for tattooed people, and those who want to be

You did WHAT??? (friends and family freak out)


Not everyone likes tattoos. (Wow, talk about a revelation, hmm?) And a lot of people who don’t like tattoos are not shy about saying so.

What happens if you’re a multicolored person in a tattoo-hating family? What happens if you’ve got a parent or sibling who is bound and determined to tell you off about what you did to yourself? When you’ve got a lifetime of actions and reactions built up, how do you get past all that and explain what the other person can’ t seem to understand?

I think the person who comes up with a definitive answer to that will make a fortune. Needless to say, I’m not the one. Not yet, anyway.

As I’ve mentioned, I first got the idea of getting a tattoo when I was 16. I already had a pretty good idea of how my parents felt about things like that (they didn’t want me to get my ears pierced, for one thing). Little did I know that 40 years later when I finally got my first real tattoo, my mother would still feel the same way.

Good thing I was in Los Angeles and she was in Georgia when it happened, that’s all I can say. She happened to call me the day I got my tattoo. Maybe I shouldn’t have waited till the end of the conversation to just casually slip that fact into the discussion. But I suspect she would have hit the roof no matter what.

Now, granted, my mom’s in her seventies, and in her day, tattoos were more a matter of soldiers, sailors and Lady Luck. I can see not being thrilled at the idea of your daughter coming home from some scummy dockside place with a busty babe, dice and a winning poker hand inked into her arm. And it wasn’t as though I’d ever, oh, mentioned that I wanted a tattoo in all those years. So her “You did WHAAAAAAAT?” was understandable.

But in the ten years since then, my mother hasn’t changed her mind one bit. She didn’t even want to look at my ink. Not even the multicolored Chinese dragon that I designed in honor of her mother. She doesn’t like tattoos. End of story. At least I’m old enough to give myself permission to get them. And now that tattoo parlors require people to be of legal age in order to get inked, the issue of getting a reluctant parent to give permission shouldn’t come up any more. That doesn’t mean that one’s relatives won’t raise a fuss if they feel strongly about the issue, though.

Whether to consult with family members beforehand or present them with a fait accompli is best left to individual discretion. One does have to consider whether the tattoo is worth long-term family animosity, though. In some cases it might be better to wait and give people a chance to get used to the idea. Or make sure the tattoo is applied to an area that can be easily and completely hidden from view for as long as necessary.

However, in my case there was an amusing postscript to the parental reaction. A year or so after I got my first tattoo, I found a web site that would let me send off for photocopies of the paperwork my great-grandfather signed when he enlisted in the Canadian Expeditionary Force in WWI. When the papers arrived, I discovered two things. One, his handwriting and his daughter’s (my mother’s mother’s) was nearly identical. And two, he had three tattoos, one of which was a dragon.

I called my mother and told her this. “It’s genetic,” I said, “and it’s all your fault.” 🙂

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Author: infmom

I got my first tattoo when I was 46. I hope the people who read this blog don't have to wait that long. I love talking about body art.


  1. Re: not being the same at 18 as when you are 30:

    I hope I don’t give the wrong impression, young people are getting some amazing and artistic tattoos. But sometimes I think that people should be required to wait until they are 40 to get tattooed! I have been at tattoo conventions and seen young girls probably one day over 18 with very troubling imagery of death and dismembered heads, and dolls with knives through their heads, etc. right on their forearms. I’m sure that the sincerely feel that this is a statement about their lives, or it has meaningful symbolism for them, “this is who I am,” and it is probably true AT THAT POINT IN THEIR LIVES. I know it sounds fuddy-duddy, but I have got to think that the are making huge permanent mistakes in a time when their lives and attitudes are not yet formed.

    I roll my eyes when I think of some of the things I was interested in when I was 18, and thank goodness I didn’t put them on my body. Like Infmom, I was interested in tattooing from a young age, I didn’t get my firs ink until my mid 40’s for my first ink, and over the last seven or 8 years have gotten extensive coverage. By my mid 40’s I knew who I was, where I was going, my values had been formed, and my career was established. I knew my limits, and even though I have heavy coverage, it can all be covered in business clothes, and I can even attend a cocktail party in attractive (albeit carefully selected) clothing and you would still never know.

    I just think that with age comes stability and a level of certainty that gives you a better basis for starting a meaningful tattoo collection that you will be proud of for the rest of your life.

    • I agree–I take classes at the local community college and sometimes I just cringe to see what the younger students have had applied all over their bodies. It may be the ultimate in goth fashion now, but what about after they graduate and try to find jobs? What about the multiple rings through the lips and the stretched earlobes? Do they really think they hvae no future that will be in any way different from the present?

  2. My youngest daughter showed us her tattoo last night. She is 18, so that is not the issue. I have never objected to small tattoos on girls though from my perspective the less visible they are the better. But nothing prepared me for the tattoo that goes from shoulder to shoulder and most of the way down her back! The design is nice, but it is covering her back. She says it is “who she is” but at 18 who you are is not who you will be at 21 or 30 or beyond. I am stunned.

    • I can certainly understand your reaction. And you’re right, who you are at 18 is vastly different from who you are in later years. I wouldn’t have been happy with the little inked flower on my ankle that I started drawing there at age 16 and hoped to make permanent, if I’d managed to find an artist to tattoo it on, back then.

      My daughter and I got tattooed together twice, but her designs are fairly small and can be easily covered if need be. I’m not sure what I would have said if she’d wanted a tattoo as extensive as your daughter’s.

      I hope it turns out OK for you both.

  3. I got my first tattoo when I was 15…I was dumb and got it in someone’s apt. I hid it till I was 18. (Don’t ask me how) My mother had the same reaction yours did… “You did WHAAAT?!” I got my second one at age 19, and just yesterday got my 3rd (or 3rd & 4th, it’s a pair of wings, one on each ankle). My family doesn’t really like tattoos…but I think they’ve come to realize that it’s a personal choice for me. While that doesn’t stop them from speaking their mind about how much they hate them, they have never been so adamant as to stop talking to me or anything else drastic.

    • I understand hiding things from your parents. My dad said I couldn’t get my ears pierced when I was 16 because it “looked cheap.” I did it anyway, and covered up my ears with my long hair when I was around my dad. He never noticed till years later. But then again, he was the typical absent-minded professor. 🙂

      A pair of wings on each ankle sounds neat! Are they on the front or back? I get the image of those winged sandals on the old Greek statues.

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