Professors Have Style Stories Too: Rowan University Professor Stephanie Nichols

Stephanie Marie Nichols is a 33-year-old professor at Rowan University. Her many responsibilities include Costume Shop Supervisor in the Department of Theatre and Dance, and Professor of the courses Costume Design, Costume Production, and Costume History. I met Nichols when I first applied for a campus job as Costume Shop Assistant, and now I see her three times a week in the shop where I work, making costumes for theatre productions under her direction. Even though I had seen one of Nichols’s tattoos on occasion, I never knew the compelling tail behind it, nor did I know she had more than one tattoo. This week, I got the privilege to interview Nichols for Your Style Stories, where she is now revealing her very own style story.

Courtesy of Stephanie Nichols

 Q: How many tattoos do you have?

A: I currently have two. One on the side of my upper left thigh and one between my breasts.

Q: When did you get them?

A: The one on my thigh i got when I was a Freshman in college, and the one between my breasts I got when I was a Sophomore in college.

Q: Why did you get these tattoos, what do they mean to you?

A:The one on my upper thigh was a rite of passage that I chose for myself. When I was in high school I read a couple of the books by Jean Auel in the “Clan of the Cave Bear” series. Ayla was the main character [of these books] and she was this exciting young woman who overcame these huge challenges; she was lost by her own people, and she was adopted by these other people, and she was attacked by a lion but survived and she was left with a huge claw mark about the length of her thigh. My little claw marks are only about four inches long but they are the four claw marks [like Ayla]. And so when Ayla ends up with these new people, they have to choose a totem for her. The shaman decides Ayla’s totem animal is the lion. The people are shocked because the lion is the second strongest totem besides the bear. Also one [important] aspect of the lion totem in the book is that those who have it are strong and powerful and they also are able to overcome strong adversity.

[Nichol’s voice begins to become choked by tears]

So how this relates to me… I had a really shitty childhood, especially high school. High school was horrible. But I did very well academically. But I went to a high school with a very shitty program except for English lit. English lit was our best so that’s where I excelled because that’s where I was nurtured most. When I applied to college I got into Scripp’s Woman’s College, a private woman’s college. Tuition was about 25 grand a year at the time. I got a massive scholarship, almost a full ride. When people found out, they were like, “That’s really cool but you won’t make it. You’re a girl from a crappy high school. How are you going to survive that academically?” But I finished my first semester with very good grades, except for one B.

[Nichols chuckles at the memory]

 I told myself that if I survived my first semester and I did very well (chokes up remembering the girl she was at 18), it was a really big deal to me and I was very proud of myself.  So my boyfriend at the time, Oscar, he went with me, I didn’t have a sketch or anything, to this really sketchy tattoo parlor out in Claremont, California and I told this big burly Mexican guy what I wanted and if he could do it [the claw mark tattoo] for 20 dollars. He said “oh sure” and started drawing the four lines. I intended it to be in black because I just like simplicity, but he did it in like a bright bloody red. By the time he was half way done with it, I was like well I guess it’s going to be red (laughs). And so til this day it’s a bright blood-red. Anyhow it was my way of saying I have overcome. I’ve made it this far and, God damn it, I’m going to be independent and go as far as I want to. I’d made it through up to that point and fortunately I had a huge scholarship because I had no financial support what so ever. My dad had said that he would give me 600 dollars for books, which is like nothing, and he did not so I applied for my first credit card at age 18 and I put it all on that. He eventually paid me back, but I had to go into credit card debt first. From then on I was also financially independent from my parents. I went back home and stayed at my mom’s house over the winter break and she made me pay rent when I was 18 years old. So I never went back there obviously. So the point is, make of the lion totem tattoo, huge rite of passage for me.

Claw Mark Tattoo Courtesy of Stephanie Nichols

 Q: What about the second tattoo?

