I Don’t Believe Tattoos Need to Have Meanings — I Have 14 of Them
I have 14 tattoos. I’ve stopped counting for my own sake, but for the record, and to establish a bit of expertise here, I thought I’d let you know.
They range from pieces that I put years of thought and meaning into, to pieces that I got on the way home from a long shift because I decided that my love for coffee was so great that I needed to immortalize it on my body for the rest of my life and the skin behind my ear was woefully empty (no regrets).
I often get asked what, if any, meanings my tattoos hold for me — which is very annoying, by the way, please don’t ask me this if I hardly know you — and I usually have one answer. My tattoos don’t all have meanings — some do and some don’t, but the one thing they all have is a story.
That’s my best advice for those interested in getting some ink — other than doing your research and making sure the shop you want to go to is clean and professional. Make sure each tattoo you get has a story.
I’ve heard folks say that if you’re going to get a tattoo it needs to mean something. It’s a permanent addition to your skin collection (sorry for calling it that), so it needs to be important enough to be there forever.
I don’t necessarily agree.
The line between a meaning and a story is very thin, so it is a difficult distinction to make. The way I see it, tattoos with meanings are pieces you get for something or someone, to represent something or someone — like a birthday of a loved one or a name, etc. A tattoo with a story is a piece with a narrative behind it. It might not necessarily stand for something or someone, but there is a story behind you getting it.
Every tattoo should have a story, at least that’s what I think.
For one, when people ask you why you got that ballpoint pen etched permanently into your forearm (and they will), you need something to tell them that isn’t embarrassingly deep and personal — most people would rather not go into their deep, dark depressive episodes while waiting for their Starbucks mobile order to appear on the counter. Sometimes it’s nice to have a simple story to tell people who are curious.
But the bigger reason I’m a fan of tattoos with stories is that sometimes you see a tattoo — whether it’s on a flash sheet or on Instagram — and you think “I need that on me right now.” It’s hard to explain, but those of you who have gotten a tattoo know firsthand how absolutely addicting it is and how, when you see something that just looks cool and maybe fits in with what you like, it’s hard to stop thinking about it.
Trust me, I have five flash tattoos from a Halloween special at Taylor Street Tattoo that I got in three separate Octobers and a coffee cup behind my ear that I decided on a whim to get. Sometimes you just know.
However, it is still important to think about what the tattoo will remind you of in 20, 30, 40 years. What are you going to think of when you see that tattoo in the mirror when you’re old and gray?
My philosophy is that you don’t need to have some deep meaning associated with a tattoo for it to be meaningful. Speaking for myself, when I look at the five silly Halloween-themed flash tattoos I have, I am reminded of being a carefree, adventurous college student in the city of my dreams who wasn’t afraid to trek across town in the rain — for some reason, every single time I went to this particular shop, it would downpour and I’d arrive with wet socks and a soggy hoodie. They don’t have meanings other than me seeing them on a flash sheet and thinking “those two ghosts in a polaroid are incredible and I think it’s the perfect size to fit that blank spot by my elbow,” but that doesn’t mean that they were silly or that I regret them. They remind me of a fantastic time in my life where I was fearless and bold, and those parts of life are sometimes hard to come by.
Those silly flash tattoos have a story, a memory attached to them. They don’t have a deep, emotional meaning, but they will always make me smile when I see them.
So, if you’re out there with a tattoo idea you adore and you’re desperately looking for a deep meaning to associate with it in order to justify getting it — we’ve all been there — I’m here to tell you that you really don’t need to. As long as you’ve thought it through carefully, I think you should go for it; sometimes a story can just be “I love coffee to a fault and was going a little crazy at work.” Just be sure about what you’ll be reminded of when you look at it later.