A search for pictures of people with butterfly tattoos on bmezine.com results in 2,766 images. Trumped only in numbers by the star tattoos category, with Japanese kanji tattoos running a close second, butterflies seem to be the tattoo of choice among women and young girls. The butterfly has always been a popular selection for someone who is getting tattooed for the first time--it's simple, small, colorful, and can be placed anywhere on the body and still look good. Visual imagery aside, if you look deeper into the philosophy you'll realize that the butterfly is also a powerful symbol of freedom and rebirth. Think about it: the creature begins life as a caterpillar, slow, sluggish and unsightly, munching on leaves and only leaving the ground when she finds a tree to climb. Then one day something changes, a force is felt deep inside that urges the caterpillar to retreat from the rest of the world, to hide in a corner and wrap herself in a self-made cocoon. When she emerges, she is transformed into a beautiful, magical being with wings that let her soar above the treetops. What once could only crawl has now learned how to fly, the ugly duckling transformed into a swan.
Perhaps this is not what the majority of girls are thinking about when they enter the tattoo parlor and ask for a butterfly on their ankle. Maybe the fact that butterflies are pretty is good enough for them. But I can't help but acknowledge the process that ordinary caterpillars undergo on their way to becoming their true selves, and compare it to the changes we all go through as we progress through life and up as who we are.
There are some people who want to actually become a butterfly--who wouldn't want the freedom to fly?--and they do so by tattooing life-size wings in the unmistakable colors of black and orange across the width of their backs. Others prefer to detail the butterfly in it's entirety elsewhere on their skin, either as a solitary butterfly who flies alone or in a trail of multiple winged things spiraling up the arms, legs or sides. Although it is thought that the unique colors found in the butterfly's wings are what makes the creature most beautiful, there are many tattoos that feature simply a silhouette of the butterfly's form and are equally as stunning. Either way the mere outline of a butterfly's likeness will always be a popular choice, and will always represent the freedom we find when we grow at last into who we are meant to be.