The Blog of Babel

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Henna and Temporary Tattoos

I’ve realized recently that the majority of the henna tattoos that I have been giving myself have followed the format and intent of traditional permanent tattoos. They have stressed permanence.

People mark their bodies for many reasons - normally to display some permanent concept, cause or meaning that the wearer believes transcends themselves. An individual who gets a tattoo signifying love, for example, believes love to be a perpetual force that stays constant throughout their life.

Permanent tattoos stress permanence. Henna tattoos stress mutability and the dynamic nature of things.

Most people associate traditional Mehndi Henna tattoos with spectacular Indian weddings. These events last up to a week and can be extravagant, bustling affairs. The typical Mehndi bridal tattoo marks the initiation of the festivities.

These temporary bridal tattoos are applied to accent the special occasion. Artists can take hours applying painstakingly beautiful and complex patterns that flood the brides’ hands, arms, legs and feet. The henna paste is layered on the skin in a dizzying array of designs. Then the bride has to endure endless hours of waiting as the paste crusts over and dries deep into the layers of the skin - sometimes up to 12 hours. The more patient you are, the darker the stain.

However it strikes me as telling that no one gets a permanent tattoo in this instant. Brides wish to highlight the occasion, the moment and inevitably the fleeting nature of the weeklong wedding. It won’t last forever, nor will the tattoo.

I’ve realized that henna can be used in different ways than permanent tattoos. I can wear a tattoo to signify and remind myself of a commitment to a certain goal or aim for the week. Perhaps I’m trying really hard this week to finish a project at work – my tattoo will serve as a visual representation of my commitment, my grit and my desire to reach that goal. As priorities change and new goals arise my henna tattoo will fade and will be replaced with something new. 

However the ultimate expression of my Henna tattoos are to remind me above all that things will change and that setbacks will not prevent me from applying new patterns in life, demanding new things of myself and reaching new goals. 

So if you were to apply a henna tattoo on yourself to encapsulate this week’s version of yourself – with all of your goals big and small - what would it look like? Where would you wear it? What would it mean?