Tattoos are such a personal thing, much more personal than the clothes we wear and what we say to our friends and family. I always think that tattoos are like wearing our soul on our bodies, because the imagery and quotes we choose to showcase for our entire lives can only be the most personal thing about us. That said, sometimes body art is just that: art. Tattoos don’t have to mean anything. They don’t have to be anything but pretty, an embellishment, a cool image, or something quirky, awesome, or fun.
But for all of the stigma, shade, and judgment tattooed people get, you’d think my body art was a crime. I’m still surprised by the comments and judgment I receive from my peers, people who are my age or younger, and complete strangers. I get so tired of fielding questions that I want to fire back so often with, “My tattoos are none of your business.”
So below, a roundup of the worst questions and comments every person with a tattoo has ever heard, ranked.
1. What does it mean?
First of all, like I mentioned, a tattoo doesn’t necessarily have to mean anything. But as it happens, I have a couple of truly meaningful quotes tattooed on me, things that have changed my life and shaped my identity. It’s lovely for you to show interest in their meaning, but if I have to reiterate my entire childhood and explain the meaning of this one Tennyson poem to you, not only will I get exhausted and frustrated, but you’ll stop listening halfway through.
2. Will you still like that when you’re 80?
I hate this question because it assumes that I’m being young and foolish about my decisions, and you’re also assuming that tattoos only look good on the young. My tattoos are a part of me, more dear and more important than just an outward appearance. And, as many, many people have proven, I will look exactly this awesome when I’m 80:
3. Did it hurt?
No, and there’s a Santa Claus, too!
4. Why a fish/cross/heart/mermaid/shark?
In the same vein as “what does that mean?” is the question that asks you to explain what is probably just something cool that you wanted on your body. For me, that’s a mermaid. It doesn’t mean much, it’s just an image I find beautiful and that I connect with. It’s inspiring and lovely to me, and I don’t have to explain why, especially not to someone giving me the side-eye.
Also, Left Shark because Katy Perry. Obviously.
5. Are you going to add color?
I love this question, because you’re telling me you think my tattoo looks terrible in black and gray. I just don’t really like a lot of color in my own tattoos, that’s why.
6. But think about when you get married…
This is in some ways a mother’s argument, but I’ve received this judgmental response from girls younger than me. If you don’t like tattoos, please feel free to never get one. But I actually like the way they look on me and others—which is, you know, why I have them—so I hope that I’ll still want them on me on the most important day of my life. It’s art. That I wear. Awesome, right?
7. What do your parents think?
That I’m in a biker gang.
8. What does your boyfriend/girlfriend/partner/lover/husband/wife think?
They hate them, and me too.
9. I always thought tattoos look trashy, but I like yours, don’t worry.
People tend to take a holier-than-thou tone when they don’t have tattoos, as if they see themselves as “clean” and “pure.” I have nothing against people who don’t like tattoos on themselves—it’s such a personal choice and it is a huge commitment, so if you’re not 100% committed then you shouldn’t get them, but that doesn’t mean you’re clean and I’m dirty. I’m also not trashy. I just wear my art.
10. DON’T DO IT.
When my friend asked me how I knew I was sure I wanted tattoos, I told her that she might regret getting them but that she could also hide, cover or remove, but that the act of getting a tattoo is sort of a declaration of independence. It’s indulgent and brave, and I told her that’s the reason why I knew I wanted one: because getting one is as important as having one. It’s not only wearing art, otherwise we’d all be wearing temporary tattoos for that reason. Getting one means acknowleding who you are and what you want, how you identify yourself and how you wear your personality and display it to the world.
So don’t tell me not to get one if you don’t understand the concept behind them.