I got my first tattoo the day I turned 18. As a freshman Fashion Business student in college, I chose to get a hanger tattoo as a simple symbol to express my love for clothing and the fashion industry. I thought the message was very clear: I love fashion. Others found a different meaning with my tattoo. More often than not, I was asked if I got a hanger tattooed on me 'because of abortion'. At the time, those questions frustrated me but I laughed it off and explained how it was a symbol for the career path I've chosen for myself. As someone who grew up in a sheltered suburban environment, little did I know that the hanger has long been a symbol of the reproductive justice movement.
I may have laughed it off, but over time I became annoyed, wondering why so many people had to associate my special, meaningful tattoo with abortions. I didn't understand back then, but it wasn't just about abortions, it was about reproductive rights. Now at 21 years old, I have changed. I am thankfully not the same person I was when I was 18. I have strayed away from the harmful fashion industry and taken a leap into the ethical apparel industry. I am a feminist. I know the significance of the wire hanger to my culture as a woman, and I recognize the symbol and what it means to the women who came before me.
As of late, the upcoming election results and current political climate has shown that women's rights, especially reproductive rights, are not being considered. With the constant attacks against the ACA and Planned Parenthood, hundreds of thousands of women will be left without affordable health care and easy access to birth control. Prior to the Roe vs. Wade decision in 1973, illegal or self-induced procedures (usually with the assistance of a wire hanger, among other things) accounted for an estimated 5,000 deaths in the U.S. each year for women annually (The Atlantic). And even in the age of illegal abortions, women still had abortions. Making something illegal doesn't make it disappear. It is important that women have safe access to abortions and easy access to birth control. Once I became an environmentalist, I learned to not be afraid to stand up for what I believe in. Not only am I dedicating my life to protecting the environment, but I am dedicating my life to protect my rights as a woman, and the rights of the self-identifying women around me. My tattoo doesn't just represent my career path, but it now reflects my moral views as well. I am no longer annoyed but honored to have a tattoo that symbolizes feminism and reproductive justice at its core.
I am fortunate enough to be able to say my tattoo has grown with me. I know better now. I am an educated young woman who has a lot of fight in her, and I'm grateful to have such an important symbol engraved into my skin forever. Tomorrow, I start my journey to the Women's March on Washington on January 21st and will proudly hold my left fisted arm, hanger tattoo and all, high in solidarity to all women everywhere.
Here are a few articles to read up on the connection between wire hangers and women's reproductive rights:
- The Atlantic - The Wire Hanger's Flexible Symbolism
- DC Abortion Fund - The Coat Hanger as a Symbol, and Why Abortion Access Matters