Permanent Marker: 3 Things Every Person Should Consider Before Getting A Tattoo

by Daphne Wester

My niece turned 18 this spring and the first word out of her mouth when I asked what she wanted to do for her birthday was “TATTOO!!!!” I sighed. Well, I groaned, honestly.

I groaned even louder when I asked her what tattoo she wanted and she shrugged excitedly, “I just want one!” This made me think of many of my lady friends over the years and their tats.

Being tattoo-free at the time and not totally understanding the process, I’d ask “Oh, how’d you pick that? What does it mean to you?” Invariably they’d say, “Honestly, I just picked it right off the wall.” Sometimes, they’d look down, ashamed as they said it.

With that shamed look in mind, I never thought during my time in undergrad or even post-grad that I’d ever be a "tattoo person" or that I’d ever get even one tattoo. Ever. Not when I was 18; not at 21 and not even at 25.

But one day, I saw this chick walking down the street with this poise, this grace, this confidence, this ephemeral coolness about her and I couldn’t identify the source. I realized that I really liked the set of tattoos she had. I asked her about them, where she got them done, what they meant, etc.

Unlike my lady friends, she gave me very detailed and thoughtful answers. The exchange made me rethink my long-held notion that I would never be a “tattoo person."

I did indeed end up getting tatted, multiple times, and here are some of the lessons I learned along the way regarding timing and the general decision-making process:

If It Means Something To You, Don’t Be Afraid To Get It Tattooed

Regarding the “cool” girl I encountered on the street, I’m not saying that her coolness emanated from her tattoos or that tattoos can magically bring “coolness” to anyone who sits in the chair.

I’m just saying that she was naturally a “cool” person — a person who seemed to find it effortless to be herself, to just walk around on a daily basis and not stress about how she is perceived. Thus, her tattoos became a part of her and by virtue of that, part of her coolness.

They meant something to her. She thought meticulously about it before she did it -- the details, the planning -- and the end result was something permanent. They were a permanent representation of “her," a visible marker of “her” for everyone else to see.

She was not an “I just picked the dolphin off the wall” type of girl. She did not look down in shame when I asked and instead, she excitedly discussed her whole process with me.

Her tattoos moved just as effortlessly through the world as she did. They were just as mysteriously cool as she was — not the source of her “coolness.”

Immediately after speaking with her, after seeing how her tattoos were just as much a part of her metaphorically as they were physically, I started thinking of a tattoo I might want to get -- planning it and plotting it.

Take Your Time. Be Certain, Not Impulsive

Amidst my plotting and planning, never one to get caught up in whimsy, I told myself, "This is a big decision — a permanent one. It isn’t like choosing who to lose your virginity to; this actually matters.

I realized I did not want to live with something forever that I chose in a moment of impulse after a chance encounter with a charming stranger on the street.

So, I made a deal with myself that if in exactly a year, the idea of a tattoo was still constantly running through my brain, I’d pick an artist and schedule the appointment. A year later, the desire was just as strong, so I took the plunge.

You’re Never Too Old

I was 26, then, when I got my first tattoos. I was not freshly 18 and new to the adult decision-making process. I was not drunk. I was not on spring break. I did not pick something off the wall.

But, the day I got my first tattoos, a friend of a friend said to me with a bit of judgment, “Don’t you think you are a little too old to be getting tattoos?”

I was a little offended. I thought for a moment before I answered and I told her the above story. I finished by asking her, “So, I should’ve shown up at the tattoo shop on my 18th birthday like everyone else, completely clueless as to what I wanted, just to be stuck with my butterfly and rainbows for life? When, then, would you suggest is an appropriate age to get tattooed?”

She didn’t say much in response.

If something is permanent, if it will be with you forever once you choose it, why rush to a decision? Why not wait until an age when you will have a better handle on what you want in your life and what you don’t? (This is true for many things.)

So, when my freshly 18-year-old niece suggested that trip to the tattoo shop, after I finished groaning, I said to her, “Pick something out. Then wait a year. If it’s still important to you in a year, go to town.”

I think that’s solid advice, for tattoos and in life in general.

Photo via We Heart It