Once reserved for service people in military, prisoners, and Popeye the Sailorman, acceptance for tattooes has changed greatly over the last decade. Much to the chagrin of some mothers and grandmothers, tattoos are here for the modern woman and since they are (for the most part) permanent, they are here to stay.
On the other hand, plenty of mothers and grandmothers are getting tattoos of their own.
Three out of every 10 Americans is sporting at least one tattoo, with almost half of Millennials getting inked. (Source: The Harris Poll: Tattoo Takeover, February, 2016.)
This guide is written for young women, not-so-young women and all the women in between. If you love tattoos and can’t wait to get your first or 15th, this guide is for you.
If you can’t stand tattoos and wonder why on earth women would do this to themselves, keep reading. I’ve got information for you, too.
It’s all here. Tattoos: A Modern Woman’s Guide to Getting Inked.
Who This Guide is For
- If you are considering getting your first tattoo, no matter your age.
- You have a teen who has been begging for his or her first tattoo and you are hesitant to give permission.
- You have questions about safety, what it will be like, where you should go, or how to find a design.
- You wonder what people will think or say if you get a tattoo.
- You have ZERO interest in getting a tattoo, but you wonder what all the rage is about anyway.
- You are considering a tattoo but worry you will regret it later.
I’m in my 40s and I got my first (and so far only) tattoo a few years ago. My story of getting my tattoo is below.
I don’t feel a burning desire to get another, but I might if the right design and situation motivated me. I’ve considered getting a second tattoo with one of my young adult daughters if we got matching or complimentary designs. Or I might just stick with one.
So this guide is for every woman, but it’s especially for the woman who has played with the idea of getting a tattoo for years, but thought, “Really? Me? What would people say?”
Maybe you feel kind of bad ass when you think about getting one. You’ve thought of different designs you would get. You’ve watched some of your friends do it.
But you worry about regret. Would you need it hide it at a future job? What would it be like walking into a tattoo shop?
And good grief, what would your mother say?
Tattoos: A Modern Woman’s Guide to Getting Inked
What will people say if I get a tattoo?
One of the biggest questions most people have deep down is, what are people going to say if I get a tattoo?
Of course it depends on the person who is reacting and where on your body you get a tattoo. Obviously if you get a tattoo of a skull and crossbones across your face, you will get one type of reaction.
If you get a small tattoo if a butterfly on your ankle or shoulder, you will get a different type of reaction.
Obviously, you are going for SOME type of reaction or you would not get a tattoo, and don’t even try to tell me otherwise. You can tell me all day long that it’s for yourself, but the whole point of a tattoo is to alter your body in a way that the outside world sees an expression of who you are.
This isn’t a bad thing whatsoever. I’m just saying, you are going for a reaction of some type, so don’t get all mad when people react.
If you get a tattoo in a place where truly no one except you is going to see it (and your husband and your doctor) that might be an exception, but only maybe.
Are you wanting all positive reactions? Of course they won’t all be positive because not everyone likes tattoos. If you want them all to be negative, that won’t happen either because some people really just love tattoos and rebellion and no matter how God-awful your tattoo is, they will applaud you for sticking that terrible thing on your body.
So no matter the reaction you are going for, you will get it from some people and from some people you won’t.
Accept that, and you will be fine.
Why do some Christians have issues with tattoos?
While most Christians do not have a problem with tattoos as we use them in modern times, especially those with Christian symbolism, Leviticus 19:28 gives cause for concern. It reads, “Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves. I am the LORD.”
This seems to clearly say people of God should not tattoo themselves, yet an understanding of the translation of the word “tattoo” (which was not part of the English language until the late 1700s) provides some further clarification. The word may be more clearly understood to mean marking the female body to promote fertility, or deep slashes to honor gods and mourn the dead.
Still, we don’t know for certain, and there is controversy. Check out this article about tattoos at Christianity Today for further reading.
