My Tattoo Regrets

Please check out the gorgeous photography of Jade Beall

Please check out the gorgeous photography of Jade Beall

I have kept it to myself, but I have five tattoos. Like everyone else who gets one, I confess it’s addictive.

You probably wouldn’t even be surprised by how many librarians have tattoos. We have to work extra hard to show we’re badass and not just bookish.

Cat Tattoo

When I finished high school, it was still uncommon to get a tattoo. I felt daring enough to get a tattoo, but I played it safe with the design. I thought about what image I would love forever, and knew it had to be a cat. I had never been without a cat as a pet, and vowed to always have at least one. It was hard to decide: Egyptian cat? Parisian ad cat? Cheshire cat? A fluffy kitten? I finally chose a classic, sleek, prowling black cat.

Masks

Through high school, I had been a drama club geek, and later went on to study theatre. For almost 10 years, I frequently received gifts of Pierrot dolls and comedy/tragedy masks and other symbols of the acting world. I especially liked the masks, and their symbolism: two sides of a coin, yin and yang, the ups and downs of life. Selecting them as my next tattoo was a no-brainer.

Book Tattoo

After that, I took a Library Science degree and became a librarian. It was dead obvious that a book tattoo would be next. I had a “duh” moment when I realized books were my earliest love and should have preceded the cat! I gave long thought to getting a literary quote instead, something like “What is essential is invisible to the eye,” or something librarian-ish like “Knowledge is Power,” but again played it safe with just a little, untitled, open book. I liked thinking that anything could be written on its pages.

Clefs Tattoo

When I met Rom, we wanted to get matching tattoos that only we would know about (soon to be revealed here!) and we considered making up our own symbol that only we would understand. After much thought, we decided that nothing would ever express our feelings more than music. When I saw this treble-and-bass clef image on a T-shirt, I quickly convinced Rom that it was The One! I had to act fast before (uninked) Rom changed his mind!

Wands Tattoos

Wand

Finally, when Link turned 18 and was set to leave home, we discussed getting tattooed together. It had to be something anime-related. We spent ages looking at pictures of all the stuff we’d watched together over the years, and obsessed over Totoro and Cat Bus images. Eventually we had a brainwave and decided on something from the first series we watched together: Sailor Moon! Of course we gave a lot of thought to the cats, Luna and Artemis, but we eventually went for classic wands. I was Sailor Mercury and Link was Sailor Mars, by the way 🙂

Tattoo art in its current glory didn’t exist when I was getting started. It was less art and more just personal expression.  Sometimes I wish I had waited and got a full sleeve or a full back with all my interests intertwined. Instead I have five small, random, not-very-splashy pictures on my body.

Long time readers will know this is a work of fiction. My body is still a blank canvas! I have no desire to exhibit anything on my skin. So many of the things I like turn out to be passing phases: Mary Englebreit drawings, Munch’s The Scream, cross-stitching, aerobics, manatees, porcupines, Anton Chekhov, Def Leppard. And think about the things I have liked for decades: Lisa Simpson, The Ramones, robots, peanut butter, Twizzlers, and the Rocky Horror Picture Show (“Don’t dream it; be it”). What a mess my body would be if I applied one of those to myself whenever the urge struck! I would be covered with unwanted souvenirs of my 18 or 28 year old self, in perpetuity. I am even glad I don’t have a tattoo of my child’s name – since they have changed it! I cannot think of one single thing I would want to ink on myself. I can’t even commit to a bumper sticker for my car!

When I watched tattooing shows on TV, like Kat Von D on LA Ink, I understood all the reasons: using tattoos to remember the dead (people or pets), to commemorate a special occasion (running a marathon, surviving cancer), to show one’s passions to the world (Metallica, WWE), for self-expression or self-motivation (cultural symbols, inspiring quotes), to make oneself an “other” (such as when face and neck tattoos were still taboo) or purely for ornamentation.

I don’t feel I need any of those things. I have my clothing and haircuts and jewellery. I think my “look” says enough about me and I don’t want to declare anything else visually before someone gets to know me. I have my writing, art and photos, my thoughts and tastes and way of looking at the world. I’d rather express myself with a photo on my desk, a Facebook post, a playlist I’ve curated, or a salad I’ve tossed 🙂 For my 50th birthday, instead of getting a tattoo, I took a trip to NYC.

Meanwhile, I actually do like tattoo art and I love asking people about their tattoos. I often like the stories more than the art, because the choices say so much about the owner.

Do you have a tattoo story?

52 comments

  1. A friend of mine loved getting tattoos. (I use the past tense only because we drifted apart.) She encouraged me to get a tattoo. I wasn’t convinced, so I told her I’d draw up a design, and if it still seemed like a good idea a year later, I’d get it done as a tattoo. I drew a rabbit in a top hat. After a few months, it didn’t seem like a good idea anymore. End of story.

    • As someone who has several tattoos (including whole back covered) that is the exact advice I recommend. All of my tattoos I have wanted for more than a year.

      I never understood people who went in on the fly and did it. At least for me a tattoo should have specific meaning, not be a catchy picture you saw on a tattoo shop wall.

