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Bad Tattoos: A Loser's Guide to Shame

By Edited Apr 8, 2016 6 24

This Says, "I'm a Loser!"

Tattooing as an art, a form of cultural identification, and as body adornment has been with us for millennia.

Different pre-Columbian cultures in the Americas used tattooing for religious iconography and for body art; South American mummies from as early as 950 AD show tattoos on the hands and other parts of the body.

Chiribaya mummy (detail, hand tattoo, ca 1100AD)

The mummified corpse of a 5200-year-old Neolithic man (discovered in 1991 in frozen, Alpine glacial ice, nicknamed “The Iceman”) has tattoo work.  Over fifty individual tattoos were found on him, ranging from a cross (on the inside of one knee) to sets of parallel lines. 

The process of implanting pigment under the skin, leaving a permanent and indelible coloration, was probably discovered accidentally.  A prehistoric individual, with a deep cut, perhaps got dirt or wood ash from a cooking fire in the wound.  When it healed, it left the tell-tale black color of the pigment left behind.  From there, people would have figured out intuitively how to do these markings on purpose. 

Primitive tattoos
The word “tattoo” is thought to be of South Pacific origin, probably Tahitian or Polynesian. The word “ta” is Polynesian for “striking”; the Tahitian language had the word “tatau” which means “ to mark”.  Bastardized English yielded the word “tattoo”.

Cool Tats
Tattoos used to always mean something.  Sailors got tattoos commemorating a trip to a new land (“Singapore”) or a trip to the local brothel (“Maysie, 1939”).  Today’s tattoo owners more often than not are just packing ink because they think it’s cool.

Tattoos are cool.  There is a certain maturation required to having a permanently and potentially disfiguring ornament on your body.  There is some pain in the process as well, so there’s the machismo of getting tattooed.

In general, almost everyone who gets a tattoo does give it some clear and level-headed thought.  The work done is mostly good to excellent.

However, there is a whole different level of idiocy

It Takes A Village Idiot (book cover)
involved when it comes to people with “bad” tattoos.  And a tattoo that’s bad can’t be merely something someone else doesn’t necessarily like.

Bad tattoos are done badly—terrible concept, indifferent layout and design, horrible line work, laughably pathetic artistic skills, inconsistencies in colors and pigment density—and just plain stupid. 

Culturally, “tribal” motifs in the world of tattooing have gained a solid foothold in the past two decades or so with people who have no cultural or ancestral right to wear such iconography. The subversion of these images means the people who get these designs are posers without a clue what they mean.

Any white guy with a “tribal” tattoo of any kind is a putz.  He is to be laughed at and mocked publicly (and repeatedly) until he cries and/or wets his pants.

Then, he needs to be smacked around.

Equation for White Guy + Tribal Tattoo

Black people are guilty of tattoo idiocy as well; they don’t get a pass for being African-American.  Boxer Mike Tyson’s facial tribal tattoo is just as ridiculous on him as anyone else on the planet who is not an aboriginal.  Not only does Tyson not understand where his tattoo motif comes from or what it means (though he claims he designed it himself), he probably can’t even spell “Maori”.  His tattoo is a joke.

In the end though, the beauty of any tattoo, like any other work of art, is in the eye of the beholder.  Although most people can’t clearly say what art is, most people know what it ain’t

And the following generalized categories of bad tattoos have no redeeming value at all.  They are actually counter-productive to their intent.  Tattoos are supposed to be cool—these make their owners look anything but cool.

These tats are just plain bad!  [And don’t tell me that there’re worse than these—I know there are.  These are merely part of an overview, not a definitive or exhaustive treatise.  Don’t make me smack you around!]

Totally **** Blocked!

By all that is sacred and holy, if you’re going to get a tattoo with words on it, in any language, could you just please spell it right?

That thing is going to be on you for a long time.  There is no CorrecType for tattooing—once it’s there, it’s there.  Make sure the pinhead that’s doing your ink work knows how to spell or is not dyslexic (or just plain malicious).  Write out the words, correctly spelled, as you wish them to appear on your tattoo, complete with spacing and any required punctuation. 

Misspelled tattoo
Mr. “Awsome” here has to live with his stupidity forever—if he couldn’t afford a tattoo artist with at least a third-grade education to get these two simple words spelled correctly then he probably can’t afford skins grafts or laser treatments to get it corrected.  [I did an editing job for him, since he’s obviously broke.]  Not only is he not awesome, his ink work—probably done by his prison husband—is spectacularly bad (unevenly spaced, bad line work, excruciating and pointless 18th Century Germanic lettering, etc.).  