For an example of a pastor with tattoos, check out Nadia Bolz-Weber, a Lutheran (ELCA) pastor in Denver who has the church year tattooed on her arms. Check out the links on her website for more of her story.
I’m a pastor’s wife, and to be honest I was a bit nervous about getting a tattoo because of my role in the church. Overall I didn’t think it would be an issue but I wondered if some members would think less of me because of my decision.
I talked to our children’s minister, who has a couple of small tattoos. She told me no one had ever said anything to her about them, and after that I wasn’t concerned. My tattoo hasn’t been an issue — if anyone has thought negatively about it, they haven’t said so to me.
What will my mother say?
Your mother might hate your tattoo, or she might want to get one of her own.
I understand the mothers of the world. I have a tattoo, but I still felt this twinge of regret when my 19 year got her first (and then 2nd) tattoo, and then when my 18 year old got her lip pierced. These are their decisions, and they made tasteful choices, but there is something about seeing your baby alter her body — even tastefully — that as a mom just feels a bit weird and kind of sad.
So I get it. But I also got over it.
How old do I have to be to get a tattoo?
This question is for teens or parents of teens.
Many reputable shops will not give a tattoo to anyone who is under 18, no exceptions, and I think this is a great rule. A tattoo is permanent and it’s a huge decision. We had this rule at our house too, and we also will not pay for any tattoos so our kids had to save or earn the money themselves which gives them time to think about it carefully. Some shops will give tattoos and piercings earlier with parent permission and this is of course up to each family to decide. If you know your kids will do it anyway without your permission and you feel it best they go to a shop you know is clean and safe, that’s an understandable reason.
How do I choose a shop?
The best advice I received is to ask people you see that you like their tattoos. People who have tattoos generally are proud of the work they have had done and are happy to share the information. Gather the names of at least 4-5 shops and look at the locations online and get a feel for the shops, then plan to start visiting in person.
The shop should be meticulously clean and you should feel comfortable there.
What is it like to walk into a tattoo shop for the first time?
Walking into a tattoo shop for the first time is definitely a bit intimidating. For me it was like walking into a bait shop when you don’t know anything about fishing. I didn’t exactly feel totally out of place, but it wasn’t comfortable, either. The person at the front desk was covered in piercings and tattooed all over, and I’m trying to have this normal conversation. Yeah, not working.
I was honest and said this was my first time and I was nervous and clueless. (I always find honesty to be the best policy.)
A good shop will have some books with examples of tattoos the artists have completed. In my experience these are their “top notch” tattoos which were way OVER the top of what I wanted done, so it was a little hard for me to simplify in my mind down to what I wanted from the book designs.
Note to tattoo artists — put photos of some of your really simple designs in your book for people like me.
Keep in mind more people are getting tattoos all the time, and the artists are used to working with people who have never experienced this. Their goal is to help you get exactly the design you desire.
What are some different types of tattoos?
This is just a sample of the types of tattoos that are possible today, and this type of art is continually evolving. For more information: Types of Tattoos or Beginner Tattoo Style Guide and
Traditional — Black and white, with thick lines. These are what we typically think of when we consider a tattoo in America.
Realistic — These are tattoos that look as similar to a photograph as possible.
Japanese — Considered a sacred art, these tattoos follow a strict set of rules for positioning, imagery, colors, and often cover large areas of the body.
Script — Words of various fonts, often Gothic and swirly, but there is no limit.
Tribal — The oldest type of tattoo, these are black or brown in color, symmetrical or geometric and follow the lines of the body.
Should I get a color or black and white tattoo?
Color tattoos vs. black and white is a personal preference.
A black and white tattoo will be less expensive and easier to maintain than a color tattoo. Colors fade more quickly and will need to be touched up sooner. Using sunscreen daily helps reduce fading. Expect for most color tattoos to be touched up every 10 years.
