The Real Meaning Behind Kehlani's Tattoos

R&B singer Kehlani (full name Kehlani Ashley Parrish) made headlines in late May 2020 after a tiff with singer Lana Del Ray. In a controversial Instagram post that many have called "racist" for singling out women of color, Del Ray discussed her perceived double-standard when it comes to the music industry. 

"Question for the culture," Del Rey wrote. "Now that Doja Cat, Ariana, Camila, Cardi B, Kehlani and Nicki Minaj and Beyoncé have had number ones with songs about being sexy, wearing no clothes, f***ing, cheating, etc — can I please go back to singing about being embodied, feeling beautiful by being in love even if the relationship is not perfect, or dancing for money — or whatever i want — without being crucified or saying that I'm glamorizing abuse???????"

Some felt that the post fed into "the ways that Black and Latinx women have been stereotyped and hypersexualized by racists for centuries," per The TempestThat being said, this isn't the first time that Kehlani has been seemingly misunderstood or made out to be something that she doesn't identify with. The singer's numerous tattoos, which are deeply personal to her, have been judged and misinterpreted in the past. 

Kehlani's tattoos are personal for her

In an interview with The Guardian in May 2020, the "Nights Like This" singer explained how her body art has been falsely scrutinized.  "A lot of people think I'm a rapper," she said, noting her face ink. "Or that I'm 'F**k this and f**k that', and as 'F**k this' as I can be, I'm pretty sensitive."

Her sensitivity and sentimental side is obvious when you take a closer look at what her tattoos really mean. Among her tattoos — which cover her arms and decorate her face among other places — are a "paper plane on her cheekbone, four dots under her eyes, and Espíritu Libre." While Kehlani's interpretation of the first two tattoos are unknown, Espíritu Libre, which is inked on her temple, means "Free Spirit."

During her interview with The Guardian, the singer touched one piece of ink that means a lot to her. The location? Her leg. The art? Her father. Kehlani's father died when she was just one years old. While she didn't really get to know him in person, Kehlani said that many who knew him have "pointed out their similarities." Now that she herself is a mother, she feels an even deeper connection with her father. 

"I spent my whole life hearing about this mystery man that I didn't get to grow up with and then when I became a parent something just clicked," she said. "I felt the presence of my father a lot around me."

Kehlani's neck is full of meaningful art

On her neck, Kehlani sports more ink that's reflective of her experiences. In 2016, she got the Spanish phrase "perdida y encontrada," which translates to "lost and found," inked on the right side of her neck. In a 2016 interview with Power 106 Los Angeles, she said that getting the tattoo was a "therapeutic thing for [her]," explaining, "I think it's more of a reminder that if I do get lost again, you know what I'm saying, I can always find myself." 

The artist also has a "large Om symbol" tattooed at the base of her throat along with the English word "fluid" underneath written in a "typewriter font," per Teen Vogue. According the outlet, the "latter refers to her sexual orientation," which she has previously described as fluid. "i'm queer. not bi, not straight. i'm attracted to women, men, REALLY attracted to queer men, non binary people, intersex people, trans people. lil poly pansexual papi hello good morning. does that answer your questions?" Kehlani posted in a since-deleted tweet, according to The Fader.

While the cultural symbol and Sanskrit word "Om" could hold a different meaning for Lani, it traditionally signifies spirituality and connection to the divine through vocals, which would make sense, considering Kehlani is a singer. The word is a religious mantra for Hindus and Buddhists, who let it vibrate in their throats at they worship or meditate. 

Kehlani's hands are the windows to her soul

They say your eyes are the windows to your soul, but for Kehlani, much of her soul is actually tatted on her hands. The location of her first tattoo, which she got at the age of 16, is on the knuckles of both of her hands. Spread across her ten fingers are, "HAVE HOPE" in capital letters. "I got them done at the park. My best friend, who I call my sister, was moving away and I said 'tatt me!'" she told The Fader in 2015. 

