Read

3 Tips to Know Before Getting Your First Tattoo

Creator:
Published:
February 15, 2024
July 17, 2021
Find out what to know about getting a tattoo here.|Find out what to know about getting a tattoo here.|Find out what to know about getting a tattoo here.

Let me answer your first question: Yes, it does hurt.

But, as my tattoo artist told me, the pain doesn’t matter much if you want something enough. And that was true. I’d been thinking about my tattoo for several years and was thrilled to finally be getting inked.

For me, the pain was bearable. Every 10 seconds or so, the artist had to stop to wipe away ink, and without that break it would have gotten really uncomfortable. My image is a simple outline, so I wasn’t getting any shading or coloring, but I did have it placed on the inside of my bicep, which is a fairly tender spot. It didn’t hurt as bad as racking your shin, but it smarted more than getting scratched. 

I’m not a fan of needles — when I get my shots, I can’t look — but this felt different than the needles you encounter at the doctor’s office because it’s much shorter. The needle and the ink gun hum as they repeatedly jab the surface of the skin, so that part didn’t bother me. It felt more like a burning sensation than a pricking. 

If you have the conviction that you’re ready for a tattoo, the pain shouldn’t be enough to dissuade you. If it does, then you’re not ready to make that kind of a commitment! 

Now that we’ve addressed the first question on everyone’s mind, here are three other things you should think about before you get that tattoo. 

Wait for at least a year

Here’s a rule I learned from a friend that has saved me from several ragrets: Once you know the exact image and the exact placement on your body, you should wait at least one full calendar year before getting it tattooed. If it still seems like a good idea after that period of time, then you have a sense that the image is important to you enough to make permanent. 

Yes, tattoos can be removed, but it’s costly and results vary. It’s safe to say that your body will never be the same after getting that tatt — and this is the body that will need to carry you through a whole lifetime. 

There’s a lot that will change over the course of your life, but your tattoo won’t. You may feel like Breaking Bad is the best TV show of all time, but no matter how good your Walter White tattoo looks, do you really want to be explaining to your grandkids who that guy with the goatee is? 

One helpful corrective here is to make sure that the image you select will never fade in its significance to you — that the image touches on a core part of your identity. It should also be revelatory for a part of yourself that you’re willing to make public. Ask yourself: would I be okay answering questions about this image for the rest of my life? Because people will ask about your tattoo!

My dad worked in Custer State Park in South Dakota, so that’s where I grew up. We’d wake up some mornings to bison or bighorn sheep chomping on the grass in our front lawn. It was an incredible privilege to have the park as the setting for my childhood, and it has shaped the person I am in so many ways. 

Now that I live in Indiana, I think about my connection to the park a lot and I wanted to make it a part of who I am in a visible way. So I started playing around with a simple outline of the bison from the park’s logo. Once I had an image and size for a tattoo idea, I thought about placement — and even went so far as to have my sister draw a sample image with a Sharpie on my bicep so that I could get a feel for what it might look like to have ink there. 

All of this conceptualizing took place over two or three years, so when it was time to get my tattoo, I was completely certain of what I was doing. And now, when I see the image on my arm, it brings me a lot of joy — I have confidence that it was a great decision. And I love to talk about where I grew up! 

Do your homework

For a decision as important as this, don’t just walk into any tattoo parlor and sit down in the first open chair. Shop around. If you see someone who has an eye-catching tattoo, ask them where they got it. 

Most tattoo artists have a strong presence on Instagram, so you can look at their work and get a sense of what they can do. Depending on what you’re getting inked, think about both the image and the style of the artist, especially if you are trusting them to draw freehand. The parlor should have an option to use a stencil, where the artist uses a thermal printer to put temporary ink on your skin and then traces it with a tattoo gun. (If you’ve had your image picked out for more than a year, you can just show up with a paper copy of your image and they can easily turn that into a stencil.)