Many people feel the maintenance is worth it, since colored tattoo ink has improved greatly and the rich, vibrant colors are well worth the extra effort.
White Ink Tattoos – White ink tattoos are relatively new and have become popular. They are difficult to create and heal well, but can be beautiful. Read more information about white tattoos here.
How do I choose a design?
Tattoo design ideas are everywhere, from books to Pinterest (follow my Pinterest tattoo ideas board here) to Google to coloring books. This is the fun part!
The more specific you are when you walk into a shop to get your tattoo, the more likely you are to have a positive experience. The tattoo artist will draw a design as part of your tattoo fee, but they will do a better job of drawing what you want if you bring in photos or drawings for them to work from.
Most important is that you choose a tattoo design that is meaningful for YOU and says something to the world about who you are. Take your time to find the design that is just right for you.
As much as most women envision a small tattoo (especially for a first one), it can’t be too small or it simply won’t work. A small heart or star is possible. Words need to be big enough to be visible and for the letters not to run together.
So then we get to…
Many of us (myself included) like the idea of getting words as tattoos, but the reality is that they don’t work all that well. Most tattoo artists will tell you fonts are not their favorite type of tattoo. Here is a great post about fonts, tattoos and the human body.
When I went in to get my first tattoo, the shop staff explained this to me, and I’m glad they did and I didn’t get a tattoo I would regret. I was planning to get a Bible verse written on my leg, but the reality is it’s just too many words to put on there. You are not a blank, flat sheet of paper. A name or a couple words is okay, but don’t go for much more than that.
How much will it cost?
Cost for a tattoo varies greatly depending on size, colors, and even expertise of the artist. My daughter got a small Bible verse reference tattoo for $40. My larger one with a Bible verse and flowers cost $100, plus we both gave a tip. A large tattoo (such as a sleeve that is done over several sessions) would cost considerable more.
Regrets and Concerns
How safe is it to get a tattoo?
It is possible to get an infection from a tattoo needle, so going to a reputable shop that uses proper safety precautions is critical. Visit the shop, look around, and ask questions. A good shop will be very happy to show you how they prevent infection.
A second concern is that we don’t really know the long-term effects of tattoo ink. Here is an FDA article with further consumer tips and information.
Piercings, especially facial piercings, are quite different from tattoos, with other (in my opinion higher) risks and aftercare. If you are considering an eyebrow, nose, or lip piercing, be sure to do your homework carefully and make sure you are ready to take on the long-term follow up care that is required.
Will my job make me cover up my tattoo?
Some jobs still require that their employees cover tattoos. My daughter works in the food service industry and the employees are required to cover tattoos.
I’ve noticed that in other places that are perhaps surprising, such as doctor’s offices and hospitals, many of the staff now have visible tattoos.
You always have the option of placing your tattoo in a body location where you can easily cover it, such as the back of your shoulder.
Does your place of employment allow visible tattoos? Comment below in the comments section and tell us about it.
What if I want to remove my tattoo?
Tattoo laser removal is possible, but it is not an easy process and it is expensive. Depending on the size, location, colors, and depth of the tattoo, it usually requires a number of laser sessions, and the tattoo will not be gone completely. It’s often best to cover the tattoo with a different one.
Covering a tattoo in the short-term is an option with a couple different choices. Tattoo sleeve tan cover-up or tattoo sleeve white cover up and tattoo make-up cover up (TatJacket or Tattoo Camo are two companies). I have not used either of these products. If you have, please let us know in the comments section how these worked for you.
Getting a tattoo
What’s it like to get a tattoo?
Okay, you’ve decided to finally do it. You are going to get your first tattoo! You’ve chosen a design and you’ve chosen a shop. Now what?
Depending on the shop, you might be able to walk in and get your tattoo right away, or you might need to call or go in and visit first, then come back later for your appointment. Most shops will get you in fairly quickly (before you lose your nerve).
If you don’t have an exact drawing of what you want, the artist will draw it for you and you will give a final approval.