Male Virginity Guarantee
Women are very forgiving of men’s flaws (witness the “beauty-and-the-beast” marriage of Julia Roberts to Lyle Lovett many moons ago).  Women love us men (and sometimes other women) despite most of our absurdities.

I love women.

I also love being in on some of their little secret code words and phrases they use to talk about us men.  Women have a secret phrase that totally cracks me up every time I hear it.  If you are a man with an undesirable physical trait, personality quirk, or pretensions at metro-sexuality (such as wearing a toe ring, something most self-respecting gay men don’t even do), women have a name for your disability.

They call it a “c**k blocker”. 

To be “blocked”, in the parlance of women, means you are so lame that whatever laughably inept or ridiculous trait or image you bring to the table, they simply cannot ignore it.  It is such a turn-off (for the most tolerant group of people on the planet) that they would rather set themselves on fire after poking their own eyes out with icepicks than even entertain the idea of having sex with you. 

Star Wars tattooed fanboy
Fanboys are virgins.

And they can’t seem to understand why: “I’m a great guy, why can’t I get any?”

C’mon, what woman doesn’t want to proudly walk down any street in public with a guy who has the

Darth Tater
whole Fantastic 4 team tattooed across his forehead?  Comic book characters or a badly rendered Xena, Warrior Princess, are not turn-ons to women.

In the world of geekdom the Star Wars® franchise reigns supreme, breeding even bigger dweebs than the Trek-verse did.  Unfortunately, fanboys don’t know this.  Fanboys love Star Wars®, and they wear that love loudly and proudly.

Beyond this guy’s back hair problem and the flab-o-hammock of love-handled flesh used as a canvas, his tattoo work is horribly executed.  The colors are terrible, the artwork is awful, and it’s poorly composed.  Also, what’s with that big lump of butterscotch-and-chocolate Jell-O pudding with eyes and a mouth over there on the right?

Enjoy your stay in the land of male virgins: you’re blocked, Obi “One-Ton” Kenobi! 

“I Have a Really Tiny Thingy”
As with Mr. “Awsome” there are others who self-aggrandize to the point of absurdity in their tattoo art.  The simple fact anyone would even consider having the words “I’m Awesome” (misspelled or not) inked on their torso is a clear indicator that person is anything but awesome. [Women do it, too—sloppy chicks with the word “Diva” stamped on their flabby, stretch-marked guts, for example.] 

Similarly, the other extreme of over-compensator tries to make himself out to be badder than he really is.  Not only does he look stupid, it is also a surefire indicator, in the immortal words of William Shakespeare, “Methinks he doth protest too much.”

Overwrought aggrandizing is a clear sign of low self-esteem, a pitiable need for attention, and a guarantee of never being able to get a job.  And it also means the guy has a really tiny thingy.

He's Bad?
Although I’m sure he thinks he looks really tough, this guy will be the first of any fresh fish in a prison to get prickly things stuffed into his orifices his first time in the shower.

What a jackhole!  Uh, excuse me—I guess I shoulda said, “What an icehole!”

Difficulties Ahead!

Tramp Stamp
Yes, women fought for the right to vote (being brutalized and jailed) just so this spoiled brat could have a tramp stamp that says she is somewhat . . . uh . . . “difficult”

Tramp Stamp (Queen Bee)
to get along with.

You’ve come a long way baby, indeed.

Is there any woman in the world who would like to be thought of in such a negative fashion?  “Difficult”, demanding, self-centered, manipulative, nagging?  No?  I guess it’s just her then.

Tramp stamps are the tattoos I hate the most.  They are designed to be coy or cute and turn out to be neither.  They are unattractive and useless.

If I’m in that area of any woman’s body, I don’t have time to stop and read an instruction manual—I know what I’m doing, and I got stuff to do there.  I also don’t need the distraction.  A woman’s unadorned lower back is pretty enough—tramp stamps ruin that expanse. 

Tramp Stamp (Burger Queen)
And speaking of expanses, the slope of this chick’s lower back, combined with her nascent love handles, tells me she’s got too much junk in her trunk.  She clearly got her message wrong. 

She’s a queen all right: “The Burger Queen”.

Jesus Takes Another Beating
Portraiture generally never comes out well on human skin.  You’re dealing with a flexible, three dimensional surface, and working in a difficult medium.  Precious few tattoo artists can pull off good portrait work that not only looks like the subject but is good artistry as well.

