If you’re thinking about getting inked, you’re not alone. According to a 2015 Harris poll, three in ten Americans (29%) have at least one tattoo, a marked increase from 21% four years prior. Maybe you’re thinking about getting another? You’re not alone there, either. Among those surveyed who have tattoos, seven in ten (69%) have two or more. Remember when Cher was badass with six? Angelina has 20.
If you are a newbie, though, here are some considerations to keep in mind:
1. Think about why you want one.
This is not like a piercing that can grow in or purple hair that will grow out. So think about it for a while to make sure this is something you really want.
I wish I could say I got my tattoo to commemorate some life-changing experience like adopting a child from Cambodia. Or winning a Pulitzer. Even winning a scratch-off would rate more meaningful that my reason for getting one. Still, I had thought about it for nearly three years, which may be a record length of time for debating body art. Then again, I hadn’t really wanted a tattoo until I had a scar. When people ask me if getting the tattoo hurt, I laugh and tell them what really hurt:
It was late at night, an hour past closing at the public pool, when a group of friends and I decided to go swimming. We had climbed the ten-foot fence and were enjoying ourselves when the police arrived. We ran, but climbing was not as easy wet as it had been dry. I slipped and nearly pierced my ass. I most likely should have gone to the hospital to get stitches, but I decided I would rather hemorrhage than tell my parents how I ended up with a three-inch gouge in the back of my thigh.
“You broke into a public pool?”
“Why would you do that?”
“We wanted to go swimming.”
“Is there someone wrong with the pool in our backyard?”
I only spent a couple of paranoid weeks worrying about what I was sure were symptoms of Tetanus, which I didn’t have. What I did have, though, was a hideous scar, red and raised.
My options were either dermabrasion at $400 or a tattoo at $40 (this was in the ‘90s, mind you). Figuring I could always get it removed later, I chose a tattoo.
2. Know what you want.
Even when I was sure I wanted a tattoo, I was reluctant to pull the trigger. I couldn’t decide on a design. I was home from college for the summer when my younger sister came running into the house with her boyfriend. She dropped something off in her room and then started to go back out.
“Where are you going?” I asked.
“Nowhere,” the two of them laughed.
“What are you doing?”
“Don’t tell Mom and Dad, but I’m getting a tattoo.”
“You’re only 16. You have to be 18.”
“This will be my third one.”
“Oh…” I said, grabbing my jacket. “Show them to me in the car.”A friend of mine once wanted to get a lizard on the lower part of her stomach, right along the bikini line. I talked her out of that idea.
That was our big bonding experience, taking turns in the torn dental seat parked in the living room of a run-down house that was literally down by the river. My turn was probably the most entertaining, better than my sister’s tears or her boyfriend’s cowardly last-minute change of heart.
My problem was the design. I wanted to cover up my scar, but hadn’t really considered how to do it. Fortunately, Hawkeye, the burly, leather-clad motorcycle aficionado, approached his work like an artist. He traced the outline of my scar and then offered some design solutions that would mask the deformity. I turned down the rather commonplace roses, stars and comic strip characters. I also ruled out lizards and insects, as I didn’t want anyone to mistake my tattoo for something crawling out of my shorts. What won in the end was a suggestion that followed a long exchange of familial histories, deep soul-searching and a quarter bottle of Jack Daniel’s.
“So, you’re Irish you say? How about some luck of the Irish?”
I sat for the next hour in my underwear with my leg slung over Hawkeye’s shoulder, surrounded by a circle of Hell’s Angels with hot needle piercing green ink into my right thigh, and a vine of clovers soon masked my scar.
I wondered which of us was lucky.
3. Know where you want it.
You should also take into consideration that certain body parts may not always appear in the same shape as they do now. A friend of mine once wanted to get a lizard on the lower part of her stomach, right along the bikini line. I talked her out of that idea by calling attention to the fact that her little green gecko would turn into Godzilla should she ever become pregnant.
For my tattoo, the location was ordained by accident. While I am not excited about the prospect that mine may grow with the girth of my thighs, I am grateful it’s fairly inconspicuous. I often forget that I even have one until I go to the beach and notice eyes lingering a little longer on my ass than they should. Then, as my fear of cellulite reaches its apex, I remember that they must be looking at my tattoo. Or at least I hope they are.
4. If unsure, go fake first.
Along with the rise of people getting tattoos, there is an increase in people removing them. According to a survey by the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery, laser removal of tattoos increased 52% from 2012 to 2013. The costs have also been increasing, and then there’s, well, the discomfort. If you think a tattoo is painful, then you won’t want to go through the removal, which can require several visits to the surgeon.
So before you go permanent, perhaps you should try on a temporary tattoo. Brooklyn-based Tattly offers a number of ready-to-wear tattoos that come off with soap and water or a little adhesive tape. They also offer custom services if you have a design in mind.
Then, if you get used to the idea (and maybe even repeat it a couple of times), then you may be ready to get the real thing. Or your second. Or sixth.