Getting a Tattoo


I recently decided to get a tattoo for a variety of reasons, some of them better than others. I decided to get one because:

  1. I didn't want to be scared of permanently changing my body. We make decisions that permanently alter the course of our life pretty often, in much bigger ways than a tattoo will, and I know I will regret coming to the end of my life with no permanent marks. I have scars and birthmarks, it seemed it was time to make a mark that I got to dictate, that represented some aspect of myself.
  2. It's a profoundly human experience, and in general I like to experience things other humans have in order to feel as though I've lived my life to its fullest. There are obvious lines I don't cross (ie. heroin), but even the process of deciding on a design and getting it has taught me a lot. If you don't believe me, try it out.
  3. I wanted to think long and hard about my life up to this point, and find the parts that mattered the most. Of course, there's no need to get a tattoo in order to do this. However, I'm about to graduate from college and begin The Rest Of My Life, and for me personally a tattoo seems as good a way as any to mark this turning point in my life and attempt to encapsulate the last 21 years into something permanent that I can carry with me going forward. This isn't to say that I can be boiled down into a single image or phrase and have that put on my body, but it is to say that there are some key points to represent symbolically that can help solidify my identity at this point.
  4. They can be beautiful, and start conversations. Nuff said.

So, with these intentions in mind, I set about getting a tattoo. In some ways it was much easier than expected, in that there is a local tattoo parlor that does high-quality work and is very safe. But on the whole it wasn't exactly easy, as permanently changing your body using needles probably shouldn't be.

Choosing a Design

I wanted the tattoo to be small, simple, and something I knew I wasn't likely to regret. It needed to represent some part of myself that wasn't liable to change, and that I wouldn't be embarrassed to talk about. With this criteria in mind I had a few ideas of things that my tattoo could be "about":

  • Portland, OR
  • Something very generic + symbolic (ie. an equals sign)

I was wary of quotes, as they seemed less pliable in their meaning, and seemed more likely to "tire out" so to speak. Besides, if I really liked a quote, I had plenty of skin to get other tattoos in the future.

Researching designs brought up a few contenders:

After consulting friends and learning more about what kinds of tattoos are difficult to execute, and which aren't, I settled on this:

Without the portland, in plain black ink.

My advice:

  • Go small at first! You have plenty of space to get bigger ones later, and you'll know what you're getting yourself into.
  • Get line art. This limits what you can get quite a bit, but again line art is so much easier to get, and you'll almost definitely be happier with the finally product. You can always work your way up to large, colored tats.
  • Go with as few colors as possible. Colors just add time, complexity, and money to the tattoo. It doesn't have to be black and white, but if you can turn your design into black and white and still love it, it's much easier!

Getting the Tattoo

Actually getting my tattoo was easy and relatively painless. I had a super brief consultation with the local parlor to get some questions answered and show them my design, then made an appointment for a few days later. The only advice I received about prepping for getting the tattoo was pretty solid life advice: drink lots of water, eat a good healthy meal before, get enough sleep. Standard stuff. I got to my appointment super early (like, half an hour early) because I was so nervous, and spent the time filling out some paperwork and pacing. My boyfriend came with me, which was very helpful. It was great not just to have support there, but someone to talk to and experience this with. I said it was fine if he didn't come, but in retrospect I would not want to get a tattoo alone. So, around 7 the tattoo artist set up the table, showed me her rendering of the design, and then did this cool paper-to-skin thing so you could basically see how the tattoo was going to look before getting inked. It looked great, so we got started!

My tattoo is on my ribs, which regular tattoo-getters will tell you is among the more painful spots since it's so close to bone. It definitely wasn't comfortable, but my tattoo was so small and simple that it wasn't painful so much as annoying. It feels like someone is rubbing the tip of a needle on your skin, not like it's cutting you, but just lightly scratch. If you have a really sharp pencil, you can try drawing on your skin, and that's about how it feels. My tattoo took about 10 minutes from start to finish, and with my beau to keep me distracted it went by pretty quick. My tattoo artist was also incredibly sweet, understanding, and supportive, and made the whole experience that much more pleasant. Once it was done, I took a look to make sure it all looked good. I won't get too cheesy, but it was love at first sight. As anyone is with their first tattoo, I was nervous that I would regret getting something put permanently on my body, but I knew when I saw it that I had made the right decision. Crisis: avoided.


Super cool tattoo lady hooked me up with some tattoo-care products for totally reasonable and worth-it prices, including a nice soap and lotion. Since my tattoo was so small and minimal it never hurt, turned red, itched, or any of the other possible skin irritation that often come after getting a tattoo. I even forgot I had one the next day, and as I was getting ready for bed thought "OH MY GOD WHAT HAPPENED oh right I got a tattoo". The lesson: start small! It's been 100% painless as long as you take good care of it. It's been exactly 1 week since I got it as of this writing, and by now it feels like a completely normal and natural part of my body.


Overall I'm very happy with my tattoo, and the decision to get it. There are totally unexpected side effects of empowerment, and my tattoo is not just a reminder of where I come from but that my body is mine, and that I get to choose what happens to it. I have to admit that my parents explicitly didn't approve of my getting one, and I was really hurt that they wouldn't support me. I understand that as parents their job is to keep me safe and avoid regrettable decisions, which a tattoo very well could be. But (as is hopefully evidenced by this post!) I put a lot of thought and care into getting one, and wish that they had been more understanding. Luckily, it's not very visible, so no one has to know. Even if they do find out (probably through this post), it's my body! Yay!

I'm thrilled that I can carry a piece of my childhood with me into adulthood now, and know what it's like to be tattooed. It's almost like being part of a club, and has already sparked some very interesting and intimate conversations with co-workers and friends about their tattoos, and how they decided to get them. I'm not sure what the best way to end this post is, but I hope it's been helpful | insightful | interesting! Have an excellent day :)