For many DC residents, tattoos have been a way of celebrating the good, and honoring the hardships, that came out of 2020’s turbulence. From stick-and-pokes done by romantic partners to full-color sleeves, here’s a look at some of the body art locals acquired during the pandemic—and the stories behind the ink.
Kate Yeager, Glover Park
Kate Yeager kicked off the pandemic with a new tattoo. The 24 year-old has since acquired two more.
In March 2020, Yeager got inked with a rose in honor of her maternal grandfather, who always sent her the flower on her birthday. Also, Yeager also worked on the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign, and the rose is the flower of the Democratic Socialists of America. Her other pandemic tattoos are related to family—she has the word “six” tattooed on her arm, in memory of her paternal grandfather who passed away in March 2021 (it’s a nickname they called one another).
Her other tattoo is a bouquet of flowers on her back, each blossom representing a family member’s birth month:“I’m definitely very close with my family. And I thought, getting the tattoo on my back, you know, it’s like family always has your back.”
Cody Eickmeyer, Cleveland Park
Eickmeyer, an DC public school elementary teacher, got his pandemic tattoo just a few weeks ago. It depicts his puppy Bean, who he adopted with his girlfriend at the beginning of the pandemic.
“She was super important to us and got us out of the house and kind of got us through the year,” he says. Bean made frequent appearances in the background of Eickmeyer’s zoom classes—and one student in his second-grade class drew the pup every day. Eickmeyer used one of those drawings for a tat on his left arm—the arm with which he holds Bean’s leash.
“I feel like we don’t get a lot of opportunities to designate important milestones in our life, good or bad,” Eickmeyer says. “I felt like, if not this then what?”
Olivia Lanham, Arlington
Olivia Lanham, a 25-year-old federal contractor who lives near Ballston, actually grew up in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia—part of what inspired this mountain range on her torso.
Lanham returned home for a few months after the pandemic began and later took a road trip with friends in fall 2020. After gazing at many mountains, she got her first tattoo in Vegas. She says this is not any specific mountain range, but just a reminder of home.
Lanham says that being back home gave her an appreciation for nature and the traditions of Appalachian culture. “Throughout so much of my young adult life, I was embarrassed to be from back-country roads and so eager to get out. And now that I’m finally in the city, I find myself appreciative of where I grew up,” she says. “My tattoo keeps me grounded.”
MacCallister Higgins, Navy Yard
Higgins, a 29-year-old robotics engineer, got the phrase “social distancing” tattooed in a circle on his leg during what he calls “the bottom of the dregs” of the initial lockdown period.
The artist was none other than his girlfriend, who during the first few months of the pandemic, set out to develop a new skill each month. During her tattoo month, she learned how to do stick-and-poke, a form of tattooing that doesn’t rely on a machine. Why “social distancing?” Higgins and his girlfriend settled on the term because it would help them remember what they had been experiencing.
“I definitely recognize that this last year has been difficult for a lot of people, not just because of the virus but because of social unrest and a whole lot of other things,” he says. “I’m definitely not trying to make light of the situation. But it’s nice to give me a reason to smile when all these terrible things have been going on.”
Alison Waldman, Edgewood
This 33-year-old business owner’s pandemic tattoo was part of a matching set she got with one of her four sisters, Andrea Reynolds, who has been diagnosed with stage four breast cancer.
“It’s the four of us kind of dancing in a circle. It’s the four of us kind of in an eternal hug, holding together. And each of our bodies looks kind of like a droplet,” she says.
The other two sisters plan on getting the tattoo also, although they resisted it when Waldman suggested the idea two years ago. “Then, about six months ago, Andrea said to the four of us, ‘Hey, I think I would be down to do a sisters tattoo, what does everyone else think?’” Waldman says. “And I think, because of her diagnosis, and this kind of grasping on to life, and Carpe Diem, we decided to go forward with it.”
Kevin Blais, Van Ness
Blais, a 29-year-old trade association staffer, got his tattoo of the phrase “E. Pluribus Unum” (“out of many, one”) shortly after being vaccinated. Blais wanted to wait until after Biden’s victory to get it, to celebrate the nation surviving four years under the Trump presidency.
“After January 6 and the pandemic, I take it now as [a] symbol of how fragile the country is and how it’s on all of us to remember at the end of the day, we are one nation,” Blais says. “What happens to the least of us, happens to all.”
Mark Nagib, Southwest DC
Nagib, 37, is the owner of Pink Fox, the cannabis clothing company. His new arm tattoo honors his late business partner, who went by the nickname “Keo.” She died of ovarian cancer in June.
The writing came from a birthday card she’d written for him a few days before she passed. “You just don’t want to forget some things, or how you felt during some things or how you remember things,” he says. “It sucks, right? Like, this person passes away from cancer and you think you have more time with them. So it’s just more about memorializing and trying to have something to latch on to.”
Dave Nyczepir, Shaw
Nyczepir, a 33-year-old reporter, honors his late dog Trixie, who passed away during the pandemic. Trixie actually belonged to his ex-wife, who lives in California. The two have remained friends, and Nyczepir had been planning to visit the dog before the pandemic hit.
“Trixie was a super empathetic dog, probably the most empathetic dog I’ve ever had. She just always knew when you were down, going through a bad time, would find you wherever you were and just kind of cuddle up with you,” he says. “I think just the fact that she was such a sweet dog meant a lot to me… Also, the fact that the relationship ended up not working out. It was sort of a symbol of—not regret—but just kind of looking back fondly on old times.”
Alan Moore, Dunn Loring/Merrifield
Moore, a 31-year-old privacy lawyer, chose to cover his forearm with a full-colored phoenix. In the summer of 2020, he underwent bariatric surgery, and the tat is a way to celebrate his health and weight loss. At the time of the surgery, he was 348 pounds; now, he weighs 206 pounds.
“Looking at all of my medical records since then, and how much everything has improved, I really want some permanent way to remember just how hard I’ve worked and what I’ve accomplished,” he says. “I love the symbolism that we came up with. The phoenix, and the rebirth coming from unfortunate circumstances.”