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4 Things to Consider Before You Get a Tattoo

I've been an online writer for over seven years. My articles often focus on tattoos and tattoo art.

If I Knew Then What I Know Now…

I’m not here to talk you out of it. You already made the choice. That’s cool. I’ve got gobs of tattoos and I love 99% of them, but you never run in to people who want to talk you in to a tattoo or give you good tips about it, they generally just want to talk you out of it. ‘Cause it means you’re a heathen. Don’t try to deny it. (Heathen!)

I had dozens of tattoos planned since I was 13, and if 13-year-old me had her way, my left breast would be a mural of Kurt Cobain’s JagStang with the nipple being artistically worked into the motif as one of the control knobs.

So I waited ‘til I was 20. ‘Cause you’re totally an adult when you are 20, right? Ha! Excuse me while I choke to death on cynical laughter. I’m 30 now and am tattooed in four different places, and if I had them all to do over again, I would definitely change one, possibly two.

1. Consider Your Future Employment.

Jobs? We don’t need no stinkin’ jobs. Yes, your parents probably already had this talk with you, but if you get something where people can see it, they will judge you. We judge everyone we see automatically anyway—having a visible tattoo gives them more ammo. If you are cool with this, by all means, six-inch-wide celtic-knot-barbed-wire armbands are probably still all the rage… somewhere.

You will be limited in your employment choices. You may have to change your method of dress to cover up your gorgeous ink (I imagine a typical 100+ degree summer here in Texas in long sleeves - or in my case - completely opaque tights) or you may not get the job at all.

My husband’s job involves [accidental] interaction with children. Visible tattoos are forbidden.

I got a really good job despite the black, stylized lizard on my right ankle and I’ve only ever gotten positive feedback from the people I help at work - it actually gives us something in common. BUT I’m lucky. You might not be.

2. Placement.

I have perfect, deathly pale, white skin, so I thought my entire body must be a wonderful, creamy palette.


Know what I learned after my first tattoo? The lizard I mentioned on my ankle? I apparently have really really dry skin RIGHT THERE and never noticed before. This means that if I’m not constantly bathed in lotion, said lizard looks grey and cracked (“it puts the lotion on its skin or else its lizard goes dry again”) Most of the time I’m too lazy to keep myself all greased up sooooo… yep, most of the time my awesome lizard looks like crap.

3. Names = NO NO.

I cannot stress this enough: YOU WON’T LOVE HIM/HER FOREVER!! I don’t care if you are together for 5 days and are soul mates, 5 years or FIFTY. I talk to people every day who have just gone through divorces after 20, 30+ years. The person you love today is NOT the person you love tomorrow. I know you don’t believe me, but it’s true.

Angelina though Billy Bob was forever, right?

So I don’t have any name tattoos. But your friend does. You know, the one who works at the Arby’s drive thru? I know she loves “Jose” every time she hands me my order. Even with my own beloved ink, it’s hard not to feel slightly judgmental. It’s an involuntary reaction.

Once again, if 15 year old me had anything to do with it, some part of my anatomy would be branded “A.D.R” Yeah, my husband’s initials are “D.M.B” - you see the problem there?

My parents got divorced after 21 years of marriage. At that time, my dad’s first act of single, adult defiance was getting my name tattooed on his bicep. This is the only time I can see a name being acceptable: your children. Your children will always be your children. That relationship will never change. You might grow estranged at some point, but they will always be yours.

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“A.D.R” and I? Yea, we’re neighbors on Castleville, but eh, that’s it.

Well, that or marry someone with the same initials as you. My ex mother-in-law has her husband’s initials tattooed on her… because they are also HER initials.

4. Will you love it forever?

No really, I mean it.

I have the following things tattooed on me: cats, a lizard, stars, butterflies, yarn, knitting, crocheting and spinning utensils… I will never stop loving cats, butterflies will never stop being pretty, I will always be crafty, “Lizard” will always be the nickname that stuck. There’s really nothing that could be soured for me out of the batch… I say that and tomorrow I will be attacked by bloodthirsty butterflies, my cats will watch from the window laughing gleefully at my demise.

