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What Your Tattoo Says About You: A Look at the Motivation Behind Getting a Tattoo

By Edited Mar 27, 2016 0 2


Do you know what your tattoo might say about you? It might be more than you think. Meanings of tattoos vary from the design of the tattoo to the person who gets one. Meanings of tattoos fall into specific categories and tattoo designers, as well as communication researchers, say tattoos do say something about you. The motivation behind your tattoo offers a better glimpse about what your tattoo really says about you as a person.

Motivations Behind the Meanings of Tattoos

At first glance, a tattoo acts as an expression of the person wearing it. If you delve deeper into why a person got a specific tattoo, then you might learn even more about that person. Just as there are a variety of tattoo designs, there are a variety of motivating reasons behind getting a tattoo.

Expression via Identity-People choose to get a tattoo because they feel the need to identify themselves through imagery on their body. The self-identifying image on one's body can give one a sense of being special or different from those that do not have the same marking. Tattoos are a way of standing out from the crowd. Some people enjoy knowing that their tattoos differentiate themselves from others in a way that is socially acceptable.


Calf Tattoo
Meanings of Tattoo

When one’s motivation to get a tattoo is one of self-identification, this is where you will find that the tattoo is a creative rendition of a normal image or is a very colorful image. These people may have several or more tattoos to self-identify with. You may also find that self-identifying tattoos can also seem a bit absurd to everyone else.

Design by Desire-Desiring a tattoo is one reason many choose to get one. However, some people have specific desires that they can only get with a design or image and can only feel satiated when they have that design on their body as they might not know what other way to get it.

Desire Tattoo(45493)

If desire is a motivation to get a tattoo, then these types of tattoos are often depicted as words or phrases or common themes such as animals, flowers, spiritual images.

Event Capturing-Some people want to keep the memory of a significant event close to them and they mark it with a tattoo. They want a tattoo of recognition for a specific accomplishment in their lives.


Iron Man Tattoo
Memorial Tattoo

For people trying to capture an event as a still image, you will notice that their tattoos will often correlate to a life changing event or a significant accomplishment. Some these tattoos capture the completion of a sporting event such as a triathlon or the Iron Man, birth or death of a loved one, graduating from college, etc.

Connections and Alliances-Tattoos have long been prevalent among certain groups of people. Whether these groups of people do good or bad in the world, the images associating people to these groups are the same or very similar to one another.

Frat Tattoo

Fraternities, gangs and even sexual orientation groups identify themselves with a common image that a group has adopted as their own (i.e. Greek lettering, tear drops, rainbows, etc.).

Loved Ones-Some people find that they want a tattoo to express their relationship with a loved one.

Family Tattoo(45490)

Tattooed names are often associated with crazy, drunken nights or a terrible break-up to follow. However, many people pay tribute with a tattoo with the names of their kids, pictures of their loved ones or pictures associated with their loved ones.

Thirty-six percent of those ages 18 to 25, and 40 percent of those ages 26 to 40, have at least one tattoo (Vanishing Tattoo)

Youth & Peer Pressure-Unfortunately, some tattoo designs come from being young, immature and pressured by others.

Betty Boop Tattoo

Off the wall phrases or pictures are often associated with this type of motivation behind getting a tattoo. Other designs might be pop-culture based or meaningless to the person getting the tattoo. Often times these designs are also considered absurd by others.

Cultural-Tattoos are not always about vanity. Some are culturally-based.

Henna Tattoo

Certain tattoos are considered tradition. Whether it be a henna tattoo or a tribal branding, these tattoos are a source of pride and distinction among different cultures of people.

Portraying an Image-Often times people who get tattoos want one because they feel that it will give them a certain reputation and others will view them in a distinctive way.

Barbed Wire Tattoo

These types of tattoos are often placed in certain areas on the body. These tattoos often have designs that portray toughness, coolness or rebellious characteristics (i.e. barbed wire, ferocious animals, etc.)

There usually is more than one motivating factor behind getting a tattoo. No matter the motivation behind getting a tattoo, the image on your skin is forever and should be given some careful thought.


Cultural tattoos: meanings, descriptors, and attributions [PDF] from waikato.ac.nzLW Nikora… - 2003 - researchcommons.waikato.ac.nz. http://hdl.handle.net/10289/861



Apr 10, 2011 8:14pm
Sometimes,tatoos are a cultural thing, like in the Maori culture. I didn't realize they were so prevalent in the age groups you mentioned. Insightful, thanks!
Apr 11, 2011 12:09am
footloose, I knew I was missing something. I'll be sure to add something about the cultural meanings of tattoos. Thanks!
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