Religious iconography ranges from the poser’s Eye of Horus, to the poser’s Ra symbol, to the poser’s ankh, to the Christian poser’s crucifix. 

Jesus (as rendered badly as a tattoo)
But it is in the world of religious tattoo portraiture that the most horrific work can be seen, and Jesus takes a lot of abuse at the hands of bad tattoo artists.

Jesus just can’t get a break.  After being mercilessly beaten and crucified in 36 CE, he gets skewered and beaten down again in the modern world of tattoo “artistry”.

For starters, no one ever correctly depicts him as the swarthy, stocky Jew he really was, with his dark curly hair, dark eyes, black beard, and deep olive skin.

Instead, they always go for the White Bread version of Jesus, the fake image created in Western Europe centuries ago to make Whitey feel better about him: long, blond, flowing “good” hair (no Jew-Fro for our boy!), blue eyes, and white skin.

That would all be well and good if and only if the end results even came close to looking like those iconic images.  But they never do.  Jesus always looks like Kenny Rogers, or Grizzly Adams, or somebody else. 

The image of Jesus in this section carved into pinhead flesh nagged me a very long time.  It was very badly done, and it sure didn’t look like any Jesus I ever saw (including the hitchhiking one).

Who did he look like?  It was making me nuts.  Then, I figured it out.  He looked like this guy:

Eric Stoltz as Rocky Dennis in

Get it Right, Icehole!!

In general there is absolutely nothing wrong with tattoos or getting tattooed.  It is the people involved in the process that makes for bad tattooing. 

There are many considerations to make before even getting in the front door of a tattoo parlor. If you have never been tattooed before, find out if you are allergic to any of the inks. 

What Your Tattoo Says About You (cartoon)
Although only a small percentage of people have tattoo ink allergies, if you are one of them you need to know in advance.  Red is the color most commonly associated with allergic reactions, followed by yellow, green, and brown. 

Make sure your artwork is both professionally sketched and of a proper size and placement. No, not everybody thinks your facial tats are cool.  In fact, they’re the worst placed of all.  It is the first thing people see, and like it or not, people do judge by appearance.  Discretion is the better part of tattooing.  Tattooing a map to your house on your face is stupid.  Put it on your shoulder blade—that way, you can at least still get a job in a bank if you had to. 

Pick icons or images that are true to you, not a “flavor-of-the-month”.  A spurious choice in artwork will haunt you forever.  [I cringed when David Spade, years ago on Saturday Night Live for his first tattoo ever, selected “Calvin” from the now-defunct “Calvin & Hobbes” newspaper comic strip.  What an idiot.  And he let actor Sean Penn tattoo it for him.  Doubly stupid!]  

Don’t get your boyfriend’s, girlfriend’s, wife’s, husband’s, door-man’s, grocer’s, or parole officer’s names tattooed anywhere on your body no matter how much they whine and beg. Yes, I know you love her; you really do—at least, this week.  Relationships are transient for many, and had I bothered with such naming tats, both my arms would be ridiculously sleeved with cross-out lines through a long list of female names.  Names on skin are just dumb.

Under no circumstances have your tattoo work done by your buddy, girlfriend, boyfriend, prison wife, or mail carrier.  Ask around your town.  Find out who’s the absolute best tattoo artist available in your area and spend the money to get it done right by him or her!  Tattoos are not necessarily cheap (pricing varies and considers things like color changes, intricacy, size, etc.).  A lifelong reminder of your own stupidity, however, carries a much higher price tag.

Choosing timeless imagery, tasteful design work, and proper placement means your body art will never be a source of embarrassment and public ridicule.

Especially if I’m around to see it, point, and laugh!


Joe Dirt (speaking of David Spade!) AND Jesus get beaten down in this vid of other crummy tats again!