Well, then we get to my left ankle. This one is already a cover up. Yep, I already had one tattoo I regretted (got under bad circumstances, dedicated to two people who broke my heart at an early age… one I ended up married to so you see where that instantly falls apart). I covered it up with a whimsical parade of aliens and a pink robot. This is a then-loving tribute to (and I’m mashing this all together to avoid further explanation) an eh… “cult” that I was part of for four years. Ok, it wasn’t really a cult, but it might as well have been. I hate to say this out loud because it harkens instantly back to what I just said about Kurt Cobain’s guitar and your boyfriend’s name across the back of your neck in super classy ye olde English letters… it had to do with a band.

I even remember at the time TELLING the artist, “It’s ok. Even if I don’t love them later, it will still stand for all the friends I had and all the good times I had.” BULL. Long story short, it ended in a far more unfriendly way than that and now I’m left contemplating limited options. Soooo since I can’t think of a number 5, I will split this out and outline my options in a fake #5.

What to Do If You Get a Bad Tattoo

So you didn’t listen to me and you got a tattoo that turned out crappy or you didn’t like it or you regretted it or whatever, you have three options:

  • Cover-up. Every time you get a cover up, it gets bigger and it gets DARKER. I’m on cover-up #2 on my ankle and it’s already twice as big in places as it was to begin with. Sooo… if I cover it up a third time, it contains so many colors my best option is probably something containing BLACK or NAVY BLUE or BLOOD RED… you know - NON cheerful colors… which defeats my purposes as I WANT cheerful colors. Dark colors, I’ve already mentioned, look like crap on me. The current tattoo is extremely asymmetrically so the third cover up would be HUGE and DARK. Doesn’t really sound appealing.
  • Removal. Lasers are the best option. Most of the other stuff (abrasion, etc) that I’ve researched doesn’t seem to work well and leave you with a lot of scarring. Lasers ‘splode the ink particles and allow them to be reabsorbed by your body. BUT once again, I’m relatively out of luck as bright cheerful colors are some of the most difficult to treat. Even better? The tattoo that cost you a couple of hundred dollars now costs you THOUSANDS to laser and chances are really good it will probably just fade, but not disappear. Unless you are lucky, you will never be completely rid of it.
  • Live with it. Deal with what the tattoo reminds you of. Wear concealing clothes - I wear a lot of trouser socks. I just try NOT to look at my ankle. This isn’t very emotionally satisfying, but it’s probably going to end up being the most cost effective.

So that’s it. That’s all I’ve got.

Give me ten more years and I’ll probably hate all my tattoos… or be completely covered and working as a side-show geek. I guess the whole point is: you are never static. I really doubt we ever even achieve the status of “adults” or “grown ups” if those words mean that we are done changing and have learned all we need to know. We are dynamic. I think that’s the whole point of being alive: growth and change.

So just think. Be careful. Don’t stick something on yourself unless your willing to live with it or foresee a swanky, high paying job in your future so you can get it nuked back off.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.


zeebo on February 03, 2012:

u were in a cult??!?!?!?!?!???? luv ur writin keep it up :D

VengefulArt from Las Vegas on January 08, 2012:

It's very true, a lot of people try to talk you out of a tattoo rather than to give you advise on a good one. My first tattoo was a surprise by my mom. A koi drawn just for me by an artist. I love it to pieces but maybe would have been better in a different place rather than on my lower back. Now my beautiful fish are labeled as a "tramp stamp" when honestly, i just wanted it to be out of plain view.

Dan Green on January 07, 2012:

Hi everybody that's reading this! I'm the "dad" she's talking about...and I'll never forget how she was with me when I got my "Liz" tattoo. I remember the pressure was almost unbearable as the guy was bearing down to put in the shading and hearing him asking Liz, "Do you like this color?" and Liz was, like, "Ooh, yeah, that's a pretty color."

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