Friday, April 8, 2011

Tattoo Etiquette: The Guide to Not Being a Douche

I've been wanting to write this post for a very, very long time. No, I don't feel like I'm some sort of all-knowing tattoo guru. Not even in the slightest. But I have most certainly experienced the good, the bad, and the all kinds of ugly when it comes to being tattooed. My personal belief is that tattoos have done nothing short of enriching my life. They have brought so many wonderful people and artists into my life. They allow me to share some of my most favorite memories and works of art with strangers of all walks of life at all times. I'm a moving, walking, talking art gallery in itself. To put it lightly, they're special. Each one of my tattoos has a specific meaning or significance, and contrary to popular belief, I probably don't want to tell you about them. I guess that's where this etiquette guide comes in! For the wannabe tattooed crowd and the people who just "don't get it"... it's a no-frills way to looking into the lives of those who have decided to take the plunge. There are also a couple of pointers for those looking to work their way into the tattooed community. All around, it's just a guide to tell you "Don't be ignorant." It's the simple things!

These are my personal opinions. Please put as much emphasis as you can fathom on opinion. You may feel 180 degrees differently, and that's okay! These are not meant to be rants, but rather an information insight on what the "virgin skin" crowd may not understand. (I'd love if you shared your tattoo etiquette suggestions in the comments below! Even if you disagree with me!)

For the "Virgin Skin" crowd...

♥ It is NEVER okay to touch someone's tattoo without their permission. I cannot tell you how many times I've been poked, prodded, grabbed, fondled and all around manhandled by complete and total strangers. In the grocery store. At the mall. In the ladies' restroom while I try to wash my hands. People seem to believe that since you have visible tattoos you're some sort of public property. I've had people grab the bust of my shirt and move it to the side so they can read my chest piece (which is in a foreign language! Latin, even!). I've had older women grab my arms in the checkout and twist and turn them at their leisure inspecting everything I have on me. All the while never once asking for permission! Hello! That is assault! But even more so... it's just rude! I can't say it in simpler terms. Just. Don't. Do. It!

♥ Contrary to popular belief, not everyone likes to talk about their tattoos. Especially to strangers. This is definitely hit-or-miss. Some people love telling any and everyone the significance of their piece. Some people really couldn't care less if you knew or not. I tend to fall on the (sometimes cynical) side of "I really probably usually don't want to talk about them." Yes. All of those adjectives included.) I consider myself a people person, and I love random conversation with strangers, but after years and years of all the conversation being about my tattoos, it grows tiresome. I've heard it all from "you're so cute", "you have gorgeous work" to "tattoos are disgusting." and "those are going to look so bad when you're older! you'll regret that when you grow up!" Yeah. Let's get to those at a later point, shall we?! If you want to hit on someone, don't try to pick them up with lines about their tattoos! It really doesn't work. They've probably heard it all before! While on the topic, asking someone "What's the meaning of that?" or "What's the significance?" is sometimes considered taboo. The reason being that not everyone gets tattoos for a specific meaning. Some just get them because they look nice. Or on the other end of the spectrum, something might be so personal that they just don't want to tell you. Do not take it personally if someone says they'd rather not share! It is, of course, their personal prerogative and visible work doesn't mean they have to lay it all out for you. I should add: Even though I normally choose to not discuss super meaningful pieces with outright nosy people, if someone were to ask nicely and sincerely, I'd love to talk tattoos with them! I know it's a great way to relate to people and as long as they're sincere I'm game!

♥ It is not okay to ask someone how much they paid for their work. It's really not. Unless that someone is a close friend or family member, or someone you know feels comfortable divulging that information to you. Some tattooed people will disagree with me, again, that's fine. But this is my personal opinion and no, I will not tell you how much I paid for this piece or that piece. The reason: I may have a special relationship with my tattooist. He/She may give me a great deal/price. Unless you're getting the exact same thing in the same place by the same artist (which should *never* happen), it's irrelevant how much I paid for it. I just find it to be such a personal question. You certainly wouldn't ask a stranger how much their mortgage or credit card payment was each month, would you? To me, my tattoos are sacred and personal.