Tattoo Johnny: 3,000 Tattoo Designs
Amazon Price: $14.95 $8.66 Buy Now
(price as of Aug 2, 2015)
Dragon Tattoo Trilogy: Extended Edition [Blu-ray]
Amazon Price: $59.95 $27.37 Buy Now
(price as of Aug 2, 2015)
Trucker Man
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Feb 23, 2012 4:42pm
Och Vic, I am sad now. I have a "tramp stamp", no idiotic words, just a simple heart in the middle of a celtic design,which as a pure breed welsh girl I am entitled to. I have the Welsh dragon on my left shoulder, a Black panther on my right shoulder, I felt it represented my personality. I have a heart on a rose stem with my hubby's name on my left front above my breast and finally I have my dead son's name and DOB on my left arm with a blue rose for him, in the middle of a Celtic design.
My next tattoo I am yet to have planned but hold it in my head. I want two dragons entangled in a heart shape, one representing fire in red, one in ice blue, representing Ice, sat on the witch's inverted pentacle, surrounded by the five elements of Fire,Earth,Air,Water and Spirit. As a Celtic Pagan Witch I own these too!!lol.
The other 98% of the article I am totally behind you in agreement. I have seen some stupid,nasty and plain idiotic tattoos. FASHION tattoos are probably the most dangerous. You really need to ask yourself if you will be happy with the tattoos when you are 50/60/70. I really could not careless what I look like when I am that age and it is MY body,so who else matters?!
Feb 23, 2012 5:33pm
The point is the stuff should make sense for you, and not just be some douchebaggery like many people do. I know you are an "earth" chick, and that stuff is fine for you (I still like the bare back, though, just a personal preference). I don’t object to tats on women -- there is a woman named Danielle on an American TV show, "American Pickers". She is COVERED in ink, and she is smoking hot not only because she's HOT, but the tats actually add something to her look.

People do need to think about what’s gonna look good years from now for sure. The Burger Queen probably did not. Thanks for reading. And I love Drew Barrymore, even though she has a tramp stamp!
Feb 23, 2012 5:44pm
. OH, one more thing -- don't be sad. I have two -- the Situationists' "Anarchy" symbol (in bright blood red) on my left shoulder blade, and a black bat on my right blade. Both will see me through death without embarrassment or discrimination (that was the point of the piece -- your tramp stamp is fine I’m sure, as long as you got it for the right reason). I like the sound of the panther -- I'd do one of those on me myself.
Feb 23, 2012 4:45pm
Ps. Mr Awsome's biggest c*^k block issue isn't only the misspelt tattoo on his back but the vile big blackheads that stare at you like a full stop on his tattoo, bleurgh!
Feb 23, 2012 5:39pm
I figured this poor schmuck had enough strikes against him without my pointing out he was growing Mt. Vesuvius on his back there. Yeah, I noticed the boils, carbuncles, zits, lesions, scabs, back hair, and sloughing skin as well -- he's a big enough train wreck without my help
Feb 23, 2012 4:59pm
I remember someone had a can of his favourite lager, Carling Black Label, tattooed on him. Then the company changed the name to Carling.
Feb 23, 2012 5:36pm
THAT's why people need to think about long-term issues. That's like having "Eight Tracks 4-Ever" or "I LOVE BETA-MAX" tattooed on you somewhere. Thnaks for reading.
Feb 23, 2012 6:06pm
It was in a newspaper that I saw that, and his remark, now that he had a now defunct drink brand in him, was along the lines that he now felt stupid.

My personal opinion was that the name change wasn't needed for him to feel stupid.
Feb 23, 2012 11:33pm
Now that's funny (I like ot point out people's "a priori" stupidity myself when I can)
Feb 24, 2012 3:58am
I think this is a well balanced article Vic, the facts you were trying to point out came out above all else. It reads as someone who has paramount respect for the real tattoo and art appreciation society and for a good tattooist, with out the nasties.
The one place my hubby has begged me not to get any tats is my legs. I have thought about getting a garter belt tattoo, the only thing stopping me is whether I could find one I like and one that would look as good when I am 50.
Feb 24, 2012 4:14am
Don't do it -- he's right! It's a major distraciton and a total turn-off.

I was with a chick a few years ago who had a "Mr. Awsome"-style tat of her huband's name on her right calf -- it was huge and hideous and looked like a jailhouse job. I hated it, not because of the man's name, it was just butt ugly. Turns out, she hated it, too, and she was 27 at the time; thus she gets to carry that spectacularly crapulous ink on her for the rest of her life (or get it surgically removed). Dumb.

While I'm on the subject, I also hate body piercings on women -- I don't like chewing on hardware.
Feb 24, 2012 9:35am
I don't do piercings, apart from the traditional one hole in each ear and usually forget to insert anything in them!!
Nothing distracts my husband when he has is mind on *cough* other things.. but because I am not 100 % sure I probably won't do that one. The one I definitely want mentioned above, I will have between my shoulder blades.
I also always believe in being able to cover them up for work etc, common sense practice not to out do yourself of a job.
I absolutely hate the male name tattoos up the side of their own neck. What is that about? Are they so thick they have to look in the mirror at it to remind them of their own name?
Feb 24, 2012 10:05pm
The tattoos I laugh at most are the ones that people have written in a language that they neither speak, nor can claim any ancestral connection to. They just thought it looked cool.
For example, people who have Kanji tattoos that supposedly say "Wisdom" or "Providence" or some other abstract noun. It would look rubbish in English, but they think it's awsome *sic in a different language just because of the font.
My girlfriend says that most of those tattoos in Japanese/Chinese etc. script all say the same thing.