  2. A librarian with tattoos, definitely badass. 🙂
    I tried to make my own tattoo when I was a young teenager and that didn’t go so well. Now in my 30s, I am seriously considering getting my first one this year but it is hard to decide on something iconic enough that I can be sure I will not regret 10 years from now.

  3. Freckles

    Oh … you had me going. I believed every word you wrote at the beginning, even thinking that photo of the bare back was of you!! Interestingly, my feelings on tattoos are very similar to some of your thoughts. I don’t have any but I do like (good) ones on others if they have a good story behind them or, if no real story, just a beautiful work of art. I have never liked a tattoo that much if it was part of the ‘trend’ at the time, either the tattoo itself or the placement of it. Females older than me usually had a rose on their breast, my generation usually placed something on their ankle, hipbone, or shoulderblade, the generation after mine usually got a tribal armband, a pinup girl on their tricep … or the infamous lower back tramp stamp. Part of my ancestry is Irish and I had considered getting a shamrock tattoo during a trip to Ireland. Alas, the trip was cancelled (airline strike), I never got the tattoo, and I’ve never thought much about it since. I’ve always thought the colours in the Japanese-style tattoos were beautiful, think of the flowers and koi fish, that sort of thing. Sometimes I wonder if medical professionals ever run into difficulties with patients that have tattoos … what if they are having problems seeing a vein through the tattoo?? (haha)

    • 🙂 Yeah, over the last few decades, certain tattoos have waxed and waned in popularity and now seem dated, but I hope they still bring happy thoughts to their owners (stars behind the ear, butterfly on ankle, etc.) My favourite tattoo I’ve ever seen was on a barista at a hipster coffee shop. It was a forest scene filled with cuddly animals that reminded me of animals from kitschy greeting cards. A little like Snow White’s forest friends. I wish I had a picture of it.

  4. thrift deluxe

    One of my reasons for not being tattooed is that I have never loved anything so much for such a long time that I could commit to a permanent tribute on my body.

  5. NicolaB

    I was taken in to start with (but also quite surprised!)

    I like the idea of a tattoo, but as you can’t donate blood for a few months after having one I’ve never thought seriously about it. I like the small tattoos on wrists and behind ears. I’m not sure I would ever be able to decide on something I’d not regret later though..

  6. Jo

    I got my first two when I was 33 in New Zealand (upper left arm and right shoulder), another back in NZ six months later (left shoulder), two when on holiday in LA (upper left arm again and inside right wrist) and one in New York (inside left wrist).

    I still adore each and every one of them and I know exactly what I want next – a Maori inspired half sleeve n my right arm. I just need to find a good tattooist over here in London to do it. 🙂

    • That’s great, Jo! What do you think is the secret to getting tattoos you will be happy with forever: Waiting until maturity to get them? Having tastes that don’t change much over time? Or just following your heart?

      • Jo

        Nothing like replying nearly 8 months late (sorry!).

        Mine are all just images that resonated in marking particularly times in my life. I hadn’t really intended to get my first two in NZ – a pal wanted to get one and we were in the shop and I was leafing through a book of designs and bang. I saw one I really loved and one I loved just a smidge less and through what the hell – why not go for both 🙂

        Once you have one it is really addictive – I may have slowed down recently but I don;t intent to stop. 🙂

      • Hi Jo, ha, that is awesome! Bold enough for two at one go!

  7. Too funny – I too have no tatts, neither does Rich, nor either of my parents. We’re sometimes places and look around and think we’re the only ones not inked!

  8. gk

    Funny, I’ve been considering a tiny tatt, but I KNOW I’ll regret it, and yet…
    I basically regret everything because I’m impetuous and prone to whimsy.

    • I agree. Sometimes I think about tattoo designs and I think, Pah, what’s a little regret – why not enjoy it while I enjoy it, and ignore the long years after that? But unfortunately, my mind doesn’t really work that way. I am too cautious.

  9. Very cool. I think I like your ankle one the most, but the open book is apropos.

    • Hi Keith, These are actually tattoos I would have got if I had followed my passions over the years, but fortunately I hit pause and didn’t actually get them 🙂

  10. EcoCatLady

    You know, it has taken work for me to be open about this whole tattoo craze because honestly, the whole thing just turns my stomach. I just can’t seem to get beyond the idea that it’s willful disfigurement. Of course, I have pierced ears – that’s sort of the same thing, so I shouldn’t judge, but somehow it all just strikes me as medically ill advised.

    I think maybe it’s a generational thing too. In my mind I still associate tattoos with skinheads and the neo-nazi movement, so even though I know it doesn’t mean that anymore, some unconscious part of me still recoils in horror whenever I see a person covered in ink.

    Anyhow, to each his own, but I do have to say that I was quite relieved when you confessed that this was fiction!

    • Hi Cat, I have heard that in aboriginal communities worldwide, that we might think of as “primitive” cultures, that use tattooing and scarring and neck stretching, believe that our ear piercing is barbaric and it sickens them! Maybe that’s a myth. I wouldn’t have thought of a neo-Nazi connotation. My earliest impressions of tattoos were drunken sailors and maybe prisoners. I suppose in this Selfie Age, body art is not surprising. To be honest, since there is a trend toward extremism, I’m surprised that scarification and branding have not widely caught on yet. Yeow!