Then the artist will draw the design on paper that will be traced onto your skin exactly as it will be, so you can look at it carefully. Now is the time to make sure it’s EXACTLY how you want it, because this is the last chance to make any changes.
Is it even? Is it the right size?
It was reassuring to me to know I would have a chance to see what the tattoo would look like before it was done.
Does it hurt?
Yes, it hurts. I’ve heard people say things like, “it’s like getting long scratches,” or “I think it feels good,” to which I say, “Bull crap.”
I thought it hurt.
Not like childbirth hurt or anything, but it was painful.
It was more painful than I thought it would be, I think because of all the times people had said, “oh, it’s not that bad.”
It’s like dental work. (Sorry to my dentist, who I do love very much.) You know how they are working and it’s all good, and then all of the sudden there’s a painful ouch! when you get poked. And you don’t know when it’s coming. Then it’s good for awhile, and then you get another poke. It’s not the worst pain in the world, but it’s intermittent, which makes it kind of worse.
My daughter said she didn’t think it hurt hardly at all.
So there you go. Maybe I’m just a wimp, but that was my experience.
What is the aftercare?
(I’m not an expert in tattoo care. Be sure to follow the advice you receive at your tattoo shop above all, or consult a doctor if you have concerns.)
Leave the bandage on for one to two hours. The tattoo will be red and may be oozing. This is normal.
Wash your hands, then wash the tattoo several times a day with an antibacterial soap.
For the first 3 days, apply a thin (thin! not gooped up!) layer of ointment, such as A&D ointment or Aquaphor over the tattoo.
After 3 days, switch to using a non-scented lotion, such as Aveeno.
Do not allow clothing to rub against the tattoo and cause scar build-up. Do not pick at any scars!
Do not swim in a chlorinated pool during the healing process, and keep the tattoo out of the sunshine. Showers are okay as long as they are not too hot.
My Tattoo Story
For years I’ve wanted to get a tattoo, but I couldn’t decide on a design, plus I think I wasn’t quite brave enough yet.
Once I had completed a number of triathlons, I was sure I would get a triathlon tattoo, as many of my tri friends have done. Even if I don’t always compete in triathlons, triathlon has done so much for me and is such an important part of my life.
I looked at so many designs that I liked, but I still really don’t like swimming (I do it, but I don’t like it), and I just couldn’t bring myself to put a picture of a swimmer — of any form — on my leg.
Plus I got to thinking I wanted a Christian symbol of some type.
In the end I decided to put the reference for Matthew 19:26, “With God, all things are possible,” which to me emcompasses what I’ve learned from triathlon and so much of my life. The flowers are forget-me-nots to remind me of this important truth every day.
I went to The White Lotus Tattoo Shop in Denver, by Park Meadows Mall.
My mother wasn’t happy about it, but she is still speaking to me, so I think she has come to accept it.
Do you have a tattoo? What does it look like? Share below! Have you considered getting one?
I have a footprints scene with the script ” it is then that I carried you” on the inside of my right lower arm. And a beautiful passionflower design on my right lower leg. Both have meaning to me about my faith and the personal journey I’ve been on the last few years
I should say I’m in my 40’s and have had both done within the last couple of years
Anna: “I should say I’m in my 40’s and have had both done within the last couple of years”.
It’s undoubted that so many ppl who have waited many years to receive their first tattoo are finally doing it.
Thanks for this article. It’s become a sort of rite of passage now for the turning 18s to get their first tattoo; and often mom ends up getting one also, if she hasn’t already. Many Christians get faith based designs; they tend to come up in conversation if a person, which can often lead to a witness opportunity. Matthew 19.26 is a great verse.
So, no regrets for yours, then, Sara?
I love that you wrote about this Sara! Great post for the reader that has tattoos (me -and my husband 😉 and the one who has never had one. You’re awesome, thanks for sharing !!