Tattoos don’t need meaning

By Kenneth Prabhakar | Photographer

When I turned 20 years old, I knew I wanted to get a tattoo. I knew I would get one eventually, but I wasn’t going to get one without getting my mother’s approval first. After months of begging, she finally let it happen on my birthday. I didn’t even know what I wanted to get; I just loved the idea of having one.

A couple of weeks went by, and we met with some relatives for the holidays. Before meeting them, I was prepared to show them my new tattoo. There was some anxiety that came with it, as I knew this was something they would not be excited about at all.

I was right. The reaction I got back was a combination of silence and disappointment. It ruined not only my night but also their night.

That one reaction has stuck with me for so long. I love them dearly and I know the love is reciprocated, but that moment was filled with so many emotions and questions.

What changed now that I have a tattoo? I am the exact same person I was before I had it. You would not have known about it if I had not shown it to you. We could have gone our whole lives without me showing you my tattoo, and you would not have suspected a thing. Why does this one personal choice — which has no effect on you — have such a firm grip on your perception of me?

These types of questions resonated with me for a while and honestly still come up every now and then. They made me question everything about tattoos and the overall perception that comes with them.

Although I was not pleased with the reaction I received, the situation had an adverse effect on me. I suddenly wanted to get more tattoos. Why should anyone ever tell you how to live your life, especially when it has absolutely no effect on their lives?

Before I go forward, I would like to preface by saying this is not some sort of angsty rebellion against family. Getting a tattoo is permanent. I am a strong believer that dumb tattoos exist and can ruin you. Whether it is poor placement — such as on the hands or face — or just offensive, a bad tattoo can and will ruin your chances of employment. That is simply not worth it.

However, if there is one thing this experience taught me, it’s that for the most part, tattoos don’t really have to have a meaning at all. It is your call and your body. I am not urging you to get a tattoo after reading this, but I am saying I personally believe doing so is not that deep.

I always butt heads with people who have tattoos about this. I am a huge advocate for the idea that if you like it, just get it. If something makes you happy, do it for yourself and only yourself. Life is so short, and it is honestly not fair to yourself to live a life other people are controlling.

The question of future regret always comes up when someone gets a new tattoo. Change your perspective — assuming you didn’t get an offensive or embarrassing tattoo but simply one with no meaning. Even if you do end up regretting it when you are older, at least you can say that you lived a little when you were younger and that you took a risk that made your younger self happy. You did it for the plot and think of the regret as if the plot is thickening. You are the same person, but now you have a story to tell.