Although the majority of people with tattoos have never seen the inside of a prison in real life, and never would wish to, there is nonetheless a history around the tattoo which links several designs to the prison community. Different sections of the community may be represented by different tattoos – and the really confusing part is that similar tattoos can mean radically different things to different people.
A spider web tattoo, for example on one’s arm, can mean any one of various things. Most innocently it means that the bearer is stuck standing still in time while life goes on outside, but it can also mean an addiction to drugs. Additionally, it is a popular tattoo among members of the extreme racist Aryan Brotherhood. A fellow white supremacist gang, the Aryan Circle, often have tattoos bearing the number 13 (“A” being the first letter of the alphabet and “C” being the third). It is, however, also worn by some Hispanic gangs, thus creating some confusion.
Of course the best solution to this problem of confusing ink is to stay far away from prison, but it is important to remember that however cool your tattoo may look to you, there may be a person to whom it has another meaning. By no means everyone with a spider web tattoo is a racist, and not everyone with a “13” is a gang member – 13 is after all also considered to be a symbol of bad luck. But how much of a chance you get to explain your tattoo depends on whom you are explaining it too.
One of the most controversial parts of the tattoo world is that of the teardrop tattoo. This look is worn by a number of people, but is most commonly spoken about due to its connections with imprisonment. Even within the prison system, the teardrop tattoo has a number of meanings and if you have one, it is worth being careful about who you speak to because there can be confusion over what it means. Explaining it may work, but remember that if someone has been to prison they may well have been there for a reason and not be terribly impressed by your explanation.
Usually, at least outside the prison system, the teardrop tattoo is given to symbolise the loss of a person close to you. However, its prison meaning, and one that extends to the outside due to the presence of former prisoners in the community, will often be that the bearer has killed another person. More than one teardrop beneath your eye means more than one kill. Whether the teardrop is filled or not also affects its meaning. An empty tear can mean an unsuccessful attempted murder, or that a loved one has been murdered. A tear that is full at the bottom and empty at the top means that the death of a loved one has been avenged.
For such reasons as listed above, it is perhaps unwise to get a teardrop tattoo underneath one’s eye. Additionally, it is particularly unwise to get one in Australia, as this kind of tattoo is often forcibly given by other inmates to convicted child molesters.
Don’t shoot the messenger for bringing bad news, but sometimes relationships do not work out. This is, at the time, regrettable for all parties, but is equally a fact of life. So if you are uncontrollably in love it might be tempting to get their name inked on you, but you may well end up regretting your decision if things go wrong.
There are alternative approaches to capturing your love in ink form anyway. A symbol which demonstrates how that person makes you feel can work just as well. A star, to demonstrate that for you that person shines brightly for you, can be a good demonstration, and there are various others. If the relationship goes wrong – and no-one would ever hope for that – then at least when you fall in love again you do not have to explain away a tattoo with someone else’s name on it.
Much of the time it is also tempting to get a heart tattooed on your body with the initials of the person it is dedicated to. This can, again, pose problems. Even if the relationship goes well, there are other circumstances in which you could end up with someone else, so it is important to think about how the tattoo could haunt you. A tattoo which is small, cryptic and original will be all the more significant, and may well save you from the wrath of a future partner and/or expensive removal surgery. But if you are absolutely sure you want that tattoo, no-one is likely to stop you.
It is not at all uncommon for people to commemorate their love for a boyfriend or girlfriend, wife or husband by getting a tattoo with their name on it. However it has to be remembered when considering such a tattoo that while love can fade and relationships end free of charge, removing a tattoo takes time, and often a lot of expensive surgery – and even then traces can be left, causing any number of problems and possibly making you rethink your entire outlook on tattoos.
There are many different ways to go about demonstrating your love in ink. By far the most obvious and indeed the most common is to get the name of your love tattooed somewhere prominent. David Beckham for example has his wife Victoria’s name tattooed on his arm – mis-spelt and in Hindi, incidentally – and this may be part of the reason why they have stayed together for so long despite trials and tribulations.
Johnny Depp was not so lucky, having got the phrase “Winona Forever” tattooed on his right bicep during his relationship with actress Winona Ryder. Their relationship ended, so Depp, a keen wine enthusiast, had it amended to “Wino Forever” – possibly placating his present wife Vanessa Paradis.
Then there is the troubled British singer Amy Winehouse, who has a tattoo on her chest over her heart, of a button pocket with the legend “Blake’s” above it, symbolising that her heart belongs to Blake Civil-Fielder who she married in May 2007. Their divorce came through in July 2009, and she hasn’t yet had time to change it.
If there is one thing worse than getting a tattoo that you grow to hate, then it must be getting a tattoo that you think is absolutely perfect right until somebody tells you that it is spelt incorrectly, and/or means something radically different from what you thought it meant. This is something that has happened to more people than enough when they get a tattoo in another language, and even though the majority of the people around them will never be able to tell that it is wrong, for them and the percentage who do know it is at best a standing joke.
The best celebrity examples of this mistake include the tattoo Britney Spears has had on her torso, supposed to depict the Japanese symbol for “mystery”. The perils of poor translation are exemplified perfectly here, for what it actually says is “strange”, which sounds a bit less cool. If you want to get a tattoo of a Japanese symbol, ask someone with a grasp of the language (if you do not have a friend who can read Japanese, ask around on a suitable Internet forum) to translate for you.
