Thanks to celebrities like Lindsay Lohan, Rihanna, and Nicole Richie and others, tiny tattoos have become a trendy fashion accessory in recent years. Stars, arrows, and initials are among the popular and most in-demand designs. BuzzFeed has a popular post dedicated to the allure of barely-there, “tasteful” tats. Miley Cyrus has taken up as an amateur tattoo artist.
But what happens if you start to regret your trendy tattoos years later? Even the celebrities themselves have been known to change their minds (did you know that Jessica Alba had her own tiny neck tattoo removed?). Tattoo removal can be painful and pricey, but living with a trendy tattoo can be daily reminder of that impulsive act of getting one.
We spoke with Hailey*, a 31-year-old New Yorker, who got a trendy tattoo when she was in high school, only to regret it. Here is her story:
When I was seventeen, I got an Ohm symbol tattooed onto my right forearm. The decision was completely impulsive—I just made an appointment and went back the next day. I didn’t even know what I was planning to have done, so I ended up picking the Ohm symbol out of a book. Needless to say it wasn’t a very well thought out decision.
It was 2000, and these Asian inspired tattoos were all the rage—all the celebrities were doing it. Everyone was getting Asian symbols tattooed onto their bodies, and it was considered very chic.
I remember thinking that getting a tattoo would prevent me from ever living a boring, corporate life. Somehow in my mind having a tattoo would just reassure me that my life was going to be exciting. To me it meant that I’d be cool and creative forever, and not old and boring like my parents.
I wasn’t peer pressured into having it done, and in fact most of my friends would have never gotten a tattoo. It was just a total teenage rebellion. I was living in a community of observant Jewish people, and I wanted to stand out and associate myself more with the mainstream. I didn’t feel like I fit in with the people around me, and I wanted to make a statement. I wasn’t sad about not being like everyone else, but I remember feeling angry that other people judged me for not fitting in. I was happy with who I was, and I thought I was kinda awesome.
I reached the point when I wanted my community to know that I understood that I wasn’t like everyone else, but that it was my choice to be different. In Judaism, tattoos are strictly forbidden, so by permanently etching myself, I was proving that I was nothing like the people I grew up with. I was breaking all the rules in the most permanent way possible.
But the second after I got the tattoo, I immediately regretted it. I just remember feeling this pit in my stomach. It was too big, and too black, it felt very foreign, and it was permanent. The moment after I got it, I knew it was an impulsive decision and that I didn’t really give it enough thought.
My dad wouldn’t speak to me for three weeks. He was so angry and so sad. It wasn’t about the actual tattoo—he felt let down that I went and did something so permanent without even giving it any thought. Maybe if I’d been a little older, and if it was something really meaningful to me, he would have been more okay with it. Granted, he doesn’t agree with getting tattoos at all, but he would have respected my decision as an adult.
My mom, on the other hand, was indifferent to the whole thing. She didn’t care, and if I wanted to ruin my body, it was my body to ruin. She wasn’t going to allow herself to feel judged by other people judging me, and she wouldn’t even give me the satisfaction of engaging me on it, or commenting. She didn’t like it, she didn’t dislike it, and to this day I have no idea how she really feels.
My Jewish friends thought I was an idiot for doing it, and my college boyfriend, also Jewish, was dead against it. He told me that if I wanted to marry him, that I’d have to have the tat removed, which drove me to have three laser treatments while we were together.
Those three treatments were really expensive—between $600 and $800 a session—but they definitely worked. My tattoo went from being black and filled in, to faded and grey. I haven’t had a laser treatment in five years, mostly because the experience is so painful and expensive. Plus, newer and more effective lasers are coming out all the time. The FDA recently approved a new laser technology designed in Europe, but there are only a handful of those lasers available, and the treatments are super expensive, so I’m waiting a year or so to see if the price will come down. I think I need about two more treatments to completely get rid of it.
The pain of getting it put on is nothing like the pain of having it removed, and it’s nowhere near as cheap. I think I must’ve paid around fifty bucks to have the tattoo done, but it’s way more expensive to undo that decision. What really stinks is that I’m allergic to the actual ink. For the first few years, the tattoo would occasionally get really, really itchy. I had it checked out, and apparently the ink they use now is a lot less toxic than what they used on me. I didn’t even consider the possibility of having a bad reaction or physical problem with it.
My husband doesn’t mind it, but he supports my decision to have it removed. My in-laws, however, are not so fond. They’ve never said anything to me, but I can tell. And I always did a good job hiding it from my grandparents—they would have been completely devastated.
When I first graduated from college I was working at an auction house, which was super conservative and very old school, so I was careful to keep it covered. But it hasn’t really affected my professional life since. Now I work in fashion, and people in this industry don’t think twice about a little tattoo on my forearm. I work with people who have full sleeves of tattoos—mine has nothing on theirs’—but I still feel self-conscious.
I totally hid it on my wedding day—I’d had the makeup artist cover it up. I didn’t want to see it in pictures or have to pay to get it Photoshopped out. I’m sure my unborn children will one day stumble upon a photo of it, but I didn’t need it in my wedding photos. My plan is to make sure I have the tattoo removed before my kids are old enough to ask me about it.
Although most people would consider my tattoo really small and cute, to me it’s just too big and graphic. Honestly, if it was smaller, or somewhere nobody could really see, maybe I wouldn’t even have it removed. I think tattoos are sexy and edgy. I may not love mine, but there is total sex appeal there. When you see someone with a little tattoo, you think to yourself, “Oh, that person’s got edge.”
I have to say that it doesn’t bother me now. It’s a part of me and a part of my past. It’s a reminder to maybe take a minute and think things through before making an impulsive decision. At the same time though, I don’t necessarily need that reminder for the rest of my life, so while I don’t feel an urgency to have it removed, I will continue to take the steps to do so.
In hindsight, I should have waited. I think that if someone can hold out fifteen years, and stills want a tattoo, than it can be something celebratory, like a gift to yourself on your thirtieth birthday. The decisions we make later in life tend to be better and more thought out, and ideally less full of regret.
I’m really lucky that it hasn’t impacted my job or other relationships, but I’m more self-conscious of it than other people would be. Generally when Jewish people ask me about it, it’s my own shame to deal with. I’ve rarely been approached negatively on it, but for me there’s a lot of Jewishness tied up in it and a lot of my personal history tied up in the decision to do it.
I may not be an observant Jew, but I’m really spiritual, and I know it’s something that my community generally does not do. I really just wish I had waited, and at the very least I wish I chose something meaningful.
*Names have been changed