauer is a work-at-home mom of four—two under five, one in college, and one called away too soon, for whom the poem “Nothing Gold Can Stay” was surely written. After practicing law for eight years, Jamie has put that chapter of life behind her and begun a new chapter of editing, writing, and considering whether or not she should donate all her suits to charity. Be sure to check out her blog where she writes pseudo-weekly on the absurd, the ironic, and the faithful, and connect with her on Facebook or on Twitter.

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31 thoughts on “Tattoos and Cardigans {Jamie Hanauer}”

  1. You both have no idea how excited I got when I saw this link! Or actually, since you know me, you probably do, but still. So very excited and I was not disappointed. Jamie you are so much more than tattoos and cardigans! This piece is so well written, although, as I’ve shared previously, being around tattoos my whole life I honestly wasn’t aware judging people for being inked was still a thing. I say make the move, and ditch the cardigan–if not the physical one then the figurative one will do. Praying you are embraced for the generous, compassionate, and faithful woman you are, whatever the weather.

    1. So you have some idea of how excited I was when Jamie said she’d write it, and then sent it my way 🙂 Amen to all you said, Aleah.

  2. Love this post, Jamie. I imagine we all have our own tattoos, literal or figurative, that mark us, when we want to just be who we are (and I imagine, too, we judge other folks and their tattoos, again literal or figurative). I tire of people assume I will be a certain way just because of my position as an English professor at a Christian college, and it’s been nice to drop an f-bomb now and then (or a grammatically incorrect sentence) just to let them know their perception isn’t entirely true. Best wishes on your transition; I hope you will find new friends who will love you tattoos, cardigans, and all.

    1. Thanks, Melanie! Yes, I think you’re right: we all have our “tattoos,” and certainly we are all guilty of knee-jerk judgments. I think I would be shocked to hear an English prof–at a Christian school or otherwise–drop the F-bomb or use a grammatically incorrect sentence. And imagine if the F-bomb was contained *within* that grammatically incorrect sentence… I might just fall over! 🙂 Thanks for the well wishes as we start off on our new journey!

  3. I don’t know if it’s right or wrong to admit how surprised I am–since I’ve only seen you in cardigans–but wow, Jamie, what a wonderfully written piece. Thanks for sharing your sweet heart and baring your soul (and arms!) with us.

    1. Neither right nor wrong… and totally understandable. 🙂 Lesley, you should have read my list of “needs/desires” for StichFix… 3/4 sleeves, high necks, no tanks, etc. I bet they got a kick out of that! Thanks for the kind (and supportive) words. 🙂

  4. Thanks for your insights, Jamie! I appreciate your vulnerability and willingness to begin revealing your “tattoos”. I believe that part of our brokenness is our tendency to judge. Whatever the situation, whatever the environment, we all have the potential to look, to peer, to decide what fits and what doesn’t, to look for similarities as a basis to include and to look for differences as a basis to exclude. My prayer is that we would be able to hold compassion for everyone with whom we come in contact and be able to see the beauty in our uniqueness! Lisa Murray!blog/cznz

    1. What a wonderful prayer! Imagine if we all shared that prayer and actually attempted to live it in our lives. “What a wonderful world it would be,” yes?

  5. Y’ know, when I let a nurse friend pierce my ear lobes in my living room when I was about 27, my dad almost disowned me while my mother kept prim silence. She gradually seeded thoughts of practicality and modernism into his ears while she bought me new earrings. Later, when I joined the RC Church, he really did disown me. My mother took religion courses at the Catholic university and embraced our similarities. It took about three months for her to initiate paternal reconciliation again. I have found our sons’ tattoos hard to accept; you have illuminated me on that score! Neither dress nor the decoration of the skin create the condition of the heart. Those who scorn clothing, or lack thereof, or ink, may be driving the wearer to the depths of a despair already hinted at in their choices of superficial covering/uncovering. Thank you, as always, for holding the mirror.

  6. I chose after 6 years of deliberation to get a forearm tattoo at age 27. It is personally and spiritually very meaningful. When people give my arm that “look,” I tell them, “Oh, this? It’s my temporary tattoo. Someday, it will be gone.” It has been a way for me to share my perspective on eternity and my place in a bigger story. My tattoo is simply a reminder that someday only the most important things will remain and everything else will be blown away (Hebrews 12); we should focus on the important things.

    1. I LOVE the “it’s my temporary tattoo” answer – SUCH a great perspective and conversation starter. Thanks for commenting, Anne!

