Tattoo or Not Tattoo

Now that the stigma on tattoos has gone so far the other way, I feel like I have to explain to my friends why I don’t want to get inked up.

By Bettina De Mesa, California State University at Fullerton


I’m a college student who works two jobs.

The first is in a professional laboratory setting, while the second is in hell, otherwise known as food service.

I’ve noticed that in both environments, my younger co-workers all have tattoos. Whether it’s a tiny music note on the side of their finger or a giant koi fish tramp stamp, there’s no shortage of tattooed millennials.

Take for example Paul, an R&D researcher who has a strikingly similar tribal design to Rick, the bubble tea barista. Both have different “styles,” i.e. handlebar mustache as a hipster versus Supreme-wearing teenagers as hypebeast.

Look how cool tattoos arePaul is someone you’d see on Linkedin and envy his accomplishments—sweater vest and all. Rick on the other hand is a sophomore in college who people frequently mistake as a homeless man.

What’s funny is that even though their careers/social status/looks are polar opposites, their tattoos are the great equalizer between them. It’s as if tattoos are their initiation rites into a secret club like the sisterhood of traveling pants, but a more exclusive one with a cooler name like “The Dead Tattoo Artists Society” or “Ink Inc.”

Ironically, it feels like nowadays I have to rationalize my decision to not get a tattoo, whereas twenty years ago I would have to rationalize getting one. The social stigma of having tattoos is slowly fading away, so what happens when you’re a blank canvas in an already painted world?

I’ve been tattoo free since 1994, largely because of my inability to commit or make decisions. These two main factors are why I will never own a house, get married or settle in a suburban neighborhood, but that’s a story for another time. T

he idea of picking one design to “permanently” needle onto my body makes me worry about the feelings of regret that future Bettina will deal with.

*Note: Yes, it’s 2016 now and laser treatments are available, but who has that much disposable income or tolerance for pain?

I can’t even go a month without changing iPhone cases, let alone sketching a picture of a corgi on my side boob. I can imagine my response to the cliché “What does your tattoo mean?” would be “It means I f*cking love corgis.” But will I love corgis in 2025? Or will I be more of a Great Dane kind of gal? It’s this kind of thinking that makes you wonder what the meaning of life is.

Yet when I verbalize my hesitations about getting a tattoo, I notice that there’s an overwhelming amount of dissent coming toward me.

The first stage of this conversation consists of asking why I want to stay blank, which amounts to five minutes of amateur psychoanalysis aimed at understanding the root of my tattoo aversion.

The next stage is salesmanship. Two minutes of trying to convince me to change my personal preference by reassuring me that it will change my life and aesthetic. Look, I will always be known as the short, big-glasses wearing Asian girl. A few tattoos will only make it look like I’m trying too hard to be someone I’m not. Following this comes five minutes of anger as I try to explain why my dislike for tattoos doesn’t mean that I don’t like seeing them on others.

Finally, the last stage of acceptance comes when we mend our strained friendships through the sipping of sangria. It’s not that I hate discussing my preference to eschew body art, but it’s the feeling of being judged and labeled “conservative” that I’m not keen on.

What is it about tattoos that allures to my young colleagues?

I think that tattoos are romanticized, like kissing in the rain. Sure, it sounds great trying to recreate the Ryan Gosling/Rachel McAdams scene, but have you actually tried it? It’s just waterboarding with tongue.

It’s the same logic with getting a tattoo. I remember drawing pictures on my arm with a pilot pen in elementary school to make myself seem like the coolest 3rd grader in all of Wilcox Elementary. For the time being, I really believed that I was one of the bad-ass kids that gets noticed by everyone.

This idea of being significant in the world by transforming your physical self is evident in the actions of twenty-somethings today.

Branding yourself with a piece of artwork doesn’t validate your individuality and significance, but is instead actually self-serving. It allows millenials to feel special without contributing the hard work it takes to actually be “special.” Actually being of purpose to the world means contributing ideas that help mankind, not tattooing an infinity symbol on your wrist.

There’s nothing wrong with getting tattoos. There are some designs that even validate the job title of “tattoo artist.” There’s also nothing wrong with choosing to be ink-free. It’s the false perception that having tattoos elevates your social identity and that a lack of tattoos reduces it—that’s what I have a problem with. As cliché as it sounds, it’s just a matter of personal preference. You can validate yourself by taking pride in your tattoos, but you could do the same by taking pride in your lack of tattoos.