What are the pros and cons of being tattooed?
August 12, 2022 5:02 PM   Subscribe

What is on the plus side and what is on the negative side?
posted by nfub to Society & Culture (27 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
very very short term negative side: you will not be allowed to donate blood for up to three months in the US, per this FAQ, but honestly, that's only if you go to one of the vanishingly few states that do not regulate tattoo parlors, because of the higher risk of hepatitis. Canada is a little more conservative, three months across the board (improved from six months very recently)
posted by ivan ivanych samovar at 5:07 PM on August 12, 2022

Plus side: You get to decorate a part of your body in a way that matches your view of your body, or with something you find beautiful/meaningful/cool/awesome.

Plus side: Feeling like a snake when the weird coloured scabs flake off your skin as the tatoo heals. Worth it just for that.

Down side: Might need to not swim for a while as it heals.
posted by Sauter Vaguely at 5:15 PM on August 12, 2022 [3 favorites]

I got my ink done when I was 58, just to prove to myself and the world that I was capable of making changes. It's a totem-style lizard on my left arm.

Down side: one night, shortly after I obtained the tattoo, I got up to use the bathroom. I turned the light on and looked down, and was startled to see something crawling on my arm! GET OFF ME! GET OFF! I swatted at it. Then I woke up enough to realize, oh, it's my tattoo.
posted by SPrintF at 5:21 PM on August 12, 2022 [17 favorites]

The obvious potential con (or pro, depending) is that it's permanent. What if you eventually don't like it? Removal is expensive and painful.
posted by citygirl at 5:23 PM on August 12, 2022 [10 favorites]

Plus: I get ton of compliments on it and really love it myself

Con: Strangers have an excuse to talk to me

Cons: Good artists are expensive and take a long time to get in with

Plus: I feel empowered with it

Plus: you are participating in an ancient act of self-adornment that ties you human beings across time and culture, it can be a sacred and meaningful experience
posted by wellifyouinsist at 5:26 PM on August 12, 2022 [3 favorites]

Long-term there really are not any real cons to being tattooed unless you hate your tattoo. But you can be reasonably sure that you'll like it by just sitting with it for a while and seeing if you change your mind. On a day-to-day basis I think about my tattoos.... literally never, especially the one on my back that I cannot see. They are just a part of my skin that causes absolutely no problems in my life whatsoever. Sometimes, but not often, people comment on them, which can be kind of cool.

They hurt to get and the healing process can be mildly annoying, but that part is over quickly.

Even to this day I look at these detailed designs on my skin and run my fingers over it and am amazed that such an intricate piece of art (ok that's a strong term because my tattoos are pretty simple but you know what I mean) is just skin. I expect to feel something different, like a slight change in the texture of my skin or a slightly raised scar. But it's just the same old flat, somewhat dry skin that I have on the rest of my body, just with what looks like a painting etched into it. Very cool to me, even to this day.

Which is to say, if you're asking if you should get tattooed.... of course you should. You (probably) won't regret it.
posted by Amy93 at 5:26 PM on August 12, 2022 [5 favorites]

It's been all pluses and no negatives for me, other than the short term blood donation thing. Even the oldest 20+-year-old tattoo that I wouldn't get today is still overall something I have positive feelings about.

The actual experience of getting tattoos is enjoyable for me, the experience of having them is also good, it's caused me no friction or problems in my personal or professional life.

If that oldest tattoo were somewhere more regularly visible I might want to have a coverup done, so there would be some minor downside in the expense of getting that done. But that would probably be more than outweighed by the fun of picking and getting the new ink, so still not much of a con in my book.
posted by Stacey at 5:28 PM on August 12, 2022 [1 favorite]

The only con for me is that the tattoos I have today are not the tattoos I want to have today.

I would say that my feelings are overall meh -- not negative enough to serious consider removal, not positive enough to say I have no regrets, not particularly interested in covering them up with other tattoos, but not closed to the idea of getting new ones.
posted by sm1tten at 5:48 PM on August 12, 2022 [14 favorites]

One con not mentioned yet is that some professions still consider visible tattoos unprofessional, but that has greatly decreased in the last few decades.
posted by matildaben at 5:54 PM on August 12, 2022 [1 favorite]

As possibly the only non-tattooed person to comment (so far at least), I can say the tattoos look so cool on other people. I’ve never gotten one because I haven’t found or thought of a design that I wanted inked on me.

One possible downside is that tats don’t seem to age well. Skin stretches, ink fades, etc. Or you get tired of being associated with what’s drawn on you.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 5:56 PM on August 12, 2022 [8 favorites]

I don’t usually like the way most tattoos look on other people. So one con is that others might find them unattractive (more relevant if you are single/dating).

I know some people who regret their tattoos - usually ones they got when they were quite young and their tastes have changed.