  7. Shoua (USN vet)

    I’m still new in my walk with Christ. And from what I’ve seen so far, most of us have traveled a similar path before coming “back to Christ”. I am always mildly surprised when I hear their testimonies. But I am also encouraged. You shouldn’t have to hide yourself behind cardigans. And I agree with your friend’s prayer!

  8. “I don’t want second looks, discussions of a past life, assumptions of a present life, or a walk through Leviticus. I just want to be.”

    Not so deep down I think that’s what we all want – just to be. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we chose to give each other that gift? The gift of ‘just being’ 🙂

  9. Jamie, thanks for sharing this. Three years ago, my husband and I moved our family to a small, midwest town in which there’s more ink and body art in various places than not. And much of it is found in our church. Both are firsts (on this scale) for both of us. Previously, those around me with body art were in the vast minority; now, it’s the vast majority. I’ve learned not even to raise an eyebrow, but to lean in and say, “What’s that one for?” There’s always a story. Whether I agree or not, think it’s biblically acceptable or not, whether I’d ever do it myself or not, or whatever, is actually irrelevant. It’s usually already there. And it’s usually meaningful. More often than not, I’ve observed, there is spiritual – specifically Christian – significance, born out of the desire to express the significance of a relationship with Christ, the Word, and/or the Holy Spirit.
    In terms of what we could “take back” or receive a do over on from our youth, there is always much ink to spill, if you’ll pardon the terrible pun. But also, there’s the walk we walk daily concerning the fine line between modeling, mentoring, and discipling, and squeezing ourselves into a leadership mold – what a “Christian leadership, model, mentor, and discipler” should look like. Pondering further, waxing not-so-eloquent…does our habit, youthful choice, colorful language we occasionally insert to shake things up, or personal preference fit into the mold we think should be the shape leadership/modeling should take? Of course, with every aspect of our life, choices, being, preferences, our ultimate answer is to the Lord. We also need to recognize that the same is true for others. More could be said, but, well, I should be asleep right now. Instead, I’m reading your wonderful post.
    Aside: I would probably have loved your Christian punk band. Was a huge fan of One Bad Pig. 🙂

    1. What a great comment! I love hearing what it was like for you on the “non-inked” side of the fence. You’re so right–feelings–one way or the other–are often irrelevant when it comes to tattoos. They are there, they are permanent, and we simply move forward doing what we can with what we have. I found your focus on the “leadership mold” to be thought provoking. I was thinking in terms of friends, going to the grocery store, the doctor, etc., as compared to being in leadership. Now I have a whole other topic to muse over! I have been in a leadership position at church for the last few years, but I’ve also been wearing cardigans while doing it…. Interesting. Thanks for staying up and reading/commenting. : )
      Also: I love puns, and I love that you were a huge fan of One Bad Pig! Let’s get coffee sometime. 🙂

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  11. I love how you’ve written about the ways you’ve had to deal with the past and the ways it has been inked into your future. It feels almost like a metaphor to me about the ways shame about the past can threaten us in the future. Maybe I’m reading too much into it!

    1. Thanks, Ed! I think you’re right… A pastor from my church commented on Facebook (about this post) that my tattoos are part of the “building blocks” of who I’m growing to be. That can be a sort of “throw away” type thing to say (not that she was), but I decided to think on those words and I realized how deeply true they are. All through life we learn (the hard way) of the gut-wrenched-ness of shame, the struggle of self-forgiveness, and the heated inner dialogue of regret. If we let it, these things could indeed rob of us our present and future by keeping us so firmly in the past. Or if we let it, these things could grow us (the hard way) into the person we’re meant to be.

  12. One hundred fourty pounds of excess fat bring a lot of judgement, too. And while it’s true that a few years of disciplined hard work could ease the problem, I can never hide it under a cardigan. I tend to think that I am content with who I am in Christ, but then I’ll have a week like this past week (Severe poison ivy on my thigh made we waddle like a fat person.) when I’m ashamed to be seen in public. If I could simply hide the bit of me that doesn’t fit in, I probably would, so applaud you for sometimes being vulnerable and leaving the cardigan at home.

