Ever since they left their ancient and tribal settings and have become a part of modern culture, tattoos have been fascinating and puzzling onlookers.
If you have never seriously considered getting a tattoo, you might be wondering just what motivates people to get something so permanent etched onto the skin – and to put up with the pain that comes with it.
Or if you do have tattoos, you might be wondering whether your reasons for getting them are similar to everyone else’s.
When you ask tattooed people about why they decided to go under the needle, you’ll discover that there is no one reason for doing it. Ask enough people and you’ll start to notice there are some common themes.
To help you understand why people get tattoos, we’ll discuss the seven most common reasons for getting one.
Because of Their Culture
Tattooing is an ancient practice. The earliest evidence of a tattoo dates back to roughly 3100 BCE. In many cultures, the practice of tattooing the skin is an extension of ancient rituals or traditional aesthetics.
The Maori, for instance, use traditional tattoos as social markers rather than mere fashion statements. The tattoo marks them as members of a particular family or tribe and identifies where they stand in the social structure.
While the designs and styles of these cultural tattoos have in some cases evolved and departed from their traditional counterparts, they nevertheless retain this cultural purpose.
In some cases, the tattoos have no history as part of a long-established culture but still serve as a marker of affiliation to a subculture.
Members of biker or prison gangs, political fringe groups, or even straight-edge punk rockers and vegans might get certain tattoos as proud displays of their membership (official or unofficial) in these groups. Having these permanent symbols can also bolster their sense of pride and belonging to these groups.
To Get Something Personal or Meaningful to Them
Some find that the permanence of a tattoo or even its conspicuousness makes them ideal for marking something of personal significance.
Unlike tattoos used as markers of tribal or cultural affiliation, these tattoos indicate something of significance to the individual, not their community as a whole.
Although these are often intensely idiosyncratic (sometimes to the point of being indecipherable by anyone other than the person with the tattoo), there are a few common themes in this type of tattoo.
Tattoos commemorating the birth of a child, for example, are common, as are those that are meant as a tribute to a deceased loved one. Many will also tattoo a slogan, motto, or saying that they hold dear and use to orient their lives, whether it is a classical one such as “memento mori” or something more modern like a song lyric.
Because They Just Like the Look of a Certain Tattoo
Many people are drawn to tattoos simply because of their beauty or because they look cool.
Even if they attach no broader significance to the tattoo, they might be compelled to get one because they are enamored with a particular design or image and want it permanently inked on their skin.
Others use tattoos as a kind of permanent fashion accessory – a way of complementing their overall look or personal aesthetic. This can be the case whether it’s simply a small star or heart displayed discreetly on the wrist or a full sleeve of colorful ink.
To Express Individuality
Have you ever noticed that your eyes sometimes just gravitate to people with tattoos? There’s something about tattoos that can really make someone stand out in a crowd.
For some people, that is their biggest appeal. They feel like their own person and want a way to display that. They don’t just want to look like any other anonymous individual, so they get tattoos – often quite prominent and bold ones – so they don’t just become another person who blends into the background.
For others, it’s a bit more localized than that. They don’t just want to stand out in a crowd, but they want something that will be a physical manifestation of their personality. They get tattoos, in other words, to express something about themselves. Whether they’re quirky, badass, or intellectual, they want a tattoo will display that side of them.