Long before that first needle touched her skin, Emily Parker was obsessed with tattoos.
It kind of makes people unique, that they put something that they really like on their body, she said. And its amazing to see them age.
Growing up, most of Parkers friends were older and were getting tattoos. It made her even more determined to get ink of her own.
When she turned 13, Parker started begging her mother, Jane Smith, for permission to get one.
Initially, Smith was against the idea. It wasnt the prospect of her little girl having a tattoo that concerned her, as Smith has a few of her own. Rather, it was her daughter's young age that made her object.
Ultimately, she caved.
Smith knew that when her daughter decides she wants something, she finds a way to get it no matter what. She was convinced it was better to be involved in the decision than to risk having her daughter rebel and get one secretly.
I thought, instead of a stranger or someone elses mother going and sitting there while she gets it done without my approval that I would just approve this and go and sit and make sure it was done safely.
Smith told her daughter that if she were to get something, to make sure it was something she would want forever. Parker chose Tweety Bird, the Looney Tunes character, which she got done on her shoulder blade.
I thought I was, like, the coolest person ever, because I got a tattoo, Parker recalled.
She wasnt sure what to expect but said it didnt hurt as much as she thought it would. The shoulder blade, she added, was a great location for what would be the first of many tattoos.
Although the original ink came early in her teen years, Parker waited until high school before getting her second; from there, they kept coming.
Theyre just so addicting, said Parker, now 32. Its really pain therapy.
While some of Parkers tattoos have special meaning, many of them she got on impulse things she was just feeling in the moment.
When deciding what to get for a tattoo, she often goes for what people will recognize. Its why her arm sleeve is Alice in Wonderland themed.
A lot of people will come up to me and be like, 'oh, you must really love Alice in Wonderland,' she said. No, its just something that everybody recognizes. Its very colourful, and thats exactly what I wanted.
Despite the recognizability of her tattoos, Parker said they still make her stand out.
I was in the colour run a few years ago, and there was a little girl, she said. She must have seen me at the race, because we went to McDonalds afterwards, and she was like theres the girl with the Mad Hatter tattoo!
A new way Parker wants to stand out is by dominating Inked Magazines cover girl competition. If she wins, shell be on the publication's cover and will take home $25,000.
I wanted to get out of my comfort zone, said Parker. I wanted to grab 2021 by the reins, and really feel good about myself.
When she started the competition, she had 19 tattoos. Shes up to 21, now, thanks to a few stick-and-pokes given to her by a friend.
In Parkers group of competitors, she made it past the first two rounds of voting and currently sits in the top 10. Voting for the top five in each group ends Feb. 11.
Making it past the first two rounds of voting, she said, has been amazing. Her mother and her boyfriend have been helping get the word out. Her co-workers at Wee Wonderz in Summerside have been one of many people supporting her and cheering her on.
Parker tries to keep weekends to herself, but still gets messages from people, letting her know theyve voted.
Smith, who has voted every day, has been encouraging her co-workers to vote, as well.
Shes got a lot of support behind her, said Smith. Im proud of her, whether she wins or she doesnt.
Parkers boyfriend has also been keeping her spirits up when she starts commenting on how beautiful her competitors and their tattoos are.
Hes like you got this! and just keeps making me feel really good about myself.
Ultimately, Parker said that shed be content just making it into the top five in her group.
She also hopes that by putting herself out there, when she didnt feel confident enough to do so last year, shell have inspired women to be comfortable in their own skins.
I feel like I love myself, now, she said. So Im hoping that people see me getting out of my comfort zone, that other people will feel comfortable to do it, too.
Kristin Gardiner is the Journal Pioneer's rural reporter.
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