Of course corollary pro is that some other people find them attractive! And many people like their own tattoos and are glad they got them.
posted by amaire at 6:18 PM on August 12, 2022 [2 favorites]


Looks very cool (to me).

It's a physical manifestation of your life at a very specific point in time. I don't regret any of my tattoos.


When I went to Japan, I couldn't go to a public bath house because tattoos are taboo there – mine are generally not visible when I'm fully clothed, but would be in a bathing suit.

If they're in a visible location on your body, people will ask about them, so if they're about something that's very personal to you, it can be annoying and/or difficult. I got a tattoo of a flower on my wrist in memory of my mom not long after she died and it resulted in a few awkward conversations.
posted by anotheraccount at 6:25 PM on August 12, 2022 [6 favorites]

con: my tattoos get bumpy and a little itchy if I don't use moisturizer on them at least every few days. I think this is unusual, but not freakishly so.
posted by The corpse in the library at 6:41 PM on August 12, 2022

I'd be careful about where you get them, especially on body parts that are seen a lot, especially if you work in more conservative professions or in theater. As they say, location location location.

* I knew one guy who got a giant naked nymph tattooed all over himself and the boobies were right at his neck. Could not be hidden by a turtleneck or anything at the angle this was positioned (don't ask me how this worked, it's been a long time but I REMEMBER THOSE BOOBS). I don't know what the hell he was thinking, other than "I'm an artist and I don't have to conform, man."
* I know more than one actress who got tattoos when she wasn't performing and then had to figure out how to cover them up in shows. Dermablend doesn't work miracles and is a lot of work to have what looks like a faded tattoo from up close. One girl got half her back done and had to wear backless dresses as Ulla in The Producers and they tried all kinds of shit to make it less obvious and nothing worked super great.

Mostly for me the disadvantages would be pain, relatives bitching, aforementioned location drama, and "This tattoo doesn't match my Halloween costume," which I know darned well I would certainly do :P

A friend of mine once suggested drawing the tattoo on yourself (assuming it's simple and you draw) and going around with that on you for awhile to see how that felt. It worked with the lines-only one she was getting, anyway.
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:57 PM on August 12, 2022 [1 favorite]

When I went to Japan, I couldn't go to a public bath house because tattoos are taboo there

My tattoo is in the works but this is the only major downside I’m expecting. There are other places in Asia where they are also seen as a bit sketchy; I’ll just have to keep my shirt on in the pool.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 6:59 PM on August 12, 2022 [2 favorites]

Cons: They tend to fade and you shouldn't expose them to too much sunlight. My first tattoo is hard to make out now and it looked so awesome when it was new (2003)
Pros: I love my shoulder tattoo and it still looks good.
posted by Peach at 7:04 PM on August 12, 2022

Pro: you can have something deeply personal and special that comes with you everywhere, all the time, with no effort on your part. I've got my first dog's paw tattooed on my foot - she both stepped on my foot frequently, and walked/went with me EVERYWHERE for our entire time together, and 7 years after getting it I still look at it frequently and feel a connection to my deeply-missed pup.

Con (which is also kind of a pro): to keep it looking its best, you need to sunscreen your tattoos any time you're in the sun. I'm sure there are plenty of people who don't do this and whose tattoos are fine, but I've stuck with the constant sunscreen since my tattoo first healed. It can be kind of a pain, but on the plus side it does remind me to 'screen up the rest of my exposed skin as well.
posted by DingoMutt at 7:05 PM on August 12, 2022 [2 favorites]

Best answer: My friend has stage four cancer and as part of her treatment she’s had a number of cancerous lymph nodes biopsied and removed. She has a couple big tattoos and has mixed feelings about the pathology report on each lymph node noting that they contain tattoo ink. What makes your tattoos fade over time isn’t just the sun or exfoliation, it’s also that your lymph nodes steadily and industriously remove the tattoo ink on your inner skin layers. There haven’t been any conclusive links between tattoo ink and illness but it’s also fairly unstudied and unregulated. My friend wishes she knew that her lymph nodes would all have tattoo ink in them although she’s not sure she would have done with that information because she never imagined she’d be undergoing cancer treatment in her thirties. I think tattoos are beautiful and there are a number of positives to them but you asked for cons and this is one of them for me.
posted by kate blank at 7:38 PM on August 12, 2022 [23 favorites]

Saw an oncologist on tiktok describing things she would never do, and one of them was tattooing anything on chest or upper arms, because of the ink getting into lymph nodes and making it harder to get accurate imaging related to breast cancer as a result. Don't know how accurate this is.
posted by asimplemouse at 7:46 PM on August 12, 2022 [10 favorites]

I have smaller (and at this point, really old!) tattoos that are covered by clothes most of the time. Even so, when they are exposed every so often I run into people who feel comfortable giving their negative reactions out loud. To me that is super rude and gauche, but you should be aware that it's still a thing you might run into.

