TATTOOS: What do they mean?

jessicapaige in Stories

It is my hope to create a new awakening in people that think it's appropriate to ask a tattooed stranger "What do they mean?"

I've been wanting to put an article like this together for a while. Realistically, I might get some serious backlash of our readers posting their own tattoos with deep and existential symbolism.

What does your tattoo mean?
What does your tattoo mean?

I was at my local coffee spot this morning trying to kickstart my brain on new material when my barista popped the dreaded question...


Find your next tattoo

    "What's the meaning of that tattoo?"  

    I've been here before. If my answer isn't impressive enough my tattoo will somehow be less valid to this curious barista... not that it matters, but we as a tattooed people shouldn't have to explain ourselves if we don't want to.

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    I smiled and responded... "What's the meaning of that shirt?"

    He looked confused.

    "That's just as ridiculous a question" I started. "You bought it because you like it, right? It fits nice, it looks cool... you feel good in it. Wearing a tattoo is simply the same thing."

    "But surely there's some kind of personal meaning attached to it?" he pressed on

    "Would you assume theres a deeply personal meaning behind someones hair style? "

    He told me he never thought of it that way, and gave me a Gluten-free cookie on the house.

    Granted, I'm in a tattoo shop most of my days. I get asked this question ALOT, and through trial and error I've found what works as the best response to support my case.  I encounter every kind of person from every walk of life you can imagine, and admittedly the clients I have the most fun with are those who ask me to assist them with a "deep and meaningful" design. Those that use our WiFi to feverishly look through Google for the meaning of a Rose tattoo.

    "I want to get a Rose, what does a Rose tattoo mean? "

    "As a depiction of love it can be a symbol of being in love, particularly when the rose is without thorns OR with as a reminder that yada, yada, yada" says one website but "It means what it means to you." I always say.

    "Really? Is that all?"


    Everyone is permitted to have an opinion, and this is mine - You can find 100 different interpretations of a red rose tattoo on Google. If you like roses, that in itself is symbolic enough a reason to wear one.

    Perhaps we are conditioned in these beliefs from tattoo television, in which every piece made comes with a gut wrenching and tragic story about cancer or a loved one lost. Think about it this way, what kind of content would a show offer if the client just wanted a tattoo because it looked cool? Though this is most usually the case, it wouldn't make for compelling TV my friends.

    Conversely, and to be fair, some tattoos DO have meaning to the wearer. They can commemorate a great achievement or devotion to a loved one, an idea, a religion, overcoming a hard time, a certain feeling or place, even dedication to a favorite band. Back in the day tribes used tattoo markings to display their status. Polynesian shapes all have meanings. But most people in THIS day & age just get tattooed because they want to. The meaning is, I wanted it, so I got it. Every one is entitled to decorate their bodily vessel the way they choose, and whether a tattooed person has a reason or symbolic purpose for a piece or not is hardly anyones business.

    So the next time a curious stranger asks you what they're all about, say it loud & proud...



    Roses tattoo made by Tim Hendricks
    Roses tattoo made by Tim Hendricks


    @Jessica Paige

    New York Native. Dreamer, traveler, collector, headbanger. NY Ink Season 3 Social Media & Writer for Tattoodo


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