The first time I walked into a tattoo shop and saw that iconic image of the Loon with its eyes closed, wings flared and webbed feet reaching for the surface of the water, my heart skipped a beat.
The meaning and symbolism behind this design immediately spoke to me. It depicted everything about myself that I believed was important…freedom from the constraints of my past, the beauty and power of nature and a connection to something bigger than myself.
And it was viewed both as a badge of courage for having survived a traumatic experience in life and a symbol of empowerment that allows someone to use that strength or wisdom in their everyday lives, much like one would with other symbols such as prayer beads or the hamsa.
The loons we hear on quiet summer nights along the shoreline, those incredible birds that fly across oceans and take us back to nature with their haunting song — these creatures became a symbol of life for me.
And just as they fling themselves into the darkness and let it carry them over great distances and over vast expanses of time, I too would be able to cope with what life had thrown at me and use that experience for something greater than myself.
This tattoo immediately became my talisman, bringing hope when my soul felt empty, bringing love when my heart was full of pain, helping me begin to heal from past traumas by allowing me to focus on staying alive one day at a time.
The beauty of the loon is reflected in the simplicity of its design. There are no frills, no distractions — it’s just a beautiful bird on the surface of the water, with nothing to come between you and your connection to it.
That’s why I think this tattoo has become such an iconic image for those who have been traumatized by similar experiences…that simple line drawing lets you know immediately what it symbolizes. It says “I’m here, I’ve survived and now I choose to live”.
The meaning behind this design speaks directly to someone living with a mental illness or injury and allows them a sense of inner peace because they too can see themselves in that bird. They’re not alone anymore.
Although my own personal journey with this tattoo has shifted to a more spiritual one, I can’t tell you how much it means to me as a survivor of sexual assault and intimate partner violence.
Knowing that someone who’s been through something similar sees me and feels connected to what I went through because we both wear the same symbol on our bodies is incredibly empowering. It tells us “I’ve been there too…it wasn’t your fault. It happens every day and now we’re going to turn it around and make things better”.
My hope for anyone considering this tattoo is that it serves as not only an image of physical survival but also emotional resilience. Those are often harder things to achieve than simply staying alive, but they give people back their voices, their strength, their power, their pride.