Tattoos: Why? (Part One)

“Getting inked.” “Tatted up.” In today’s culture it has become quite the “fashion statement” to get a tattoo, and in many cases more than one. Tattoo parlors are springing up seemingly on every corner. These days, all the cool kids are doing it. But, have all the people who have gotten tattoos thought seriously about it, both for the short-term and especially the long-term ramifications?

[I typically put a picture here, but I know better than to try and do an image search on this subject. What does that tell you?]

I will state upfront that I generally believe getting tattoos is not a wise decision. However, instead of trying to convey why I hold this belief, I will attempt to show by series of questions along differing lines of reasoning, and offering some thoughts on possible alternatives to tattoos, why this is the case.

The first question I would ask someone who came to me with thoughts of getting a tattoo is “why?” I would try to ascertain as nearly as possible the following information: what is it that you are wanting to depict on your body? What is it about this particular thing or thought that you think is worth permanently marking your body to represent? Where are you planning to place this marking, and why have you chosen that particular location?

I have actually had this discussion with a few people. The typical answers I get are along these lines: because I think this particular image or phrase is cool. I like it and I want a tattoo anyway so that’s what I picked out. I’m putting it [here] because I [want/don’t want] certain people to see it.

Here’s a suggestion. Before you permanently mark your body with an image or phrase, make a picture/copy of that image and place it in several prominent places around your home, such as your bathroom mirror, on your refrigerator, etc. for an extended length of time. Do you still notice it after a few weeks or months? Do you still think it’s as cool as you did before? Has any of the coolness rubbed off with familiarity? If it has, imagine how much more that will be amplified once you’ve had the tattoo for several years and the colors have begun to fade, and age takes its toll on the skin upon which the tattoo resides. Will it still be as cool and captivating as it was when you first came up with the idea?

Another reason commonly given for getting a tattoo is as a memorial, to either another person or even pets. Sometimes the object of these types of tattoos is still living, and sometimes they have passed from this life. My question at this point is this: is getting a tattoo the best way you can think of to honor this particular person or pet? Perhaps you could dedicate yourself to serving them, if they are still living, or to championing causes they believed in, if they have passed on. In the case of a pet, take some pictures. Make an album. Hang them on your wall. All of these actions seem more reasonable than permanently marking your body in honor of an animal.

One thing I have brought up in these conversations is the permanence of the tattoo and the possibility that the person might regret it later. This idea is invariably met with dialogue along the lines of “well I’ve given this a lot of thought and I don’t think I’ll change my mind.” However, if this is the case, I wonder why one hears so many stories of those who have gotten tattoos in the past and now regret getting them. It’s a fact that people’s tastes generally change and evolve as they grow in age and experience. What seemed “cool” years ago now seems foolish. If you don’t believe me, just look at the people of my generation, who spent their teen years in the 1980’s wearing parachute pants and “big hair.” How many of them do you see doing the same thing today? (The “one hit wonder” bands doing reunion tours don’t count!)

Here are some more general thoughts/questions. As I stated in the beginning of this article, tattoos are very popular right now. Is the person considering getting a tattoo bowing to peer pressure? Do they have friends who have tattoos, and who are encouraging them to do the same? Are they looking for acceptance within certain peer groups?

However, it may be that getting tattoos has moved beyond the “fad” stage and is becoming inculcated as a part of our culture. How does this change things? What if it’s not just a fad anymore but simply a part of today’s culture? Does that change any of the answers to the questions that have been asked? How and why?

Tattoos are expensive, and many of the people I know with tattoos complain about a lack of money. Is a tattoo so important that you are willing to allocate the funds you have worked so hard for to purchase, especially when you could pay down some debt with that same money? Maybe you could invest that money into a retirement fund, or into your child’s education. Pay extra on your car note or house note, or do some needed maintenance on the same. It seems that there are much more productive uses for the money than “getting ink.”

There are additional considerations for those contemplating tattoos. People, fairly or unfairly (that’s a different discussion), judge others based on their appearance. Will getting a tattoo potentially hinder you in your chosen profession? Is it really a risk worth taking?

Serious people, those who tend to be the decision makers at various places of employment, do not generally seek attention except for serious purposes. People who draw attention to themselves via unconventional hairstyle, clothing, or otherwise altering their appearance (including excessive piercing and tattoos), or by their actions and mannerisms, are not generally considered to be serious people. Do you want to be considered serious by potential employers?

