I have the words “Stay Beautiful” tattooed across my right shoulder. You wouldn’t believe the number of times in a day that someone asks me what it says (part of it is usually covered by my clothes). People are curious about tattoos. I get it. There’s no harm in asking.
When I reply “Stay Beautiful”, nine times out of ten I usually hear something along the lines of “Oh hunny, with a face like yours I don’t think you have to worry about that.”
And in all honestly it actually really bothered me. Yes I always thanked them for their compliment, but they were missing the whole message. It wasn’t just for me, it was for everyone. It was sad to me that the majority of people assumed, based on my appearance, that my ego must want external validation on my looks.
In truth, this tattoo actually means something quite different. So I’ll share with you why these two words meant so much to me that I chose to have them painfully marked on my skin till the end of my days on this Earth. To give you an understanding, I’ll share a little story with you.
At eighteen years old I went through quite the intense transition. Like a lot of youth I didn’t know which path to take after High School. I won a scholarship to my local college so I gave it a shot and enrolled in full time university transfer courses.
After three months I felt nothing. No bliss. No excitement. Nothing interested me. I was a gifted academic student but I felt no desire to try at all. I only felt confusion and anxiety. I felt deep down that I needed to explore myself before committing to any post secondary education. I knew I shouldn’t be there purely out of obligation because it was free.
On a whim I dropped out, spent all my savings on a ticket to Thailand, and started planning my trip with two of my girlfriends. I had NEVER done anything this extreme before (my mom was worried to say the least- thankfully she also let me do my thing)! Three small town girls, with no “life experience”, didn’t sound like the safest combination to fly solo for six weeks. But we weren’t completely crazy, we decided to go with an adventure backpacking tour for youth our age that included everything and traveled in a group.
What I didn’t know was that this would be the best decision of my life up until that point. On this trip I met a friend that inspired me deeply. His name was Ben. He was one of our tour guides. I remember our playful friendship blossoming over four weeks as we connected and talked about life philosophy. I had lost my dad to cancer two years prior to this trip and I felt like Ben was a safe space to help me heal some of the pain that I was still working through. He had such a contagious wonderful view of the world and he always pushed me to grow past my comfort zone.
One night in particular I remember vividly. We were staying on floating bungalows in the middle of nowhere on Khao Sok National Park lake. It took us three hours by boat to get to this paradise and the only trace of society was the dock we were staying on. It was past midnight on the secluded dock, it was just the two of us, and we lay there looking up at the vast Universe. In awe, our conversation turned to life, death, and the point of it all. We both knew in that moment that life was such a gift. We were blessed to be able to experience such beauty. He gave me some good old life advice that I’ve never forgotten.
He told me life is about doing what makes you happy. It sounded so simple, but so many of us get trapped doing things we don’t like. It stuck with me. Up until that point I had felt so confused because I had wanted to make others happy. I thought there was a certain path I “should” follow. You know the one- go to school, get a job, get married, have kids (there’s nothing wrong with that path if it makes YOU happy, but it didn’t feel right to me.).
Instead he told me,“See the world while you’re young, meet new people, try new things, continue to learn anything that interests you, and make sure along the way you have as much fun as possible! That is the key to feeling fulfilled and discovering your passions.” Now that resonated so much more with me!
He said to make sure that if an opportunity of a lifetime presented itself then you go for it because you never know if that opportunity will ever come again.
“We are never guaranteed tomorrow. So live your life in the present moment.”
He told me that if you live this way then you will always “stay beautiful” just as you are. You will find bliss, joy and freedom in your life.
These two words stuck in our friendship. When we got back to Canada that became our sign off for each text or message sent to each other. It reminded me to not lose the childlike joy, wonder, and curiosity I felt about life in that moment on the dock. These words meant to me to see life as a gift, filled with an abundance of possibility, no matter how difficult things sometimes got. It reminded me that true beauty comes from our courage to live life our own way.
Four and a half years after I met this bright soul, he tragically lost his life in a cliff jumping accident. As a professional traveler, he had jumped hundreds of cliffs all across the globe. He was back on home soil, not out in the “dangerous scary world”. It just goes to show you can’t live your life in fear, because when it’s your time you have no control.
He is missed dearly, but everyone who met him also knew he lived a crazy full passionate life that inspired others, and wasn’t filled with regrets.
In tribute to Ben and as a reminder that life is precious, I wrote our mantra on me forever.
To me staying beautiful means living authentically from your heart and with love. It means being true to yourself even when ego or society tries to stray you from your path.
I mentioned earlier that it used to bother me when people thought “Stay Beautiful” meant something about the way I looked. But now I take it as an opportunity to be vulnerable with strangers, tell them my story if the time is right, and confront them with the fact that tattoos are a form of self-expression and often come with a very deep and personal story.
Next time you are tempted to judge someone or make assumptions about their body art, I challenge you to show compassion and see the human being behind their skin. Remember that it’s their own unique way of living their life and sharing pieces of their story with the world.
Header Image by Prairie Ranger Photography
PS. Do you have a story you want to share that’s help changed who you are? I’d love to give you the space on this platform to express your voice. Please reach out!