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Sunday, April 14, 2024
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Body Politics Katerina

Body Politics: Therapy through tattoos

Ling Howley tells her personal story through her tattoos.

Body Politics is The Scene’s look behind the AU student body’s tattoos, piercings and other body adornments. D.C.’s a button-up city, but everyone has a little rebellion in them. This is where we get into the stories behind the body art.

Tattoos can represent a powerful story brought to life through art. In Ling Howley’s case, abusive relationships and depression bleed through the ink.

In September 2012, 17-year-old Ling Howley confidently walked beside her mother as they followed the rock music that became louder and louder with each step. Her mother looked at her before they entered, understanding how important this was to her daughter. A bit trepidatious, they entered Adrenaline Tattoo and simultaneously took the first step toward healing a wound.

Howley walked to the front desk and put down her deposit. The man at the front desk sat her down, explaining the logistics of a tattoo, but Howley could barely concentrate. The only thing she could think about was how happy she was that her mother understood how much this tattoo would help her move on from a terrible memory. A past sexual assault put a strain on Howley’s relationship with her mother.

“It turned out to be a really great experience for my mom and I because our relationship had suffered since I had been assaulted and I think her being there with me began to heal the wound,” Howley said.

For Howley, this wasn’t just a tattoo—this was her way of regaining her relationship with her mother, her body and her life.

Howley was 11-years-old when her close family friend’s son began assaulting her for a year, she said.

“My sexual assault affected my outlook of myself and made me vulnerable to an abusive relationship in high school,” Howley said.

During this reflective time, Stephen Chbosky’s “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” helped her come to terms. The book’s protagonist Charlie deals with the aftermath of his own sexual assault. The book was a turning point in Howley’s life and compelled her to break out of her abusive relationship.


Howley’s, “Perks of Being A Wallflower,” inspired tattoo. Photo by Ling Howley.

As a result of her love and connection to the book she got the tattoo, “We accept the love we think we deserve” tattooed on her ribs.

“Getting the tattoo was like finally telling everyone who didn't believe me or blamed me for what happened to fuck off,” Howley said. “But it also served as a reminder that I have a choice in this, and I know my own worth and it's more than these people treated me.”

Howley’s struggle with self-harm due to her assault led to her decision to get the tattoo on her ribs. The quote is placed in between a few of her scars to remind her of the darkness she overcame.

Depression and self harm came from Howley’s memories of sexual assault, she said. Unable to communicate how she felt, Howley said, she felt angry with everyone instead. Then she met James Allen.

Howley’s sun tattoo is a daily reminder to stay positive. Photo by Ling Howley.

When Howley was 13-years-old she attended an international summer camp at Yale University where she studied art and photography. Allen, a 13 year-old from England, was in the same program as Howley. Both were unhappy with their time at camp and became buddies through their frustration.

“I don't go a day without talking to him,” Howley said. “My mom calls him the son she never had, and I honestly don't know where I would be without him.”

Now a bit older, Howley only sees Allen once a year. She will either go to England or he will visit her in the United States. In 2014, Allen surprised Howley with two visits in one year to the states.

Howley planned on getting another tattoo that year, but realized she wanted to get one with Allen when he visited.

He got a moon and she got a sun on the inside of their left arms.

“The sun and moon kind of came naturally because we balance each other out like they do,” Howley said. “I won't go into his own struggles, but I think the moon symbolizes, for him, light coming out of even the darkest places, like there's always hope. Plus, even when the moon is coming out in England and the sun is coming up in D.C., we're still best friends even when we're an ocean apart.”

kpappas@theeagleonline.com


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