I have tried to ask questions about the practice of getting tattoos in order to get people considering doing so to think it through. Also, I am trying to give others who may know people considering getting tattoos some discussion points to review with them. At the end of the day, to put it bluntly, people are going to do what they want to do.

In closing, I would encourage us all to avoid making rash judgments based on outward appearances as much as possible, but to base our opinions on peoples’ words and actions.

I’d love to discuss these things with you. Any questions and comments that are in line with this page’s Commenting Policy will be published and responded to (to the best of my ability).

For more information on how I keep my worldview informed please go to Cross Roads Church.

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7 Comments

  1. As a tattooed person (especially one involved in Mixed Martial Arts, where the tattoo culture is even more prevalent than in society, at large), I’ll have to say that I agree that all of the questions you ask, here, are good ones. They are the same questions that I (and other tattooed people) ask our own friends before they get tattoos.

    Sure, horror stories of people with bad or regretted tattoos abound, but speaking as someone within the tattoo culture, these actually tend to be far less common than you might think. I have known the occasional person with a misspelled word or name, or with a tattoo that they really wished that they had never gotten, but the vast majority of people that I know with tattoos (including myself) love all of their artwork, and are very proud to have it. And I know people with some pretty silly tattoos– one of my good friends has a gorilla giving a High-Five to a shark, on his leg (amongst a host of other odd tattoo choices).

    So, my question in return to you would be, if someone offers you good answers to all of the questions and challenges you’ve asked, here, do you still think it is foolish for them to get a tattoo?

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    • BP while there are situations where I do indeed think it is foolish for people to get tattoos, especially when someone is having financial hardships and end up spending money that could more practically be spent elsewhere, in general it’s one of those things I mildly disagree with but don’t generally condemn people for.

      I myself have considered getting a tattoo in the past, when I was a Marine.

      To directly answer your question I’d have to hear a person’s answers to the questions, ask follow-up and clarification questions, and think about it. I’m not sure if there are answers to the questions that would persuade me that getting tattoos was a good idea for any particular individual, but I can see where it might at least be a neutral decision for some.

      My next post on the subject will deal with Christians and tattoos. There my answer will be different.

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      • Perfectly understandable, and– again– I largely agree. Obviously, as a tattooed person, I think that they can make for a positive decision, and not just a neutral one, but I understand why someone who doesn’t have or doesn’t like tattoos would be unable to relate to that decision.

        My own tattoos tend to be directly related to my philosophy, so I am always very appreciative of them, and have no regrets about them. Since they are fairly unique, people often ask me to explain them when they see my tattoos, and that allows me an interesting way to open philosophical discussions with people who might not usually care for such dialogue. That was never their original purpose– each of my tattoos has special meaning for me, personally– but it is a delightful unintended consequence.

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    • Why is it, do you reckon, that tattoos are more prevalent within the culture of MMA than in society at large?

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      • My guess would be multifaceted. Firstly, people who compete in combat sports generally have less fear of, and more tolerance for, the pain involved in the tattooing process than your average person. Secondly, there are fewer professional repercussions in the fight business as regards visible tattoos than in many other occupations. Finally, we tend to be a fairly expressive bunch, and tattoos give us an outlet for that which can be displayed while we are engaged in our sport.

        It’s basically a bunch of things combining in just the right way to make them appealing.

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  2. This is a well-thought out essay for anyone considering a tattoo, regardless of faith. I’ve known people who gave pretty silly answers when I asked them about their tattoos, but then again some of those same people (or for that matter other untattooed people) had pretty iffy reasons for getting married, having kids, joining the military and plenty of other major life decisions. I’ve also known many people who carefully designed and planned out their tats, sometimes to commemorate life events, and often had spiritual significance. This very common among Pagans, some Christians and many “spiritual but not religious” types, pretty equally with both sexes. One effect of the mainstreaming of tattoos that I’m glad of, is that tattoo/body piercing places are more likely to be licensed & trained to do things more safely than when it tended a more “fringe” thing. Also, while it’s still a factor to be considered, many professional workplaces are more accepting of tattoos and some piercings- though probably more in coffeeshops. Part of it is if you’re in a more conservative style workplace (bank, law etc) you’ll need to be covering up more anyway, especially if you’re a man.

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  1. Tat, Tat, Tat It Up!: 3 Reasons Why a Christian SHOULD Get Tattoos | Entertaining Christianity

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