 

A: Oscar, my then boyfriend, my first love, he still has a very special place in my heart, Oscar had given me this necklace. It was a very crudely cut metal piece and it had a loop at the top that was attached to a leather thong that went around my neck and it was the Norse symbol for balance. [At the time] I had a breast lump that was growing and it was about the size of a grape by the end of first semester of my second year of college, and you could feel it, I would let people and they would be like “wow that sucker’s huge!” And no, it wasn’t cancerous in case that’s what you were wondering. 

[She smiles warmly]

 But I had it checked out and they did a biopsy and there were no cancer cells but it was growing to the point where it was getting painful. So the doctors were like ok, we’ll have you undergo surgery and have that taken out. I didn’t realize I would have to take off all my jewelry [when I went in for surgery], we were fumbling with the tie on the leather thong and they just cut it off of me.

After the surgery I’d been carrying it around in my purse for a few months. My cousin Kristin who’s one of my best friends in the world who I grew up with, she and I were hanging out and we were talking about tattoos and I was like “I want to just get [the Norse symbol] tattooed on” and I was like “come on let’s do it.” It was totally spur of the moment and within an hour we were at another shady tattoo shop and again I only had the [symbol] with me and I just told the guy I want you to draw this, exactly this size, I want you to put it right between my breasts. And he was like “well you know when your breast sag, it’ll sag.” I was like yes, I am ok with that, I think that’s awesome in a way because it’s going to be at the center of my body and it’s a reminder that I need to always seek balance in life because I tend to work too hard, I tend to push myself too hard, and I need to find those moments when I can sit back and say ok I’ve come this far, give yourself a frickin’ break, girl. It’s a reminder for me to seek balance in life and in everything.

Anyhow, it was the same kind of shady deal [as the last tattoo], I think I only paid 15 dollars for this one. He didn’t even draw it on me, he just kind of drew it and fortunately it was sort of balanced. Over the years, you know, I’ve had 14 years for my body to start changing and already it’s slightly crooked and it doesn’t bother me. I think that’s awesome in a way because it points toward how much of life is ahead.

So, obviously the one between my breasts wasn’t so much a rite of passage as the other one, but it’s a reminder to myself to look to the future. And even though my relationship with Oscar ended eventually, it makes me really happy that I still have this little thing that reminds me of him. So I still carry around a little piece of Oscar… between my boobs.

[Nichols and I both laugh at her description]

Norse Symbol Tattoo Courtesy of Stephanie Nichols

 Q: If you had to choose, which tattoo would you say is your favorite and why?

A: Hmmm… yeah I think the first one. I mean they both mean a lot to me, but the first one was huge. I’m a big believer in rites of passage. That [tattoo] was my rite of passage from poor white trash girl who spoke with a Mexican accent because she grew up in a poor Mexican neighborhood, with a terrible education program, to this prestigious private woman’s college student… and who kicked ass my first semester (smiles).

Q: What do you think you will tell your children if they want to get a tattoo some day?

A: Can I help you design it? So that it really means something and so that it is something that will help carry you through life and it isn’t something that you’ll regret. My husband and I are actually trying to start a family soon and I’m very biased, I want to have a girl. I want to have a girl so I can raise a strong independent woman who’s not afraid of anything because that’s not what I got, I was afraid of everything.  And [I’ll tell her] if you want to get a tattoo, make it mean something.

Update About Abbie’s Tattoo Pictures

Hey there readers, I’ve gotten a request about pictures of my roommate Abbie’s tattoos. Don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten. They will be up soon. I didn’t get them when I posted the original post because she was in a rush for work. She and I have been playing tag the last few days, we’re very elusive to each other during the week. It’s kind of like a Big Foot sighting when we run into each other (surprise!). None the less, Abbie knows I need pictures of her tattoo so posts to come. In the mean time here are some more of Shane’s tattoos that I mentioned in my last post.

Shane's Picture Tattoo

Courtesy Of Shane Scherholz

Shane's Film Camera

Courtesy of Shane Scherholz

Stamps Of Survival: Stories Of Overcoming Illnesses And The Tattoos They Inspired.