She has since added to her original tattoo with accompanying signs on her knuckles. According to Teen Vogue, on her left hand, the R&B singer has "an arrow, an anchor, a Venus sign, and a number (510) tatted on her fingers." Switch over the right hand, and you'll notice "a peace sign, a triangle, a Mickey Mouse rendition, and a heart." 

On the side of her right hand, she also has a tattoo that reads "La Dreamer," which signifies a memory from her childhood in foster care. "I met a little girl in a foster care placement, and I was only there for two weeks but her story stuck with me my whole life. I told her 'Yo, I'm about to get your nickname tatted,'" she told The Fader in 2016.

Kehlani has gotten some cover-ups and alterations

Her left hand, which is now covered with a lotus, used to have "WOKE" inked onto it, according to Teen Vogue. However, in January 2018, she showed her cover-up flower to the world, explaining in a since-deleted Instagram post (via Teen Vogue) that she made the change because she didn't like that her "hand would speak for [her] before [she] even got a chance to open [her] mouth."

On the singer's right shoulder blade, she used to have a simple yellow-and-green sunflower tattoo. She added to it in October 2019 with a black-and-white shaded baby arm with a bracelet engraved with "Adeya," her daughter's name, per Teen Vogue. The baby's hand is jutting out toward her chest and has planets suspended from strings tied to the tips of its fingers. While, as of this writing, she hasn't publicly shared the meaning behind the tattoo, we can only guess that it holds a very deep meaning to her as a mother.

One month later, in November 2019, the artist also enhanced her sunflower tattoo with a bigger, more intricate, and more colorful version of the same flower. 

A collection of powerful words

Scattered across Kehlani's body are many more tattoos, some of which we still haven't been told the meaning. That being said, some of the singer's ink seems to be pretty explanatory, considering they're words or phrases that seemingly reflect her personal life. On her ribs is an Arabic phrase that roughly translates to "forgive yourself," according to Teen Vogue

The celeb has the word "tsunami" inked on her lower abdomen right below her belly button, and it's one that reflects her singing career and loyal fanbase. "Well, pretty much [tsunami] started out as a nickname because were calling me, like, the wavy baby," she explained in a 2015 interview with Global Grind TV. Indeed, her fanbase is often referred to as the "Tsunami Mob." 

And on her back — which is surprisingly bare for someone who has intricate tattoos lining much of her body — is a simple phrase that caught steam years ago with Kelly Clarkson's famous song "Stronger". Tattooed between Lani's shoulder blades is the traditional version of the saying, "That which does not kill us, makes us stronger," per Teen Vogue.

Kehlani pays homage to other artists on her body

On Kehlani's left arm — below her sunflower tattoo that spans her left shoulder and shoulder blade — the words "Come As You Are" are inked above a portrait of American singer and rapper Lauryn Hill, according to Teen Vogue. Below her elbow on the same arm is a tattoo of Mexican painter Frida Kahlo in "a Día de los Muertos-inspired style," per the outlet.

In a 2016 interview with Latina (via Teen Vogue), Kehlani delved into her decision to get not one, but two portraits on her arm. "Frida inspired my personality, my strength, and my artistic side and looking at the Lauryn cover reminds me to stay focused and try to make a great album," she said. 

The same arm is scattered with many more pieces of art, including a traditional "Tāmoko" tattoo that pays homage to the Maori people, or the indigenous people of New Zealand. She explained her choice in a since-deleted Instagram post (via Mai FM), writing that the piece represents her "whānau/family, 6 koru representing my 4 siblings here on earth and the 2 that have transferred into the next life. 2 mangopare/hammerhead sharks representing guidance and strength through adversity and tribulation." 

"Lastly paying tribute to my ancestors , our land, air and sea," she added. Kehlani also thanked the artist, who was from New Zealand and flew overseas to tattoo her. "May my body continue to be a vessel."