So I just got my first “real” tattoo.
All of my other 8 tattoos have been script/roman numerals. I’m a writer, ok? I really like words. (There seems to be some type of stigma associated with getting font tattooed on your body in tattoo culture.)
Anyway! So for my 9th tattoo, I finally got some real art done by an artist based out of Virginia. It was my first big piece of work and I’m a little surprised by how I coped with it.
Getting a tattoo is a weird process—after the fact, I might add. It’s saying goodbye to the skin on that part of your body forever. You’ll never see it again. You now have to see—insert whatever it is you got tattooed on your body—every day.
What I went through was a little like the five stages of grief with my new tattoo.
Denial: It’s Not Really There!
If you’ve gotten a tattoo before, you have experienced this.
Immediately after you get your tattoo, you love it. You show everyone. It’s fresh. It looks amazing!
You wake up the next morning and you’re like, “WHAT. IS. THAT.”
It’s not that you didn’t remember that you got it done. It’s just that… well, it’s a part of you now. Like really a part of you. For the first couple hours after I got my tattoo, I was like, “Whoa. What is that thing?” By the next morning, I remembered that it was there.
But while it was healing, it didn’t seem like it was a part of my body. It almost looked like a shiny new sticker that I could just peel right off. Despite the fact that while I was washing it and could feel the lines inked into my skin, I thought, “It’s not really there! Nothing’s different!”
Anger: Why Did I Get That?
Not everyone has welcome reactions to your new ink.
Mom: “IT’S HUGE! How much did that cost? What?? Why?!!!”
Bestie: “DUDE IT’S FUCKING AMAZING YOU’RE AMAZING I LOVE IT AHHH!!!!!!!!!”
Partner: “Wow it looks sexy, you’re sexy, I love you.” *kiss*
Grandma: *insert slapping motion here* (Yes, she literally slapped my tattoo three days after I got it. I have not yet forgiven her.)
Regardless of people’s reactions (or on account of people’s reactions, whatever), you start to feel mad. Why did I get that? You think. You also see your credit card statement of how much it cost and, let’s face it, wake up the next morning feeling like shit because that part of your body is swollen and sore and red and you can’t wear clothes that cover it and you feel like you just hate everything.
Bargaining: If Only I Could Change This…
I saw a great YouTube video about tattoo regret and it really resonated with me, not necessarily because I have any tattoos I regret per se, but because she makes a great point.
You will always wonder:
- What if I got it smaller/bigger?
- What if I got it in color/black and grey?
- What if I went to a different artist/shop?
- What if I just had them change this little part of it?
- What if I had gotten something different?
- What if I didn’t get anything at all???
You bargain. You wonder what could have been changed. You think about changing it in the future. In my experience, the only reason I have wondered these things is because I am still grappling with my new tattoo.
I’m still processing it.
I don’t know what to think about it.
And, it’s not perfect.
Because nothing is ever perfect no matter how much we want it to be. Does my tattoo show imperfection? Of course. But, like me, it’s still beautiful.
Depression: I’ll Never Have Naked Skin Again
At some point, you start to feel depressed that you have this tattoo. You spent a bunch of money, spent hours in pain, and are now spending weeks taking care of it, resentfully avoiding the bathtub and wondering when you’ll ever feel normal again.
And then you realize that you’ll never BE normal again. Because you have this tattoo and you don’t know how to handle it. You know you’ll never see the skin on the other side of that tattoo again. What are you going to do??
You’re going to deal with it and you’re going to be just fine. Your skin is ruined, yes. But now you have this beautiful, imperfect tattoo as part of you, another mark of your journey here that you’ll hopefully grow to love and accept.
Acceptance: I Actually Like It!
Finally, once your tattoo heals a little more and it stops looking like a giant sticker, once your mom has stopped commenting on it and you can stop sleeping in weird positions to avoid rubbing it, you begin to accept and love your tattoo.
It can take a while. For some people, it may be a week or two. For others, it may be a few months or even a year. And some people never really get to the acceptance stage where they feel like they can integrate this tattoo into their lives in a healthy way.
So if you really hate your new tattoo, it has a major flaw you just can’t get over, or you are having trouble coping with it even after it’s been a while, you might not ever get to the acceptance stage.
This was not my experience, but many people have had this experience where they cannot adjust to the tattoo. What are your options if this happens?
- You can consult a tattoo artist who is experienced with cover-ups and consider cover-up options. I would consider consulting with multiple artists and wait at least six months before going forward with a cover-up or altering the tattoo.
- Laser removal is also an option, but I’ve heard it’s expensive and painful. It’s also important to note that lasering will not remove the tattoo completely unless you got your tattoo in a very light color. You will likely need to have it lasered and then covered up.
- You may also consider working with a therapist, coach, or another professional to help you process your feelings and experience around your tattoo and how you might consider moving forward with the tattoo as part of your life.
A Note on the 5 Stages
Elisabeth Kübler-Ross developed the 5 stages of grief. However, Elisabeth later said she regretted making these stages, because they have been grossly misinterpreted by the general public.
For the vast majority of people, the 5 stages are NOT a linear timeline that they go through and then are done with. This is true whether you are dealing with tattoo grief (which some people call tattoo dysphoria, which can be similar to body dysmorphia) or have experienced a loss.
It’s important to understand that you may go through these stages, then go through them again. Or you may not go through all of them, only some. Or you may go through one, skip to one, and then go back to another. You may take a long time to be in each stage, and keep going through them throughout your life.
I know that sounds a little daunting, but the point is that your journey is your own, and honoring your journey does not mean subscribing to a “timeline” where you go through the stages and are done. It means honoring your unique process for integrating this ink into your life, whatever that may look like for you. Each person’s experience is unique!
Do You Love Your Tattoo Yet?
It’s taken me a little while, but I love my new tattoo, and while it’s not perfect, I am ok with that.
I’m grateful to the artist and his patience with my first big piece, I’m grateful to have a beautifully designed tattoo, and I’m grateful it didn’t get infected while it was healing.
I’m also grateful that my rabbits didn’t scratch it, although Fiver did bite my leg ridiculously close to it, adorable little thing. He’s literally never bitten me before and he chooses to bite my leg the day after I get a giant tattoo. I think it’s because the tattoo butter I used had lavender in it? Rabbits love herbs!
Give your tattoo some time, show it some love, and let your body heal. Your experience is valid, and your feelings are normal!