I can't help but crack a smile every time I see one.
Great article. Thumbs up for you.
Feb 25, 2012 12:15am
That's so on point. A few years ago, I saw a magazine piece wherein Japanese teenage girls had to have English words printed on their carryalls -- the words were ones they had no clue what they meant, nor did they make a lot of sense ("Let's Active" is a good one). But they thought they were cool (I won't bore you with other examples).

Your Chinese ink sounds like our posers' versions of "tribal" ink. Just goes to show douchebaggery is worldwide!
Mar 12, 2012 7:03pm
I love a really well done and beautiful tattoo, but it seems that there aren't many of them out there. There are a lot more that are dumb, ugly, poorly done, or all of the above. Good list to get people thinking!

I had two tattoos that I have thought about for years...The first was a really delicate anklet that would go down onto my foot and the more important of the two was going to be a sword and a unique (though hard to find) butterfly. The sword was going to have red accents and the butterfly green ones with delicate and artistic use of primarily tattoo black. The sword would be for my son who's name means fierce protector and the butterfly for my daughter who's name means butterfly grace. :-P

Both tattoos have been permanently retired because my metal allergy has gotten really bad and I just can't imagine it being a good idea to risk it with ink.

But...I am definitely one who thinks...make it mean something, find a real artist, and get something that looks great and consider where you will be putting it.

Thanks for the interesting read!
Mar 13, 2012 2:00am
Thank you -- the allergy element is one I wish people would think about for sure before going under the needle -- I personally have the constitution of a war horse, but not everybody does. The whole point of the piece was clearly recognized by you, so we're on the same page. Thanks for reading.
Mar 21, 2012 3:00am
I laughed so much. Very enjoyable and plenty of truth!
Mar 21, 2012 3:05am
Good -- that means I did my job. Hopefully, you don't have any ink that will get you...uhhhh..."blocked". (My tats are way cool and have never gotten me "blocked"). Thanks for reading -- an EXTRA special "Thank you" for NOT using the crappiest, laziest meme of all time -- "lol" -- when saying you laughed! (I HATE "lol"!)
Jul 2, 2012 1:27pm
I agree with you 100% although I'd like to throw in another. I have never quite understood why people get tattoos in places they can't see them. And no I'm not talking about on their breast or tummy or even upper thigh (they, themselves can still see those). I am talking about the ones others can see but they cannot - like on their back for instance.

How can someone enjoy a tattoo if it is on their back unless they stand in front of the mirror all day trying to look over their shoulder. What it's purpose except to show off to others?
Jul 2, 2012 1:31pm
I think of the tramp-stamp as a sign post to help me get my bearings in case I get lost. Thanks for reading.
Dec 29, 2012 10:36pm
Thoroughly enjoyed this, thanks!
Dec 29, 2012 10:50pm
Glad you liked it, and thanks for reading (don't get any BAD ink-work done, now, ya hear?)
Dec 30, 2012 9:10am
I have 2 tastefully chosen and placed tattoos. The most recent one was designed for me 6 years ago and I considered it until last year before having it done. Decisions should not be made on a whim that have permanent, life altering consequences. Maybe prerequisite IQ tests would help stop these horrible works of "art".
Dec 31, 2012 2:34pm
Mine are likewise well-placed. Good for you for having enough brains to get it right. I wish more people did. Thanks for reading.
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  1. "A Brief History of Tattoos." designboom.com. 13/02/2012 <Web >
  2. "Skin Stories: The Art and Culture of Polynesian Tattoo." pbs.org. 13/02/2012 <Web >
  3. Cate Lineberry "Tattoos: The Ancient and Mysterious History." smithsonianmag.com. 1/01/2007. 13/02/2012 <Web >
  4. Jane & Michael Stern The Encyclopedia of Bad Taste. New York City, NY: Harper Collins, 1990.
  5. Will Wellness " Allergic Reaction to Tattoo Ink – Symptoms and Signs." willwellness.com. 13/02/2012 <Web >

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