One day Sue Pustay, a 57-year-old mother of three from Hamilton, New Jersey, decided to get a tattoo. However, this was not going to be just any tattoo, this tattoo was going to be a permanent mark of Pustay’s strength and triumph over the scariest and most trying and experience of her life.

 Ten years ago, Pustay was diagnosed with stage-two breast cancer in her right breast. She underwent a mastectomy, in which the full breast was removed, in order to sever the cancer from her body and save her life. After her surgery and then a six month chemotherapy treatment, Pustay decided not to get her amputated breast reconstructed at that time. Pustay was eager to get back to her normal life, back home, and back to being a wife as well as mother to her two young sons and young daughter.

It was not until seven years later that Pustay decided she was ready to undergo reconstruction in her right breast. Rather than have a nipple tattooed on her new breast, however, Pustay chose a more unique and personal tatoo.

“I wanted my own little survivor statement. Something pretty,” recalls Pustay.

She found a tattoo artist who tattoos 3D nipples, as well as other breast cancer related tattoos, who came to Pustay’s doctor’s office where she had her reconstruction done to create the personal tattoo . Sue now has an original design of a pink ribbon, the symbol of hope for breast cancer research, with a flowered vine stretched across the scar on her right breast.

“One of these days, after I’ve had a full life and I’m dead on a table, they’ll see my tattoo and know that I’m a survivor,” Pustay says, “It doesn’t remind me that I had cancer, it reminds me that I’m still here.”

Pustay was able to get back something that was taken from her and gained a new outlook on life from her experience and her tattoo. But a few towns over, another New Jersey native almost lost something that would have changed his life forever.

Shane Scherholz from New Egypt, New Jersey is a 22-year-old film student at Temple University. Scherholz has a passionate eye for film, but it was not long ago that both of his eyes were nearly rendered useless.

In 2010, Scherholz was diagnosed with an auto-immune disease that affected his vision and his doctors told him that he would go completely blind within months. The devastated young film student had to go on a steroid regiment, wear thick glasses that offered little help, and get a special phone with larger buttons and screen characters. 

“No one who hasn’t been through what I had can understand what it’s like to wake up one morning and not be able to see,” Scherholz recalls.

Just when Scherholz’s vision was at its worst and predicted to continue to deteriorate, the illness began to reverse and his vision returned to normal in a few months. Scherholz considers himself very lucky and so he felt compelled to have two tattoos inked onto his then un-tattooed body. The first tattoo is on the back of his left calf, which are song lyrics from “Given Flight By Demon’s Wings” by the band Shai Hulud which read “I am not simply strong.” Scherholz felt these lyrics sum up how much it took for him to push through his experience. His second tattoo is on his right forearm which bears the date of his diagnosis, April 14, 2010, in Roman numerals. 

“It’s something I can say I overcame every day,” Scherholz says about his second tattoo. Since his first tattoos, Scherholz now has a love of them and has six tattoos to date.

Courtesy of Shane Scherholz

courtesy of Shane Scherholz

Abbie’s Inked Up Music and Legend Inspired Body Art

My very first style story comes from my very own roommate Abigail Bintliff who is a big fan of tattoos.
Abbie has four tattoos on her body including on her wrist, foot, ribs, and the back of her arms. Most of her tattoos are quotes inspired by her favorite band, Circa Survive, and her favorite book, “The Outsiders.”
While her favorite tattoo is a cherry blossom branch on her ribs containing the song title “Close your eyes to see” by Cira Survive, the melting wings on the backs of her upper arms hold a special place in her heart. Abbie says the wings are inspired by the mythical story of Icarus; a mythical Greek story about a young man who sought to escape from Crete with his father by means of hand crafted wax and feather wings. The story goes on to say that Icarus’s wings melted when he flew too close to the sun, despite his father’s warning, and he fell into the ocean.
Images of Abbie’s tattoos are soon to follow!