Who is your tattoo for?

A long time ago, on a message board far, far away, I had a conversation with someone about tattoos: I was asked why I felt the need to broadcast information about myself to anyone who happened to see one or both of my tattoos. I replied that my tats weren’t for anyone but me, and that, in fact, one of them is almost always covered. I said something about them being reminders for myself about what’s important: the G-clef on my ankle reminds me that music is my heart and soul (handy when my job gets stressful), and the wolf on my upper arm reminds me to stay grounded spiritually (handy just about all of the time). But then I was asked an excellent question: why do I need permanent, visable reminders of things that I claim are so intrinsic to my being? I think the exchange ended with me saying something like, “Huh. I don’t know.” Several years later I still think about this question from time to time, and I still don’t have an answer.

I know that I didn’t get my tattoos in order to show them off; they are not for other people. As mentioned, the wolf is hardly ever visible, and the G-clef is seen more often but I usually make no effort to either expose or cover it: I just wear what I want. I’ll admit that sometimes I do deliberately expose or cover it, but generally I forget it’s even there – and I certainly didn’t get them in the first place for anyone but me. But on the other hand, I’m not worried that I’ll forget what’s important to me if I don’t see them in full color on my body every day. I’m not sure exactly why I got tattoos, I just know that I wanted them and I thought carefully about them and I haven’t had one day of regret since having them done (in '94 and '98). I feel that the answer lies somewhere between “for me” and “for others” – or maybe tattoos aren’t about who sees them, at all.

So, I turn to my fellow inked Dopers for your insights and thoughts. Who is your tattoo for? If it’s for you, as a symbol of some significant life event, please answer the same question I was posed: why get a permanent, visible reminder of something you’re unlikely to ever forget? If it’s for others, why? Is that just your personality? Is there also a bumper sticker or two on your car?

Replies from the non-tattooed are, of course, also welcome; I’m just particularly interested in what other folks with tats think of their reason(s) behind them. Maybe sorting through everyone else’s truths can help me discover my own, and can help me come up with an answer to “why do you have tattoos?” that goes beyond “because.” :slight_smile:

my tattoos are about my family. left arm for my father, right arm for my mother, back for my brother (cuz he ain’t heavy). so far i only have two pieces finished, but i have two more already drawn and several more envisioned in my head.

that said, i cannot with any honesty deny that i like the way they look - and it’s no coincedence that i’ve never been known to wear long sleeve shirts and the first two pieces are on my forearms, plainly visible to just about anyone, anytime.

left arm & right arm

My tattoo is for me – a symbol of my favourite animal that symbolizes my own strength and personality. It’s on my upper left arm, so it’s shown quite often as I wear a lot of tank tops, which is just coincidence. That said, I like the way it looks and have gotten a lot of compliments on it – once even by a nun!

http://pictures.greatestjournal.com/userimg/4152761/476707 <-- It’s going to be a shoulder to elbow sleeve with background scenery and some text once I stop being so lazy and get back to the shop.

My kids.

Right upper arm: heart with 5-year-olds name and birthdate. I had it done on her first birthdate.

Left upper arm: Waiting for the new baby’s first birthday for similar.

My tattoo is for me. It’s on my upper back, down my spine and is not normally visible. It is 4 traditional Chinese characters, a Chinese proverb that means “Dripping water can eat through stone.” I got it a couple of months ago to celebrate my 55 lb weight loss - it’s very meaningful to me, it’s a reminder not to mess up. Losing weight is easy, keeping weight off is difficult. I have to keep up all the small changes that led to success.

Left shoulder–an abstract circular design of night and day. I really can’t claim it has any deep spiritual meaning, but I do think it’s very fitting for me. I like the duality of it, the reminder that the dark is balanced by the light.

I’ve got another on my ankle that, sadly, was for little more than indulging an intoxicated whim. I don’t like it nearly as much, but I’ve come to appreciate it as a little warning to think things through.

I’ve got three: an orange goldfish on my calf, an orange koi across my lower back, and a small orange rose on my left hand. Why? 'Cause they’re pretty and I like orange and goldfish. No special meaning. (I’m not particularly deep) Although I originally intended the one on my hand to prevent me from ever getting a “real” job. Hah! I sure foiled me. I work in a cubicle

Left inner ankle.

It’s a tattoo of a drawing I made of a camera operator. It does help remind me of my calling, which I need right about now.

No bumper stickers (they tend to anger me).

My tats were also chosen after some deliberation. For me, they are an immediate signal to those who see them that says “this is the type of guy you are talking to”.

The peace sign is on my right arm. Peace is right. This is the way I try and conduct myself: peacably. Although I am a fairly confrontational person, I don’t bully people, I don’t coerce, and I don’t allow that to happen to me. The rainbow color scheme was inspired by Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow Coalition… no, I didn’t ever do anything with them, I just liked the idea that the name was all-inclusive. I’d like to see all peoples get along with each other. Plus, I mean, come on… rainbows look cool. :smiley:

The anarchy sign is on my left arm. Anarchy is what’s left. This is my commitment to self-sufficiency and self-governance. A declaration, if you will, that I am and will be responsible for myself and my actions.

:smiley: Of course, the seeming dichotomy/disparity of the 2 tats sends lots of people into a tizzie, and even scares a few, but all-in-all that doesn’t bother me. If someone can’t “get it” then they prolly aren’t people I would want to hang out with anyway. Some of the inspiration for them undoubtedly came from many readings of Robert Heinlein’s The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress and Professor de la Paz’s discussions of Rational Anarchy (I know it’s not practical in real life, but I like having an ideal to strive for, eh).

