Tattoos can hold a lot of personal and significant meanings, but to a lot of people, their tattoos don’t really symbolize anything, and that’s great!
Tattoos do not have to have significant meanings—they don’t have to have any meaning at all. When it comes to your body, you get to decide how you want to alter and present it. There are no rules that dictate how you are allowed to express yourself, and people get tattoos for so many different reasons all the time.
There are many different reasons people get tattoos, which can differ from person to person and place to place. For some people, tattoos are a way to express their personality, while others use them to feel more comfortable in their bodies. Tattoos can be meaningless or highly sentimental; they can be light-hearted, funny, and even dark or threatening. The way we view tattoos has also changed over time from something taboo and highly rebellious to becoming the much more widely accepted practice that we see today.
Tattoos Are Permanent
I have a good collection of my own tattoos, but I felt quite a lot of trepidation when I was getting my first piece done. I wanted to make sure that I chose something important to me that represented my personality and significant meaning. Making a permanent change to my body was a major life decision. I was also scared of what others would think and say to them when they asked about my tattoos. I wanted an answer that sounded sophisticated and justifiable, and I didn’t want them to think I was permanently altering my body just because I liked a picture.
However, as I have gotten older, I have changed as a person. I have grown, learned, and progressed. I have achieved academic and professional goals, been hit with major setbacks, fell in love with new hobbies, moved into new homes, lost friends, pets, and family, and met countless new people who have added to my life.
These experiences mean that the tattoo that once symbolized something important to my teenage version no longer represents the same thing to my current version. That certainly doesn’t mean that I regret getting my tattoos; it just means that they will change along with me.
This will inevitably happen to you and everybody else with ink. People change, and personal growth is a good thing. Our tattoos come with us, not necessarily losing their meaning or becoming insignificant, but evolving and growing.
Yes, tattoos are permanent. But so too are other events in life—aging, having children, losing people we care about and getting scars from accidents, falling sick, and eventually dying. This is not a reason to avoid something that you want right now.
So Why Do People Get Tattoos?
Every person with tattoos will have a different answer to this question. A lot of people have tattoos that do hold special meanings. It is quite common for people to get tattoos as memorials: to help them remember loved ones and significant events in their lives or help motivate them through difficult situations. One of my tattoos was, in part, a celebration of my graduation, and it helped me remember all of the hard work and dedication I put in to get a degree.
A lot of people get tattoos to make themselves look tough, cool, and edgy. Tattoos were steeped in a tradition of rebellion for many decades, and to many people, they still are. They can set you apart from the crowd, make you look unique and distinctive. The desire to rebel against traditional systems and societal norms is a typical part of growing up, and it’s no surprise that tattoos are used to achieve this goal.
People also get tattoos is because they like how they look. There are so many different styles of tattoos, from neotraditional, Japanese, cartoon, and even hyperrealistic, and tattoo artists are amongst some of the most creative, adaptable, and talented illustrators in the world.
They use the medium of skin to share their talent and artistic vision with the rest of the world, just like Picasso or Van Gogh. Falling in love with the artwork is a great reason to get a tattoo. The body is a temple, so you may as well decorate it with beautiful things.
Another reason that people get tattoos is to help them feel more comfortable in their bodies. Tattoos are a good way to cover up birthmarks, scars, and even stretch marks. They can be used to conceal all kinds of different marks on the skin and make you feel more confident. One of my tattoos covers an old scar that I would rather not have people gawking at. Tattoos can also be used to smoothen out skin texture and are often used cosmetically to hide conditions like alopecia.
Finally, though I’m sure there are thousands of other reasons you could find, people also get tattoos because of the process it involves. Going under the needle and having to manage pain is a transcendent experience. It connects with mind with the body in a very real and tangible way. As the needle runs through your skin, your body releases adrenaline, and your nerves send waves of pain signals, but your mind can overcome all of this.
Getting a tattoo can strengthen your mental resolve and help you get through other difficult and painful situations in life. It can be a therapeutic and cathartic release for grief and anguish. This is why many people say that getting tattoos is ‘addictive.’ It is not the ink they are addicted to, but the experience of letting the mind overcome matter.
Where Does This Idea Even Come From?
Traditional tattoos are largely associated with the culture of the US Navy, which saw millions of young sailors leaving their homes and setting off to explore the world. Many of these sailors encountered horrible things, and tattoos became a way to overcome the emotional trauma. These types of traditional tattoos often held very specific meanings. For example, a swallow tattoo represented that a sailor had traveled 5000 nautical miles. Crossed cannons meant that a sailor had been involved in warfare. Pigs and roosters were good luck charms used to help prevent drowning.
This deep-rooted tradition of getting specific images to represent specific achievements or events is probably one of the main reasons many people still think that modern tattoos must also have specific meanings.
However, if we look back in history, we can see tattoos in all kinds of cultures from all over the world. Even as far back as 3000BC, and probably even further to neolithic times, we can find remnants of tattoos. Otzi the Iceman, who lived around 3300BC, was covered several dozen tattoos, many of them near his joints. Some people believe that tattoos were used to treat arthritis, so the linework didn’t have any meaning.
Getting a tattoo is not a decision that should be motivated by the concerns of others. People will find something to judge, whether you have tattoos or not. Of course, you need to consider that they are permanent, and the way you feel about an art piece today may not be the same in a few years or decades.
Make sure that your tattoos do not threaten your professional success, depending on what line of work you are in, but also help the world become more accepting of body modifications by wearing them with pride. Tattoos shouldn’t be a major life decision that haunts you; they should be fun, beautiful, and enjoyable.