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Why People Get Tattoos

Updated on September 13, 2014

The reasons people decide to get tattoos are as varied as tattoos themselves. From memorial tattoos to getting inked on a whim with friends, everyone sporting ink or considering it has a reason. There are stereotypes associated with tattoos and this may be in part due to ignorance of the reasons why people get tattoos. The sad fact is many people among the non inked population don’t consider the myriad reasons why some people choose to get tattoos. They just assume that inked people fall into one of the stereotyped categories. Many believe only sailors, rebels, and criminals get tattooed; and they assume the inked population is less intelligent, less professional, and sometimes less attractive than the non inked population. Not all people who choose to get tattoos get inked just to rebel and being vocal about the reasons why people choose to get inked is important to lessening the stereotypes.

The decision to get inked is a personal choice and no one reason is really better than another because it’s such an individual decision. For some, a tattoo of something they really, really like is as good a reason to get inked as someone who chose a memorial tattoo. The bottom line is that those who get inked have a reason for it and those reasons shouldn’t be judged based on stereotypes and assumptions.

Memorial Tattoos or Tattoos to Honor Loved Ones:

As evidenced on shows such as L.A. Ink, memorial tattoos are popular. Portraits of loved ones are often asked for as well as objects representing memories of loved ones, such as flowers. Some people have chosen to get memorial tattoos of a ribbon for a loved one who has died of cancer as a way to raise awareness. Others choose to get portraits of a child or other relative who has passed. For those wanting memorial tattoos, the tattoo is a way of keeping the loved one close to them.

For many, their family or certain members of their family have made a particular impact on a person and they choose to honor those people in a tattoo design.

Significant Meaning:

Another important reason people choose to get tattoos is because the image they chose has significant meaning to them. Sometimes they can be “mile markers” after a significant life event such as a marriage, birth, divorce, surviving a traumatic event or illness. Tattoos can signify a new beginning or transitional phase for a person. They can serve as reminders of life lessons learned and represent personal growth. Some get script of quotes that have meaning for them.

My two tattoos are of fictional characters that have great meaning for me. They have personality traits and story arcs that I admire and inspire me. Among other personal reasons for choosing a portrait of Legate Damar from Deep Space Nine, his character and story arc remind me that people can change, addictions can be conquered, and ordinary people can do great things. These are important things for me to remember, not just in my personal life, but also in the profession I hope to be working in after I graduate from grad school. I had Generation One Megatron done because of certain personality traits I admired in him. Despite being the villain in the Transformers cartoon, I admired that he always came back one more time than he was beaten. I admire that kind of perseverance in a person and that’s what that tattoo of him reminds me of.

Religious, Spiritual, and Patriotic Reasons:

Religious, figures, symbols and/or scriptures are popular tattoos; and the reasons people choose them can also be varied. Oftentimes a person’s faith has always been a significant part of their lives. For others, their faith has been renewed or jumpstarted by a life event and a religious tattoo is chosen to commemorate that.

Sometimes people choose to get ink that signifies their patriotism, especially among those who have served in the military or law enforcement. For many of these people, there is a close connection between who they are and their service to their country so tattoos are a way for them to express this devotion to their community and country.

Covering up scar tissue or medical issue alerts:

A few interesting reasons for tattoos came up when I was watching the first season of LA Ink on Netflix and that is covering up scar tissue or other skin conditions and also designs showing medical conditions. It’s certainly understandable why some would choose to hide scars and skin conditions with something more meaningful and attractive to them. Others use tattoos as a way to broadcast medical issues in the event of an emergency.

To Express Individuality:

Sometimes there isn’t a deeper meaning behind getting inked other than the desire to express one’s individuality and show likes, favorite activities, and whatnot. I’ve considered getting a tattoo of a tiger or Tyrannosaurus Rex, but other than a deep appreciation for the beauty and nature of those animals, they don’t really hold much of a deeper meaning for me. I just really like them. For others, it could be food, musical instruments, anything really that a person likes.

So there are many different reasons why people choose to get inked and they don’t all have to do with being rebels, sailors, and criminals. Many people with ink are productive members of society and have personal, meaningful reasons for choosing to get tattoos. Like all people, it is best not to judge a person on the outside before finding out what’s on the inside.



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