I got my first tattoo on my nineteenth birthday. It was a long-awaited present to myself, and a permanent reminder of my ability to survive the difficult times. At that point in my life, I had no plans to get more than just that single tattoo, especially considering that I also had a terrible fear of needles. But I never forgot what the tattoo artist told me, as he was setting up the station. “You do know they’re addictive, right?” And my response, “No, I really do just want the one.” Now I have nine, and no plans to stop anytime soon.
So, the question. How did I get from being absolutely certain that I only ever wanted one tattoo to becoming an addict?
When I was growing up, I, like many others, thought that the only people to have tattoos were people in the military, prison, or biker gangs. I know, I know, I was wrong, but that’s what I had been taught. Tattoos were only for people in very particular segments of society, and not for people who were “normal.” Even today, when tattoos have become more acceptable, my family still looks down on people who choose to have them. And yes, that includes their children.
I’ve never considered myself “normal,” whatever your definition of normal may be. That’s not why I wanted a tattoo. What I wanted, when I chose to get my first, was something that could never be taken away from me, a reminder of my own strength. Over the years since I started getting tattoos, the most common critique I’ve heard has been that having one doesn’t make you unique, everyone is getting them now. But that’s not why I get tattoos.
People choose to get tattoos for many different reasons. Some use them to commemorate the birth of a child. Others as a memorial for someone who has died. Still more simply like the design. If you asked 100 people with tattoos what their reason for getting one was, you’d probably get 100 different answers. In my case, every one of my tattoos has a reason, and some of those reasons are more personal than others. Sometimes the reason had nothing to do with the actual design, and more with the desire to get another bit of ink. For me, the physical act of getting a tattoo is just as important as the design itself.
So how did I get from only wanting one tattoo to having nine? I suppose that the first one made me realise that as much as I like physical possessions, having something that couldn’t ever be taken away from me is so much better. When people ask about my tattoos, I’m happy to explain them. But I don’t get them for other people. Each one symbolises something about me, and in the end, I’m the only person who has to like them. And believe me, I do!