    1. Hi, Stephanie, While editing a psych book (I edit university texts) I found a very condemning attitude in an author re body size (based on “common wisdom”), so I turned to the Internet for genuine information. I refuted him on every point. Having yo-yo dieted when young, and having come to an acceptance of myself as a fattie by contemporary standards, I sympathize with you. Medicine has accepted false standards of health as pertains to weight. It started with a man who worked for an insurance company in the 1950s, as I recall; you can Google the topic. He falsified data in a way intended to advantage the insurance company and medicine has fallen into that line of false information ever since. In fact, the 10-pounds-underweight values he established have skewed “health” standards so that anyone who complies with them dies younger than he or she should. For me, coming to accept who I am, genetically and every other way, was a necessary first step to becoming objective about research. In one sense or another we process information through what we know about ourselves. It’s hard, though, when you are facing overwhelming amounts of unscientific idiocy and sick social standards.
      What I learned included:
      Apart from the conventional notions that obesity is the result of too much food (for supposed psychological and socialized or acculturated reasons) and/or of too little exercise–the belief you expressed– obesity may be caused by any one or a combination of these (or of other) factors:

      (1) it is caused by a virus (adeno 37), according to researchers at the University of Wisconsin (;
      (2) it may be caused by hormonally triggered chemical changes in the gut that affect the brain’s appestat ,according to a news release on gastric surgery from the BBC (UK) 22 Mar 2012;
      (3) it may be caused by genetics (
      (4) it may be caused by faulty in-utero nutrition as well as by endocrine disruptors (Toxicological Sciences 76, 247-249 (2003) Copyright © 2003 by the Society of Toxicology);
      (5) it may be caused by sexual abuse of the child that alters hormone balances (such female children also often menstruate early);
      (6) it may be related to blood type ( );
      (7) it may be because you were not breastfed or . . .
      (8) because you as a nursing mother stopped breastfeeding too soon ( );
      (9) it can be the result of insufficient sound energy reaching the left hemisphere of the brain (my personal research on the neurology of the ear and behaviour, which does not spend much time on the weight gain associated with chronic fatigue syndrome that I know about first-hand;;
      (10) it may be caused by changes in the hypothalamus in the brain ( );
      (11) obesity may not be abnormal, let alone pathological, according to studies that indicate obese persons who exercise may be healthy regardless of their weight
      (12) it may be related to genotype as a response to environmental conditions, which likely explains the physical typology of certain ethnic enclaves, e.g., my Swiss and Alsatian ancestors from mountainous parts of Europe.
      (13) it may be the result of coercive parenting regarding finishing offered food by well-intentioned parents who are/ were thrilled to have a lot of food or particularly rich food to offer. A child coerced to eat will, by the age of 5, have lost an inner sense of what and of how much to eat to attain satiety. It is my personal opinion that the success of coercive strategies regarding food in medical and commercial applications that have proliferated over my lifetime (I was born in 1941 just after the Great Depression and during WW II) are attributable to coercive parenting about food that developed in those two massive social upheavals associated with food shortages. So very many children were coerced that they provide a vast, vulnerable audience to the theorists, whose theories were never actually tested in research, as Lindsay Kite observes (Kite, Lindsay. (2011). Redefining Health Part 1: Measuring the Obesity Crisis. Beauty Redefined:
      One recent bit of research: they discovered from doing stomach-clamping and following up on patients that the real reason people got thinner was because certain bacteria routinely got into the gut during surgery. In other words, all you have to do is introduce those bacteria into the gut and the person will lose weight without the life-threatening, life-shortening surgery. I am infuriated by so much sheer ignorance passed off as “medical knowledge.” God used that anger and frustration in my life to lead me to discover the cause and the cure for mental illness — not just our son’s schizophrenia, but but the range of so-called “mental” illness. (You can read about some of that at my blog MentalHealththroughMusic).

      God will teach you about your body if you let Him love you; “there is no condemnation” in the love of Jesus. Laurna

      1. Laurna, you can stop worrying about me. I don’t buy into conventional fat-shaming, which is why I confessed to having 140lbs of excess weight, not to being 188lbs overweight. But thanks for sharing your “science.”
        You have COMPLETELY missed my point, which was that I empathize with Jamie and I applaud her bravery.

    2. Since writing this blog post, I’ve really had my eyes and heart opened to various things people do hide or wish they could hide on a day-to-day basis. I’ve been surprised to learn that so many of us go through each day hoping we won’t be found out! I suppose I should have known, but it has still been so eye-opening. Wouldn’t it be great if we lived in a world where we didn’t feel pressured to hide? It’s easy to tell someone to be content with who they are in Christ, but that’s actually a pretty tough task to accomplish in this judgmental world that is hyper-focused on “perfection.” Let’s keep reminding each other that we are indeed perfectly made just the way we are.

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