I got my first tattoo on February 19, 2000, a week after my 18th birthday. Tattooing was illegal in South Carolina at the time, where I lived, so I knew I’d need to drive 90 miles north to North Carolina to get it. My dad was on board, but I had to beg and plead with my mom—it never occurred to me to go against her wishes. When she finally agreed, my dad drove me to a trailer right on the North Carolina/South Carolina border with metal siding and a neon sign that said, “Closest tats to SC!”
I arrived with my design in hand: a crown that looked dangerously similar to the Hallmark logo (in that it was the Hallmark logo) with “Princess” written in a bold cursive font found on Microsoft Word underneath it. A biker put me in a chair and told me if I twitched or moved, he’d leave me with ½ a tattoo and make me pay for the whole thing. Paul, my dad, chuckled the entire time. I left feeling like a grown-ass woman—a Queen if you will—even though I was sporting a tattoo that said otherwise.
In hindsight, my parents are the fucking coolest. A lot of my friends hid their first tattoos until they flew the coop, and there I was, crossing state lines with my dad to get mine done. And yet, 20 tattoos later, my mom is still shocked every time I get a new one. Curious to see where she stands on all my body art today, I asked for her honest appraisals of some of my best and worst tattoos. Below, meet the inimitable Lydia Delores Anderson, first of her name, thrower of precision shade, holder of the hottest of takes. If you know my mom, you know she’s never short on absurd anecdotes or quotes or general advice that is either life-changing or makes zero sense.
1. The aforementioned PRINCESS tramp stamp, age 18
Mom and I are having a text convo about my tats. I remind her that she told me when I was 18 that I ran the risk of being paralyzed if the tattoo needle went into my spine. (1. Lydia is not a doctor and 2. that risk is literally not a possibility!) When I ask her what she thinks about it she says she’s fine with it now, because you can’t see it with clothes on and that it represented who I was at that time. Can’t tell if that’s shade or not, but here we are….
2. The crucifix tattoo on my ankle, age 22
Obviously me and every other elder millennial has this tattoo after seeing early-aughts haute gal Nicole Richie with her version. I switched mine up a bit and got my family’s names all tattooed around my ankle like links on a chain. Lyds of course likes this one the most because “it has my name on it.” My mom is vain and ridiculous.
3. “The World is Mine” Scarface tattoo between my shoulder blades, age 23
I really hate this tattoo. It’s of the “The World is Mine” sculpture in the film Scarface and it’s my least favorite of the whole lot. I still don’t know why I got it. I think I had this convoluted idea that it was to celebrate my Italian heritage, but spoiler alert, Tony was Cuban and the movie was violent and I’m an idiot. Also, the hand on this tattoo looks like it belongs to the Crypt Keeper and the globe is not the least bit geographically accurate. Like not even a little bit. Not a spoiler alert, because everyone saw this one coming: Mama HATES this tattoo. Also she has jokes! “Not a fan, and the world isn’t yours, it’s ours.”
4. “Stay Woke” on the top of my left wrist, age 34
I mean, this phrase really resonated with me when I got it, but then got ran into the ground, so I’m now thinking about getting it covered up. I’ve never asked my mom about this one, so I’m intrigued to see what she has to say! She is nothing if not a political junkie and believer in creating a better world for black folks, so I think she might be down for this one. (Three minutes pass, enough time for her to craft a sweet and shady response.) Yup, as I thought: She loves this one because of the social justice significance, but says she’d love it more if I had none of the rest.
5. My weird tribal-ish hand tat, age 35
I dunno, I can take or leave this guy. I got it when I was on vacation in Utah. All of my friends went to Colorado for the day to check out the legal weed and, as a non-smoker, I had to find something to occupy my time. An hour later I ended up with this. I don’t dislike it, per se, I just don’t care about it. Lydia does not mince words: “No, definitely not. You didn’t tell me you were getting it and I thought it would hinder you from getting a job.” My mom thinks I’m an investment banker or a hand model, you guys. Also, she double-replies to let me know that she’s just waiting patiently through this exercise so that I can show her my knuckle tattoos and she can then unleash the fury of 1000 tongues on me.
6. Alfred E. Newman of Mad magazine, age 33
I got this as an ode to my Dad. He loves Mad magazine and always wanted this tattoo but Mama Anderson forbade him. So I decided to get it for two reasons: 1. To honor him by getting something inked that meant so much to him, and also have him hand write this phrase that he said every morning before I left for school: “Don’t take any wooden nickels” and 2. To get under my Mom’s skin, lol. It didn’t work because she really, really loves this one. She loves how much it means to my dad and how much pain I went through to honor him in that way. That said, I know she’s a little annoyed that she loves it so much.
7. “High Life” tattooed across my knuckles, age 37
I joke a lot about my mom being a shade queen, but she has always given me the freedom to express myself both in how I speak and how I present myself visually. My parents let me wear whatever I wanted growing up—no matter how kooky—and let me be my truest self (including speaking exclusively in an English accent for weeks when I was seven). So while the tattoos annoy her, she never gives me too much grief about them.
That said, while I was sitting in the tattoo chair for this one, I knew she was going to be pissed. We always have a tattoo agreement that stretches and shifts after every new bit of ink. First it was, “Okay, get ‘em as long as they are on your back and can be covered with clothes,” then it was, “It’s fine as long as your sleeves can cover the ones on your arms,” and so on and so forth until we reached: “For the love of god, Crystal, please, please, please no face, neck, or knuckle tattoos.”
Cut to my hand tats. I got my High Life tattoo in New Orleans and was actually scared to tell her, so I did what any self-respecting kid would do: I posted it on Instagram and waited for the call…..but alas, no call came. What did come was a video that my sister took the moment mom found out: You can see the utter confusion and dread overcome my mom’s face and hear my sister cackling in the background while my mom shrieks, “Is this real? This isn’t real! Why the hell would she do that?!” Then you see her reach for her phone to give me more than a piece of her mind. Sounds awful, but is truly hilarious.
Which is to say: Lydia says she hates this one, not because of the words but because I look like I just got out of the clink (her words): “I mean, Christina, you need to grow up and do better. Gal, why would you do that? You know what…I know what the issue is! You have too much money. That’s the problem.” (My mom calls me Christina sometimes and that is NOT my name. Never has been.)
I know she means well and isn’t being mean—she’s just old school and southern and thinks the tattoo is unladylike, but surely she knows I’m not a “lady” by now.
I wanna thank Lydia a.k.a. Mama a.k.a. Lyds for being so sweet and amazing and down to walk down memory lane with me on this. I shall repay her by never getting a face tattoo. But also, like, never say never, ammirite?