I truly believe that confidence is the most important thing in the world. As RuPaul says, if you don't love yourself, how the hell are you gonna love anybody else?

But deciding to embrace who you are isn't something you just do once — loving yourself is a journey, not a destination. Since I started at Revelist, I've done emotional work I didn't even know I had to do in order to love myself and my body fully and completely.

But despite all that, there's one body insecurity that I've never been able to shake... until now.

Since I was very young, I have been insecure about my back in a way that I've never confessed to anyone.

back
photo: B Fowler / Revelist

I have acne scarring. I have moles. I have freckles. I have vitiligo, which is more visible on my back than anywhere else on my body. I admit that even in the picture above, I used makeup to cover up the scars and de-pigmented patches that I couldn't stand to have anyone see.

I was 14 when someone called me “bacne” for the first (but not the last) time, and that idea that my imperfect, blemished skin was disgusting and shameful really took its toll.

Up until very recently, I never wore backless dresses or low tank tops. I had long hair for YEARS because I felt like I needed to be able to “cover” this part of me that I disliked so much. I wouldn’t let people touch my back, not even accidentally. I for sure never looked at it in a mirror.

And yes, I used a lot of makeup to hide the things I hated the most.

This insecurity and self-loathing had grown so powerful that it was controlling a lot about who I was and how I existed — what I wore, how I had my hair, how I lived my damn life.

So I decided that it was time for a drastic change.

For over 10 years now, I’ve been tossing around the idea of tattooing my back.

At 21, I wanted to “cover” the scars and spots I’d always been teased about… but as I got older, that changed. I realized that my hypothetical tattoo wasn’t about hiding my “gross” back under something… it would be about reclaiming my sense of self, turning something that had always been a source of pain into something I genuinely love.

This tattoo, I decided, would change the conversation I’d been having about my body my entire life. So, at age 32, I went to work to conquer my biggest body issue once and for all.

I found my artist, Amanda Rodriguez, on Instagram. It took me two weeks to work up the courage to email her for a consultation, but I finally did.

Amanda is the flower queen of Brooklyn, and is currently based at Three Kings in Greenpoint. After looking at her Instagram and website, I knew she was the artist for me.

Real talk: When I walked into the shop for the first time, I was absolutely terrified. Despite wanting my back tattooed for such a long time, finally taking steps to get started was SO SCARY. But Amanda put me at ease right away with her kindness and honesty, two things that are absolutely essential in a tattoo artist, IMO.

Amanda is world famous for her roses, and I like flowers, so roses it was.

Are you surprised that I, “Black Swan”-level control freak that I am, would be chill to the point of a coma over a tattoo that would go on my body forever? Because I was.

Seriously. There were a few depigmented patches and deep scars on my back that I definitely wanted covered, so the design incorporated those. I don’t really do color in my wardrobe, so we kept it grayscale.

Everything else was entirely up to her. I didn't see the finished design until I walked in for my first appointment — and it was perfect.

The entire tattoo took 9.5 hours spread out over two appointments. The first session was the outline, and I will not tell a lie, it hurt like a comprehensive bastard.

Pain is, of course, subjective — but this was four hours of red-hot agony during which I honestly wished I could just leave my body or pass out. I told myself over and over that everything beautiful is worth suffering for, but oh my God, this was SO MUCH SUFFERING.

A week later, and I had gone through the itchiness, scabbiness, and peeling that (glamorously) accompanies a large-scale tattoo, and looked like this — and I stepped into a whole new world.

You may not think you spend a lot of time thinking about your own back, looking at it, or touching it — but believe me, you do. I know this because, once this outline was down, I could no longer avoid doing any of those things.

I had to moisturize my new tattoo and feel the rough acne scars under my fingers.

I had to look in the mirror to make sure the entire thing was healing properly, without silently hating the brown moles and freckles.

I had to touch my back for the first time in my entire life, and allow my back to be touched by others — and it was truly strange. I realized how much I’d been actively avoiding because of my insecurity.

Though not all the aspects of this brave new world were awesome. I quickly realized that being visibly tattooed as a woman means being constantly, exhaustingly on your guard.

photo: Giphy

This is not news to any woman or femme-identifying person in the world ever, but people feel ESPECIALLY entitled to your body when you have tattoos. The first day that my tattoo was visible, a complete stranger stroked her hand down my back ever so lovingly, then looked shocked when I turned around and told her to cram it with walnuts.

People who feel like they can touch you without your consent are an entire other post, but for now, I’ll say — DO NOT stroke, grab, or touch people’s tattoos. It’s fucking weird.

A month later I went in for another session, this time on shading — and the tattoo was finished!

Luckily, shading was a lot better, pain-wise — but I learned a few new things. Everyone knows that tattooing over scars hurts quite a bit more than over “normal” skin, but did you also know that tattooing over vitiligo patches is painful enough to make a grown-ass woman cry?

Because that was a surprise for me.

Once again, Amanda was a wonderful champion who talked to me about Taco Bell, The Presets, and dogs while she shaded my roses and made me feel even more beautiful. Five and a half hours later, I was shaking all over and was slowly going into shock — but my roses were officially done.

It’s been nearly three months now, and this tattoo has changed my entire life.

rose tattoo alle connell
photo: B Fowler / Revelist

I love it.

I couldn’t be happier.

My biggest insecurity has gone from being a mess of emotional pain and spiritual ugliness into something truly beautiful.

I haven't tried to put makeup on my back ONCE since I got it done — and I'm wearing clothes that show my back like you would not believe.

A year ago, I'd have rather DIED than wear a dress that showed this much of my back to a black tie wedding — now, here I am.

This tattoo has taken my biggest insecurity and turned it into something that I LOVE showing off.

rose tattoo back
photo: B Fowler / Revelist

I no longer check to make sure every dress I buy has a high back. I no longer panic if someone gently touches my shoulder blade.

And, while I’m not exactly “over” the years of mocking and self-hatred, this glorious tattoo has at least helped me put it in perspective — far, far away.