Love Marks: Tattoos Deeper Than Ink (Photo Essay)

Words and photography by Stacy-Ann Ellis.

There’s something powerful about choice. The choice to explore. The choice to feel. The choice to fight. The choice to forget. The choice to remember. What beauty lies in choosing to keep the remnants of bonds, lessons, and experiences with us until our skin and bones are indistinguishable from the soil beneath our feet.

Ink, if we allow it to, has the ability to pull our minds back to a moment in time when we decided whatever was in front us or within us meant something. A tattoo could be a gesture memorializing a significant other, or the freedom and relief that comes from leaving one. Maybe its familial joy, or simply deciding that we, ourselves, are enough to honor.

Regardless of emotional origins, the love marks remain.


ILY-Love-Marks-Percell-2It was the summer of 2005. I was 17-years old, heading into my first semester of college, and I told my girlfriend at the time, my high-school sweetheart, that I wanted a tattoo. The funny thing was that going in, we weren’t getting matching tattoos. I knew I was getting a tattoo. She didn’t know what she wanted. Then after I got mine, she was like, “I want the same thing.”

I know some people have bad memories of their high-school sweetheart. Even bad memories of who they have matching tattoos with. But to this day, she’s best friend. We speak frequently. I’m still close with her family. The interesting thing is I’m one of the last guys she’s dated; she came out as being a lesbian. She still has the tattoo to this day. I’m gonna cover this one up only because I have a idea of a collage that I want to add, but as far as I’m concerned, it’s not something I regret or look back on. I know that I was young. I was immature. I was in love. But do I regret it? Absolutely not. Percell D.


ILY-Love-Marks-Synead-2I recently got a coverup tattoo of Pickle Rick from Rick and Morty, which is my favorite animated series. Prior to my Pickle Rick being on my body, I had an ex’s name tattooed. Everyone always says to never get somebody’s name tattooed on you, but I was so in love with this boy. I was so adamant about proving my loyalty to him. The tattoo says Butta. Just B-U-T-T-A. That’s it. I didn’t want to put his name. I was like 21, 22. Such a stupid, stupid, stupid thing for me to do.

At the time I was so convinced that I would make this relationship with this guy work. If all these other girls didn’t show him love and support and trust him, I would be the one. I’ll make it happen. Fuck that! I’m never doing that shit again. Pickle Rick is the only man I will put on my body. It’s not even a man. It’s a pickle. I really do love pickles though. A good pickle back? You take a shot of Jameson and then the pickle juice. That shit is really dangerous. You’re fucked up, which is how I felt about this whole fucking relationship of this guy tattooed on my body. Synead N.


ILY-Love-Marks-George-2It’s my first tattoo. I’m old. Everyone used to say, “When you get past 18, you never really want to get tatted.” I wanted to get something that meant something. [I thought] I should get my name, but I know my name. I could get my mom’s name; I know her name, too. I’m not gonna put my kid’s name. So, I was like, what do I get? What means a lot to me? Blackness and having a sense of pride has been such a big part of my life and my identity. I decided to get something that represents that. I saw a tattoo like this on Instagram. Love, and the “O” is an Africa. I think in 50 years when my skin is sagging, I won’t feel bad about having it. George C.


ILY-Love-Marks-Amanda-2I got this tattoo when I was 18. It was rebellion and a result of a relationship I was in since 16, 17 with my first love. I thought he was amazing. He made me happy. He made me extremely motivated, up until I realized he was unfaithful. This tattoo was a result of me realizing he wasn’t faithful. It’s not filled in because it was a love that was never filled and a reminder to myself to love myself always. It’s a reminder never to fall back into the trap of what I was once in.

He does not know about it. We are still in contact today. It’s a rocky ass relationship. However, we recently came to a full stop; he’s starting to realize his faults. Now [the tattoo] is a reminder to never let this shit happen again. To love myself before loving anybody else. I have a problem [with] caring how others feel before myself. Looking back on it, it reminds me to not put everyone first. But now, me. It’s not even a reflection of him. It’s for me now. Amanda M.


ILY-Love-Marks-Trey-2I got it two years ago. Funny, because we’re not together anymore. She’s like my best friend, for real. We met when I was like 12, 13. She was 12. We were together on some puppy love stuff for like three days. Even throughout old relationships, I always kept it respectful but always kept in contact. When college hit, in our sophomore year, we ended up getting together. It’s just who I thought who I was going to be with. You never know. We still might be because that’s one of my best friends.

People are like, “get it covered up, you’re crazy for doing it.” I could see why they say that, but it’s her initials right here. BCP. She got mine, of course. There [is also] the Ying Yang symbol. She got a Ying Yang on her side, so I got a Ying Yang too. I couldn’t have gotten the Ying Yang if it wasn’t for her. I don’t regret it at all. It doesn’t bother me. One, even if we weren’t to get back together, I love my tattoos. They’re a representation of me. I’ve been through this. It means something to me still. Curtis R.


ILY-Love-Marks-Mya-2Exude Love” is my first tattoo. I got it because I’m a hopeless romantic. I love love. I love what it represents and how it makes people feel. People talk about it and they light up. It’s this beautiful thing. I wanted something to represent that for me because it’s one of the greatest things that I love and experience myself.

I took a while to figure out how I wanted it to be, a love tattoo. I was like, maybe I should put a word in front of it because love is an action. It’s a choice. I wanted a good action word to put in front of it to accurately express it. Exude! I like how that sounds. Mya A.


ILY-Love-Marks-Rae-2I wanted to get a “mom” tattoo but I didn’t make an appointment or have a plan. It was my friend’s birthday and a bunch of us were out on a Wednesday night. We were like, “we’re gonna get tattoos after. The boys got matching tattoos and I got the mom tattoo, with a heart in the place of the O and in the middle of the Ms. I had the tattoo planned, but I didn’t make a plan to get it. I was on the phone with my mom the next day [and said], “I’m gonna send you the tattoos everyone got.” I sent her all and I tucked mine in there. She was like, “Oh my God, I love it.” It was the first tattoo that didn’t incite an eye roll.

You know how in that episode of Grey’s Anatomy, where Meredith and her girlfriend Christina are like, “you’re my person?” That’s how I feel: my mom is my person. We tell each other a lot of things that probably moms and daughters don’t always talk about. My mom is friends not only with my girlfriends, but my friends on Instagram. Leaves comments. She’s in full support. She’s very involved. We’re really, really close, for sure. Rae W.