One important factor to consider in your research is the safety and hygiene of the parlor. Don’t just research online — walk into the store and meet the staff. Tell them you’re just shopping around. The space should feel as clean and orderly as a doctor or dentist’s office. Pro-tip: check the bathrooms — if they’re clean, you know the parlor has good hygiene practices. You should be able to observe artists using equipment from one-time use packages and sterilizing their workspace. 

Respect your body

Our bodies are a gift and should be respected and honored, so just make sure that whatever image you choose for a tattoo dignifies your body and doesn’t demean it. It’s hard to determine exactly where that line is, but looking at our bodies from the perspective of our Catholic tradition might help. 

It’s easy to think that we are something beyond our bodies — that we inhabit these bodies for a time, but that who we really are is something more. In a way, that’s true — we are body and soul, and our souls will live with God when our bodies die. But for now, our bodies and souls are united. In other words, we don’t have a body — we are a body. Our bodies are one of the ways we bear God’s image, so they deserve dignity. What we do with them matters.

There are lots of ways a tattoo can dignify and reverence your body — but there are many more ways it can go the other way. So take your time and make a thorough decision — this is not a decision to be made on an impulse. It’s an opportunity to reflect deeply on who you are and what makes you you — and then to share that with the world.

Find out what to know about getting a tattoo here.

 

Creators:
Josh Noem
Published:
February 15, 2024
July 17, 2021
On a related note...
How Do You Care for Your Skin?

How Do You Care for Your Skin?

Grotto

5 Easy Baking Recipes for Your Holiday Gathering

5 Easy Baking Recipes for Your Holiday Gathering

Lauren Lawson

What You Need to Know About the "Sober Curious" Trend

What You Need to Know About the "Sober Curious" Trend

Anna O'Neil

Learning to Slow Down for Father-Daughter Time

Learning to Slow Down for Father-Daughter Time

Grotto

Choir Raises Money for Cancer Patients in Kenya

Choir Raises Money for Cancer Patients in Kenya

Grotto

Finding Balance through Fungi Farming

Finding Balance through Fungi Farming

Grotto

Despite My Infertility, I Am Still a Mother

Despite My Infertility, I Am Still a Mother

Stacey Huneck

5 Things You Should Know About Invisible Disabilities

5 Things You Should Know About Invisible Disabilities

Shannon Evans

Your Parents Just Divorced – Now What?

Your Parents Just Divorced – Now What?

Janelle Peregoy

How to Make the Most of New Year’s Day

How to Make the Most of New Year’s Day

Molly Cruitt

Facing Pandemic Panic? Pick up a Book

Facing Pandemic Panic? Pick up a Book

Megan Toal

Do You Really Need 8 Hours of Sleep Each Night?

Do You Really Need 8 Hours of Sleep Each Night?

Mary Claire Lagroue

What I Love About Not Owning a Smartphone

What I Love About Not Owning a Smartphone

Molly Gettinger

6 Ways to Kickstart Your Morning

6 Ways to Kickstart Your Morning

Clare Rahner

4 Tips If You're Alone on Christmas

4 Tips If You're Alone on Christmas

Christine Chu

How to Cope When Your Parents Divorce Later in Life

How to Cope When Your Parents Divorce Later in Life

Dr. Daniel, Bethany Meola

4 Tips for Sharing a WFH Space with a Spouse

4 Tips for Sharing a WFH Space with a Spouse

Sarah Coffey

Kevin Love Speaks Out About Mental Health

Kevin Love Speaks Out About Mental Health

Grotto Shares

Are You Holding Yourself to an Impossible Standard?

Are You Holding Yourself to an Impossible Standard?

Dan Masterton

4 Ways Cutting Down My Screen Time Changed Me

4 Ways Cutting Down My Screen Time Changed Me

Marye Colleen Larme

newsletter

We’d love to be pals.

Sign up for our newsletter, and we’ll meet you in your inbox each week.