When I got my first tattoo, I heard nearly every negative thing a person could possibly say about body ink.
Do I know that it’s going to be on my body forever? Why, yes, I do. Honestly, I’m glad there’s something in this world that won’t leave me. Do I know that nobody will hire me because of my tattoos? That’s interesting, because there’s this handy-dandy thing called clothing that I can use to cover each and every one of my tattoos.
While the stigma surrounding body ink is slowly dissolving, it is far from being gone. If someone chooses not to alter their body in that way, power to them. Totally understandable. Tattoos aren’t for everyone. However, to criticize others or to impose arbitrary shame on someone for their decision to get inked is nonsensical and unhealthy in my opinion.
Admittedly, the stigma bothered me at first. My tattoo was a design, simple as it may have been, that I spent weeks picking out, that I decided represented me, that I paid good money for, that I endured pain for. This series of lines is a part of me now, yet people had no issue insulting it, flinging platitudes without regard to my self-image.
However, as I expanded the collection of art on my skin, my concern for other people’s opinions diminished. I realized there are plenty of positives about getting tattooed that people neglect to mention in their eagerness to disapprove.
The first of which is bodily autonomy — the concept that people should have control over what happens to their bodies. Unfortunately, there are a lot of things in life that people are unable to prevent. A lack of jurisdiction in your own life can be crippling. Luckily, tattoos can reinforce the idea that you do, in fact, have some control, even if it’s just over your physical appearance.
It may seem like a small thing, but tattoos allow people to make decisions, ones that are more impactful than anyone might realize. Getting a tattoo is a way to dictate which ideologies a person wants to project to the world, which facets of their life they want to memorialize. It can be liberating to have even that modicum of power.
What’s more is that tattoos can serve as reminders to yourself just as much as they can construct an image for other people. I have a tattoo on my wrist. It’s just a single word: ephemeral. Nine letters. Not exactly a literary masterpiece. Every time I look down at it, though, it brings me comfort because it reminds me that I can get through anything. On my foot, I have the New York City skyline, which is a permanent, visual representation of where I want to arrive in life.
It’d be easy for someone to say those are foolish ideas for tattoos because my goals or my outlook on life might change. That’s true, but it doesn’t mean I need to forget the hopes and dreams that governed my decisions throughout my pivotal college years.
Tattoos can serve as a map of your life. They can mark the happiest moments or the darkest places a person has visited. They can express someone’s morals or hobbies. Sure, your interests or your ideals might shift as the years pass, but if something was important enough to you that you literally got it ingrained in your skin, the odds are that it had a major impact on where your interests or ideals ended up, and that’s worth noting.
It’s also important to mention that some people get inked for the pure aesthetic appeal. Maybe they don’t care about personal autonomy or commemorating landmarks of their life. Either way, a tattoo is actual artwork on a person’s body. Isn’t there something beautiful about a person wanting to display art every moment they exist? I’ve been to The Louvre, okay? I know first-hand how much people from all around the world revere art. There’s no reason to reproach someone for turning their body into a canvas.
And if someone does judge you for your tattoos, it’s a pretty good indicator of who you’re going to want to keep around. Maybe it shouldn’t be the sole basis for weeding someone out of your life, but if a person is willing to bring you down just because you put some ink on your skin, it might make you think twice about whether they’re a necessary fixture in your life.
Because in the end, tattoos are nothing but ink on your skin. They don’t change what kind of person you are. If someone sees you as lesser because of a tattoo, that says more about them than it does about you.
Just as tattoos may break friendships, so too can they foster a sense of community. When I see someone rocking a quote from one of my favorite books or lyrics from a song I love, I am far more inclined to spark up conversation with them. Whether they want that conversation or not is up to them, but people usually love to talk about their favorite things. Either way, seeing your own passions depicted on another person can make you feel less alone, even if only for a few minutes.
With all that in mind, the biggest positive of getting a tattoo is simple: it makes people happy. I love my tattoos. They give me confidence. They help me express myself. They make me feel good. In a world overflowing with horrible happenings every day, why should people criticize anything that brings someone else joy? When you lay your head down at night, somebody else’s body ink does not affect you, so just let people enjoy their tattoos.
Tattoos serve many different purposes, and everybody sits in the chair for their own reasons. Instead of making tattoos a fodder for criticism, appreciate them as a way to celebrate this complex, diverse world.