  11. I have four and will be getting at least 3 more as my kids think we should get a family tattoo and then I should also get matching ones with each child … I have managed to delay this by saying we are waiting for Diva to turn 18. 16 months before I have to commit. I will make our family tattoo one that hopefully will be painful enough to deter my kids from getting anymore. LOL

    • What are your current tattoos? What ideas do you have for the family one? Would love to hear. Does your elder daughter have any?

      • I have Nefertiti on my shoulder, an ankh & “It can be cone” on my left foot and “Believe” on my left wrist. My cousin who passed used to say you should “Live your truth”. I think that should be the family tattoo. Princess is still tattoo-free but she wants a little heart on her wrist. Since my sister now also has multiple tatts (I think at least 4) I don’t think I can stand in my kid’s way for much longer.

      • Live Your Truth is a good motto! It would be fun to pick a font.

  12. Margie in Toronto

    I got one when I was about 48 – a thistle on my shoulder – small and discrete – sometimes I forget its there myself! I thought about it for a while and don’t regret it. Many of my friends have quite a collection but I’ve never been tempted to go that far.
    I am looking forward to seeing the exhibit “Tattoos” that has just opened at the ROM about the history of the practice though – should be interesting.

    • Ooh, a thistle would be a great choice for Nova Scotians with Scottish heritage. Also reminds me of one of my favourite children’s book characters, Eeyore! I checked and the ROM exhibit goes to Sept 5. Don’t think I will get there. Sigh. It sounds marvellous!

  13. Fiona

    I was totally taken in by that (even as I thought it didn’t seem like you!) Cool to hear what your choices would have been though – each would have been very symbolic and could have stood the test of time. It would be cool to have a librarian assisting with enquiries on the computer, all the while with a discreet black cat showing on the wrist! I must admit I haven’t ever considered getting a tattoo. I’m just not much into jewellery or adornment generally, I think.

    • Et tu, Fiona! Maybe it’s because I was helping my nephew with writing a “persuasive essay” this week, or maybe all the practice I had with Link, writing “detailed, descriptive paragraphs”! Loads of my co- workers have tattoos, and nose piercings are still a thing. I thought of another reason why I don’t have tattoos, and will post about it another time. But a further reason is that when I was growing up, tattoos were seen as counter- cultural and a bold attempt to stand out and be different. After they became so popular, it seemed like a contradiction to believe, “I’m not like everyone else, because I have a tattoo,” when so many others have them. But of course younger folks would not have grown up with that reasoning.

    • I got taken in too. Because the reasoning was sound and considered (like you generally are, Dar) and the tatts so stylish. Your nephew must have down well with your assistance!

      I also think it strange that people think they are so different, when everyone, well almost everyone, has one.

      No prizes for guessing I don’t have one. Fashions change. My likes change. I don’t wear the same jewellery for days, let alone years. The thought of having a needle pierce me and inject ink. Yuck. I’ve even let my pierced ears close. And I didn’t get them done until I was 18.

      Though I have seen some I like. Retro 50s models with large colourful designs. And that cat is cute. But not on me. Not forever.

      • I got my ears pierced when I was 13 and got a second piercing in one ear when I was 17. This turned heads and generated comments for about 10 years. How times have changed 🙂 I still have the piercings and still wear 3 earrings.

  14. I have piercings, but no tattoos! I don’t think they age well and at least piercings (the kind I got) you can let close up.

    • Good choice. I see lots of staff at work with eyebrow piercings that they’ve let grow in, occasional traces of an old labret, and of course lots of all-the-way-up-the-ear-cartilage ones.

  15. cheryl

    I somehow always equated tattoos with wearing the same dress/top/whatever, day after day…year after year. Yuk. I have never owned anything that I liked that much. Besides, I am old enough now, they would have to put my skin in some sort of device that would stretch it out enough to give a flat surface to work on.

  16. The only one that really appeals to me, is the semicolon (as used by Project Semicolon), but I doubt I will get to have it done. I live out being a badass librarian in other ways. 😉

  17. OMG I was surprised when I read this. 5 tattoos??? LOL you had me going there! I have one tattoo on my lower back that I got as a spur of the moment thing many years ago. I am so glad I didnt get it done in a visible place and if I had to do it over again I probably would have liked to leave my body a blank canvas as well!

  18. My friend – now 64 – has a blurry, rather ugly tat of a cannabis plant on the arch of her foot. I want to ask her if she now regrets it, but feel that might be a bit rude!

  19. it is very addictive, I have 7!

  20. I do very much admire fine tattooing as an artform but I do not want to be the canvas. And I was permanently put off a long time ago by a display of lampshades made from tattooed human skin in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp (no longer on display as far as I know).

  21. I so very much want a tattoo but I’m a chicken. I fear I might regret it or I’d get a bad tattoo. Le sigh. But it’s been something I’ve been toying about for a LOOOONG time now.

  22. Pingback: 500 | An Exacting Life

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