How to Tattoo Without Regret & Avoid Permanent Mistakes
Tattoo Without Regret
I have a lot of tattoos: Some I absolutely love and one or two that I downright regret.
If I could somehow travel back in time and tell my 26-year-old un-inked self what I know now, I would look a lot different today. Don't get me wrong—I would still have tons of tattoos, I just would have done things differently. More thinking to go with the inking.
So with that in mind, I am sharing the wisdom that can only come from being a tattooed mama to help future tattoo aficionados get one they will never regret.
The Ten Commandments of Tattoos
I think most things can be pared down to a list of ten. (Hey— it worked for the commandments, so why not tattoos?) Most people can hang onto ten thoughts in their head, and those who can't usually have a cool smart phone to remember for them.
1. Never get tattooed on a whim.
I'll say it again: Think before you ink. You'd think this would be common sense, but you would be surprised at the number of people who have ridiculous tattoos on their hip or bicep that have absolutely no reason other than, "my friends were getting one and I wanted to get one, too." Ink for the sake of ink is ridiculous. It's not like buying a trendy sweater, it's for life... or at least until you can afford to have it lasered off. To tattoo without regret, you have to use your brain a little first.
2. Never get a cartoon character.
Seriously, a "Tigger" tattoo is never a good idea, one you're certain to regret. I know these are some harsh words, but I have seen so many bad tattoos I need to make this clear. No matter how much meaning you think a cartoon character has to you now, rest assured you won't feel the same way in ten years. When you get an image tattooed on your body for life, you need to think timeless and meaningful. And god forbid you choose a tattoo artist who isn't very good at their craft. Imagine trying to explain your poorly drawn Bart Simpson to your future employer.
3. Never get a tattoo where you grow a lot of hair.
I have a super awesome friend who got his one and only tattoo to commemorate the birth of his son. He broke two rules with this one: He got a cartoon character, Jack Jack from the move The Incredibles, and he got it on his very hairy chest. The tattoo itself is quite well done, and a sweet testament of love for his son, but the hair sprouting from it is downright creepy. A cartoon baby sprouting wiry hair is never a good idea. Getting a tattoo is not like electrolysis: The hair will grow back. So if the artist has to bushwhack their way in to find your skin to ink, then it's probably not an ideal spot.
4. Never tattoo your boobs or belly.
Women: YOU WILL REGRET IT! Even if you don't plan on having children, your body will change and droop and so will your tattoo. I turn forty this year and I can testify to gravity and the tricks it plays on your body. It's sad but true, and no amount of touch-ups can fix the serious stretching caused by pregnancy. Some people bounce back, some don't. Do you want to risk it? Not to mention the class factor. Think about it, how many lawyers do you know with boob tattoos?
5. Never get the name of a lover or spouse.
Does this ever work out? I don't care how long you have been with someone, getting their name tattooed on you is like asking for something bad to happen. If you are desperate to get something to commemorate your undying love for each other, pick a matching symbol and put it in an inconspicuous spot. That way it can be explained away to your next partner should things not work out with the current love of your life.
6. Do get a tattoo to commemorate your children.
I don't know a single person who regrets a tattoo that honors their child. (Even if it is a hairy cartoon character.) Love springs eternal for our children, so be creative and pick something that will make you think of your little angel and will bring a smile to your face every time you look at it. One of my favorite tattoos is of a child's handprint at birth with their name and birth date scrolled underneath it. A proud papa got this tattoo on his inner forearm and his now 16-year-old daughter is still touched by his loving gesture.
However, I have also seen a fair number of portraits done of people's children and I am really on the fence about whether this is a good idea. Photo realism is very hard to come by and takes a special tattoo artist. I am a much bigger fan of script or a symbol to commemorate a child. Leave the photo realism for actual photos unless you're lucky enough to get an artist like Kat Von D to do it.
7. No "bargain" tattoos.
This is not the time to be a bargain hunter. If someone is charging bargain basement prices, they're probably not very good. Sometimes in life it is important to pay top dollar for things, and this would be one of those times. Think of it as an artistic investment. Do your homework, research the best artist in your area, and don't flip out and look for someone cheaper when you hear the price. A good tattoo artist is worth the money. I have a cheap tattoo and man, do I regret it.
8. Do plan on building on to your tattoo.
One of the mistakes I made as a newbie going in was not planning for the future. At 26, I thought I was going to be a one-and-done kind of person. Boy was I wrong. Tattoos are addictive, but in a good don't-need-to-go-to-rehab kind of way. I have been somewhat lucky in that the designs I have chosen could be built on. If I had planned things even better, I would look way cooler now and not quite so higgledy-piggledy patch-worky. A little forethought about themes and placement would have helped a lot.
9. Do choose a spot that's easily hidden.
I didn't heed my own advice here. In fact, all of my tattoos are in super visible places. I got my first one on the outside of my right wrist and it's not small. Do I regret it? Nope, but I have the luxury of being an artsy-fartsy nut who enjoys walking to the beat of my own drum. Most people don't choose a life path that makes being a total nutjob okay, and most aren't prepared to deal with the consequences.
Full disclosure: I will admit to hiding my tattoos from my grandmother until the day she died at the request of my mother. And yes, when I was wearing sweaters in sweltering heat, I did kind of regret my decision. I wish that there was decent cover up makeup I could have used instead. The point is that if you're hell-bent on getting a tattoo, consider being discrete with the placement. I also encourage you to pick a spot that you can see so you can enjoy it. To this day, I have no back tattoos because I wouldn't be able to see them.
But think about your future employment, the image you want to project, and for goodness sake what will Grandma think?
10. Do keep your design simple.
This maybe the single most important piece of advice I can give. Simple designs always work out the best. Tattoos age with your skin— lines bleed and blur and colors fade. The more ornate and complicated your tattoo is, the more likely it will look like a jumbled mess.
I speak from experience. I got a a gorgeous tree of life tattooed on my left forearm and then felt compelled to fill in the space around it. The result is an overly complicated design that is hard to make out. So keep your designs clean and simple with bold lines and a simple color scheme (if you use color at all). And don't be afraid to leave lots of space.
My final word is not to overthink things. Part of getting a tattoo without regret is just going for it. I know I have asked you to "think before you ink," but not to the extent that it prevents you from seizing the day and getting what you want. Tattoos are a way of celebrating and enjoying life. So make a plan, find something that you'll be proud to have on your body for life, and get inked!