UB Ink: A student's tattoo story

Sarah Bienstock explains the history and emotion behind her ink


Sarah Bienstock represents her vulnerable side in the artwork on her arms, back, legs and ribs. 

Every drawing has a secret meaning that reminds her of the chapters of her life. 

Bienstock, a senior psychology major, was 20 years old when she got her first tattoo in 2014. The two-part tattoo spans from her rib cage to her midleg on her right side. The first part consists of an anchor surrounded by a music staff, with the anchor representing her grandfather. The music notes to Christina Aguilera’s “Beautiful” appear on the staff. Bienstock said it was “the first song that ever made [her] feel beautiful.” 

Right beneath the anchor is the second part of the tattoo. Teardrops and delicate lilacs accompany a lotus flower. Lilacs are her grandmother’s favorite flower, with the flower and tears representing the pain and beauty of life.

“In your life there will always be sadness, but in sadness, you can always find peace,” Bienstock said.

Bienstock said she had to find peace in her own struggles throughout life, dealing with unwanted sexual experiences and mental illness.  

Her doctors told her she would struggle to live happily due to anxiety, depression, ADHD and OCD. She said she mostly stayed in bed during the summer of 2016.  

Bienstock said one day a rush came over her and she thought, ‘What the hell are you doing with your life?’ She got out of her bed, cleaned her room and decided she was going to “take opportunities and have fun.” 

Bienstock drove from New York back home to Maryland where her trusted tattoo artist stamped the word “Unbroken” on her lower wrist.  

“This is me saying that I am still here and I’m not leaving, I am unbroken,” Bienstock said. 

Bienstock said the experience helped shape her life and made her acknowledge the people in it. She said the importance of living for others instead of herself has become one of her driving principals.

One of her most visible tattoos is located on her wrist. The picture shows a candle with a flame surrounded by columns. The Hebrew word for “remember” is written underneath.

The tattoo was inspired by a trip she took to Israel. 

After visiting Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center in Israel, Bienstock could not hide the fact she is “living for six million lives.” She said she wants people to walk down the street and see that tattoo so she can inspire them. 

“Everyone should be living for themselves, but if you live only for yourself, you are not helping other people,” Bienstock said.

She wants people to know her tattoos are about expression, and thinks they’re a link between “curiosity and understanding” to achieve mutual understanding with others. 

Bienstock said getting a tattoo is “exactly how life is … painful at first, but then a beautiful piece of expression afterwards.” 

“Showing or not showing, each and every one of my tattoos tells its own story.”

Bienstock has eight tattoos and plans on getting more. 

“Any way that you want to express yourself, do it,” Bienstock said. “But don’t feel like one way is the only way that you have to express yourself. [Tattoos are] just my way.” 

Jordanna Chazan is a staff writer and can be reached at features@ubspectrum.com.