One possible downside is that tats don’t seem to age well. Skin stretches, ink fades, etc. .

I've started to really appreciate aged tattoos. They tell a story about how time has passed, just like getting wrinkles or grey hair does. If you want it to always look as crisp as it did when it was new, you are going to be disappointed. And some styles of tattooing age much better than others, too -- it's worth considering how it might look in a couple of decades.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:46 PM on August 12, 2022 [3 favorites]

Con: Large and intricate tattoos may require multiple sessions. This is not necessarily bad but you may be limited by budget, time, artist availability, your tolerance for multiple sessions.

Con: Tattoos may need to be touched up as they age. Colors fade and can bleed. A refresh may be required some point. It’s not necessarily one and done.

Pro: Body positivity. Creating permanent art on your person is powerful (and addictive) in ways that are difficult to describe. There are parts of my body and my skin that I love and consider radically beautiful. Pre-tattoo I struggled with this form of self acceptance.

Pro: I have coordinates I can reference to other people. My massage therapist knows about the tight spot on my shoulder bird (for example).

Pro: In intimate contexts it is fun for images to be found - particularly with new partners.
posted by countrymod at 8:19 PM on August 12, 2022 [1 favorite]

Pro: I get to express myself and feel like myself in my own skin. Hard to describe, but it's like a permanent outfit and wearing my story on my sleeve.

Pro: They look fucking cool.

Pro: I get compliments and get to start conversations with people I otherwise wouldn't have.

Pro: (weird) I developed a sun allergy. My tattoos don't react to the sun or rash out like my skin does. Intrigued to see how it works as I get more.

Pro: We're on a floating rock for a fleeting time, so I might as well do what I want.

Pro: The girl you babysat may look at it and say, "You mean it doesn't even wash off in the shower?!"

Cons: Painful and expensive. It's not the worst, but something to think about. They also take time.

Cons: If you get bad work, you either have to live with it or pay to have it covered or removed.

Cons: Laser removal hurts like a motherfucker. Way worse than getting tattooed. Still not the end of the world.

Cons: Society has made a lot of progress, but it's still a problem in some areas of the world and for marginalized groups. For example, jobs. For example, adding to bias. For example, people have thought I smoke or drink or party. I do not. Literally one person said, "What do you mean you don't have a cigarette I can have? You have tattoos!"

Cons: Sometimes people (cough-white cis men-cough) want to talk AT me (a cis woman) about their entire life story or hit on me because of it. They'll be like "cool tattoo!" Just to start talking at me about their life. It creates a weird "in" for unwanted attention sometimes. Other times people say "Why would you do that? You were so pretty!"

Cons: Sometimes people touch you. Though... I feel you can't really prevent that by having no tattoos either.

Cons: You may have nightmares about them actually washing off in the shower.
posted by Crystalinne at 11:07 PM on August 12, 2022 [4 favorites]

I could never decide what the tattoo should be. Still can't. Closest I came, "Born to Break Even."
posted by tmdonahue at 5:44 AM on August 13, 2022 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I am not tattooed but I am an outlier in my social circle for not having one. I love tattoos on others, follow several local tattoo artists on Instagram, and every couple years I flirt with getting one, but there are two big things that give me pause about getting a tattoo. The first is the aforementioned lack of regulation/lack of long-term studies around the health impacts of tattoo inks. The second is the potential for tattoo recognition surveillance.
posted by mostly vowels at 10:16 AM on August 13, 2022 [4 favorites]

Pro: I like how my tattoos look
Con that I really, truly did not expect: my upper arm piece, which is large and floral and fairly dark, gets really uncomfortable in the sun. I sunscreen it well (I am very fair-skinned and sunscreen EVERYTHING well, and I usually end up sitting with that arm out of the sun or something over it because it heats up and stays hot. I don't know if it's a reaction to the sun or just, you know, because it's darker, but no one had ever mentioned it to me as a thing.
posted by SeedStitch at 3:38 PM on August 13, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I have also heard that tattoos can make medical imaging harder. It seems to be less of an issue for small tattoos.
posted by mortaddams at 8:10 AM on August 14, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Personally, I find them aesthetically unappealing, in the same way that some people find hearing the word “moist” unappealing.

You probably don’t care about my opinion, so I’ll give you another con. They’re permanent, in a world that’s constantly changing. A lot of people got kanji tattoos back in the 90s, but now those are seen as both dated and a sign of cultural appropriation. A lot of people got Harry Potter tattoos, and at least some of them regret it after all the JK Rowling stuff. I don’t think a lot of people ever got tattoos of a cartoon frog giving the OK sign, but if you did before 2015-ish, it means something a lot different now than it did then. The concept of milkshake duck exists for a reason, and it would make me pretty reluctant to commit to anything symbolic long-term. Just buy a t-shirt instead.
posted by kevinbelt at 6:47 PM on August 14, 2022 [4 favorites]

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