Other misspelled foreign language tattoos include David Beckham’s tattoo on his right arm, which spells “Vhictoria” in Hindi. Unfortunately his wife’s name is simply “Victoria”. Hayden Panettiere meanwhile has a tattoo on her back saying “Vivere Senza Rimipianti” – which would mean “live without regrets”, except that regrettably the Italian word for “regrets” is “rimpianti”.
When it comes to the question of adorning your body with a tattoo, there is no doubt that it causes interesting debates both with other people and inside your head. Especially if it is your first tattoo. The question you will be asking yourself is “where do you make the first mark on a blank canvas?” and there is a lot to take into account when deciding this. First of all, your body is generally split into two distinct parts – the area covered by clothes most of the time, and the bits that people will see.
The area of your body which is usually covered by clothes is – for many people – the safest part to have tattooed. Going for a job interview or getting married, or any other such formal occasions – could make you curse the decision to get a tattoo on your neck or on your face. For many, the first tattoo will be one on their shoulder blade, their back or their chest. For those with exhibitionist tendencies, the tattoo being seen is more important than anything – but then again, the area not covered by clothes will usually be larger.
As a compromise between hidden and blatant, the biceps are often a place where a tattoo will be seen by those who should be seeing it, hidden from those who should not, and a pretty conventional place to get one. Most people on the pro-tattoo side of the line agree that the bicep, upper arm area is as good a place as any to start.
The most important thing to remember about adorning one’s body with a tattoo is that the ink is at least semi-permanent. Even if it is possible to remove the tattoo you will be fortunate if the most that you are left which is a patch of scarred, sensitive skin. Typically, this is not something that many people want to happen, but if for some reason you find yourself with a tattoo you can’t stand the sight of it will ruin part of your life. Either way it’s a pain, so think before you ink. There are some tattoos which look great and demonstrate something important, but you’d better be sure your reason is permanent before you go for it.
A lot of people like to get a loved one’s name, but relationships end. Some people will reflect the name of a band they really like, but if they then release a few bad albums and are found to be horrendous people then you will want to disassociate yourself from them rather than carry around a permanent reminder. As people, we change and our tattoos can not change with us, so it is important to find something that is permanent before reflecting it in a tattoo.
Things that are permanent include kids – a tattoo with their name is good, or a star representing each child – and ancestry. A flag representing your home country can be a good way of demonstrating your allegiance, and something to remember it by if you move away.
Unless you have been living under a rock for the last two years, it will be hard for you to have escaped the book and film that has been the subject of conversation both positive and negative for much of that time. Twilight, the book by Stephanie Meyer, has become absolutely enormous and has spawned a crowd of fans who go beyond the normal realms of obsession and come out the other side in their own reality. These people are known as “Twi-hards”, and they have been known to immortalise their love for the story by getting it indelibly inked on their skin.
As Twilight has been both a book and a film, there has been no shortage of possible subjects for a tattoo. The popularity of the book inspired the film to be made, but it was the release of the film that saw the fan-base rise both in number and obsession. The results are tattoos with quotes from the book including “and so the lion fell in love with the lamb”, a reference to the story of the book’s central characters, a vampire and a late-teenaged girl.
There is an interesting story to all of this. Twilight and its sequel books are absolutely the kind of story which grasps an audience in its spell and keeps them spellbound for months, even years, but is scarcely present in those aged thirty-five and above. So as the next few decades pass, it will be interesting to see the reactions of those who realize they don’t actually like Twilight that much anymore.
Getting a tattoo should not be about following the crowd, but this does not mean that it is unacceptable to get a popular tattoo. Some people like a familiar style of body art because it looks really good – which will be why it is so popular. In this case, they should not be derided for following the crowd. They just happen to know what they want.
Perhaps the most popular tattoo design is the tribal mark. This kind of tattoo is the source of much controversy, with some people being of the opinion that a tribal tattoo on someone with at best a tenuous link to that tribe is a sign of cultural tourism. This often leads to debate between fans of ink. How Irish do you have to be to get a Celtic cross? How close does your Japanese ancestry need to be before you can get Japanese script drawn on you?
Another form of tattoo which has gained massive popularity is that of angel wings, or indeed any other form of wings. These can be drawn anywhere on the body, but are particularly popular when drawn on the back. The idea is that the bearer has wings sprouting out of their back and is ready to take flight. The tattoo symbolises freedom and elevation, popular themes with a link to escapism.
Fair enough, if someone simply gets a tattoo because they want attention then it is a little bit boring. But what cannot be denied is that the most popular designs keep getting chosen, regardless of anyone else’s opinion.
Among the most popular types of tattoo for an individual to get are sporting tattoos. These are common just about everywhere in the world that has tattoo parlors and sports teams. There are many potential variations as well, thanks to the nature of team sport which has uniforms, players and competitions which can all be depicted with a little bit of ink and an expanse of skin. Getting a tattoo to reflect your love of your team is in some ways a rite of passage, as the permanence of the tattoo is testament to your strength of feeling for a club.
There are ways this can go wrong, of course, because players have been known to change team. Robert Nesbitt, a fan of English soccer club Newcastle United, got a tattoo of their free-scoring star player Andy Cole on his right thigh. Two days later Cole was sold to English champions Manchester United in a British-record transfer, leaving Nesbitt with a permanent reminder of his own hubris.
It is perhaps wiser if you wish to demonstrate your support of a club to stick to a depiction of something that cannot be moved to another club. The date of a significant victory, a depiction of the club’s uniform or stadium would be good examples of this. Although a club can move to a new stadium or change its uniform, there will always be an historic link with the old stadium or uniform, and this connection with the history of the club can even win points in the “true fan” contests that sports fanatics are prone to have between them.