I also want: the entire Appalachian Trail on my right thigh, but only after I complete it (1878 miles to go! approximately). Also the trail to Havasupai, from Hualapai Hilltop all the way down to the Colorado River (this is the most beautiful, amazing place I have ever been to… I have spent 42 days of my life down there, and I intend to spend more than a year total in that canyon before I die). The other one I have ready to go is this picture on my upper back and lower neck. It’s a depiction of the Alaskan sun god by Joe Wilson. I like the colors, the imagery, and the notion of paying homage to something that is not just an essential part of life as we know it, but a source of beauty and strength as well.

As an aside, I don’t find many people with just one tattoo. They are addicting, and it doesn’t take long after the first one that people start thinking about another. Is that true for people here? (Sorry for the minor hijack, Misnomer.)

My tattoo is a reminder that the results of some decisions hang around a lot longer than you’d think. Half the time I like it and half the time it just gives me intense feelings of “stupid white girl.”

So true. I have a sticker on the side of my monitor that says “It’s ten years to your first tattoo and 10 minutes to your second.” I’ve only got the one, but it’s the centerpiece to a sleeve, and I already have my other arm planned out.

Mine are for me 100%. They are even upside down so they only look right-side up to me. I don’t try to explain them to people very much because it sounds stupid, but they make me happy. I feel lucky to have them, and they remind me that I’m lucky.

My tattoo is of a black cat with blue and purple dragon wings. I got it because I liked it, and have never regretted it. Not many people see it because it’s on the inside of one of my calves and I usually wear pants. Usually people are surprised to find out I even *have * a tattoo. (Must be that librarian look my hubby says I have.)

And I never had bumper stickers, but I did use to have a TON of buttons with sayings, so maybe it is related to that impluse after all.

To answer **Snowboarder Bo’s ** question, yes tattoos are addicting. For years I’ve planned out other tats to get, and I’ve just never been able to get them.

I have the Utah Teapot, in wireframe, tattooed on my right shoulder. It’s definitely just for me – you can’t see it even if I wear short sleeves. I got it after I shipped my first game.

For me. Uppercase Greek letter “Omega”, upper left arm. Without going into great detail, this mark represents something that I could never possibly forget, mark or not. What it does do is prompt me to reflect on that memory every time I see it, and remember what I did to earn it. This has a significant effect on my self-image, and my behaviour.

I have a wolf design on my back, left hand side. Noone really ever sees it. I just like it. It’s entirely for me.

My tattoos are for me, but I never fail to get a kick out of the facial expressions of little old ladies when they see my leg piece. In addition to a dolphin (left breast), Shaman’s Tears (inside right ankle) and a pink flamingo (outside right ankle) I have a waterfall with flowers from my left hip to ankle. It is basically a work-in-progress; my artist and I decided on it when I realized I liked tattoos and didn’t want to end up looking like a comic book, with different pics here and there.

With the exception of my dolphin, all of my tattoos are on my legs - I can wear slacks or dark hose and look just as respectable as anyone could want. Or I can wear shorts and rock someone’s world. It’s just a matter of mood.

When I was working for the local Humane Society, I stopped by my artist’s shop to pick up a change collection can and leave another one. While I waited to speak to Falcon, I was chatting with a young lady who was there to have her tongue pierced. >>shudder<< I commented that I loved my tattoos but that I wouldn’t consider a tongue piercing. The young lady said, in a very condesending manner, “oh you have a tattoo” - so I hiked up my skirt and showed her. I guess she was expecting a ladybug on my ankle or something, cause she freaked out. “Wow - to look at you I would never have guessed.” I like having that choice - I can keep them private or I can be biker bitch from hell.

My first two tattoos were just for me. I got my purple daisy peace sign when I was 18, mainly because I’d been wanting a tattoo for a long time, and I wanted to piss my mom off. Boy did it work! Sometimes I wish I’d gotten something a bit prettier.

I got the second when I was 23 (?). I chose a sprig of holly because uh, that’s my name. I did a bit more research and took the design out of a botany book from the library. I wanted it because for the first time in my life, I felt like my own person.

The third is a celtic heart with a bumble bee and blue delphinium. I got at age 27, in honor of my dad after he died in September of 2003. The blue delphinium because those were some of the flowers used in the funeral arrangement I bought, and the bee symbolizes his life and his generosity. If that doesn’t make sense, here is my logic: Bees pollinate flowers, resulting in more flowers. Silly, I know. Holly & Dad tattoos.

My husband and I are planning on getting matching tattoos some time in the future. They’ll probably feature the St. Andrew’s Cross and American flag.

Bumper stickers? I have a Coop devil chick (no nudity) in my back window, and a GB sticker on the bumper.

Good question, Misnomer.

I think to me it has something to do with having the guts to take a risk. It’s exactly for this reason that henna tattoo wouldn’t do. Without the risk of regretting, the coolness goes.

So I think that I (and although I can only speak for myself I suspect this goes for more tattoo wearers) want to show that I’m the kind of person who wants to show they dare take a risk and live with the consequences. Getting tattoed shows this to others and proves it to yourself. So to me the meaning is in the actual non-reversable (or hard to reverse anway) inking of the skin, rather than the symbolism of the image on my arm.

Or that’s my crackpot theory, anyway.

Upper right arm.

Pyramid with the eye.

It’s for me. It’s the most omniguous symbol out there, and when poeple ask me about it, I can make up anything I want about its meaning. Plus I’m a huge fan of the Illuminatus trilogy.