♥ Sincere, honest questions are totally okay and welcomed! I would much much much rather someone ask me up front about my tattoos as opposed to staring, snickering, or talking amongst themselves. You may think this totally negates my Point #2 about not wanting to talk about them, but I find that if you're upfront and honest with your questions then I'm much more likely to be open about sharing with you rather than thinking you're trash talking me and then me getting defensive. I've had people sneak photos of me in stores and that sucks. Mainly because I don't know if they're too shy to talk to me or if they're trying to submit me to People of WalMart or something! Are you interested in a tattoo? Want to talk about the pain of a certain spot? Want to talk about maintenance? Okay! Just ask! Yes, it's definitely tiresome after a while (so take that into consideration if you're not a people person and you want to be visibly tattooed!), but I find sincere interest to be much more tolerable than someone just being nosy for being nosy's sake!

♥ It is okay to take a tattoo photo to an artist to use as a *REFERENCE*... nothing more! It is NEVER okay to copy someone's tattoo, no matter what it is! No reputable tattooist would copy someone else's work to a T. If you want something similar, let him/her draw you up a custom piece so no one will have it! Sure, trends happen, coincidences happen. But I think it's easy to tell when it "just happened' as to when a situation and tattoo is contrived and copied. I've seen it happen, and I've even had it happen to me. And it sucks. Yes, "imitation is the sincerest form of flattery", but it's also the most frustrating.

♥ It's never okay to assume someone is unemployed, or will be, due to their tattoos. I've received so many rude comments about my tattoos when it comes to my ability to be employed. Not from an employer themselves, but from complete strangers and passersby. Yes, if you get your hands and neck tattooed, you should take that into consideration before taking the plunge. But I'll say this once and once only: If I cannot be myself in a place of employment, chances are highly likely that I don't want to work there anyway. Sure, in today's economy beggars cannot be choosers. But I made the decision to be self-employed or work in a creative field where I was free to be me a long time ago. I knew what I was getting myself into. I actually feel as though being heavily and visibly tattooed helps me in the long run because when I can't be a pediatrician* or attorney*, I'm forced to get creative in my thinking and come up with an ingenius way to support myself. That may sound silly to some of you, but it's the positive side I always try to see. (* That was a very generalized statement, and actually incorrect. I could be both of those things all the while being heavily tattooed. I just choose not to live my life in long sleeves and slacks! Totally my personal call! Don't let that stop you if it's your dream!)

♥ The church won't erupt in flames if a tattooed person sets foot inside, and no, just because I'm tattooed doesn't mean I love Jesus/Buddah/religion any less. While I choose to not be religious myself, that doesn't mean that other people are any less capable of accepting Christ into their lives because they're tattooed. It doesn't devalue my charitable efforts, donations, volunteer work, or anything for that matter. Tattoos do not make me a less-kind person. That is ridiculous and if you feel that way, you, to put it politely, are an idiot.

♥ It's never okay to say things such as: "How are you going to get a job with all of those tattoos?!" "Those are going to look so gross when you're 80." "No one will ever love or respect you with all of those tattoos. You obviously don't respect yourself." "Only trashy people get tattoos. You're lower class." "Are you in a biker gang or something? Herp Derp!" "You'd be a great role model, well, except for the tattoos!" I"ve received all of these personally. And I think I'm a rather stellar gal (in my own humble opinion, ha!) I'm college educated. I've worked my way through high school/college/post-graduate. I've supported myself for all this time. I don't think I'll be walking around in a crop-top or daisy dukes when I'm 80 so who cares if they look like crap! I'll have so many stories to share with my kids and grandkids. By the time I'm 80, everyone will have tattoos! Maybe even the President! It can without a doubt be infuriating, but you have to remember that the people who make these remarks are merely ignorant and closed-minded. It speaks volumes about their character and personality when they're unable to let another human being live their own life. What is tattooed on my body will never be of any relevance to you, I promise. Live and let live, friends!

Phew... that was a whole lot of "It's never okay..." Yeesh! Please remember these are my opinions!

For those wanting to be tattooed....

♥ Don't be intimidated by tattoo shops! I know so many people who want to get tattooed so badly but they're intimidated by the heavily tattooed crowd that usually frequent shops. They don't want to be seen as children in the eyes of the experienced. Don't be! The tattooed community is a wonderful one to be in so: chin up, chest out, walk in proud! Don't be afraid to take that first step!

♥ Yes. They hurt. Anyone who tells you otherwise is lying! I get it every. single. day! "Did that hurt?" Well, think about millions of needle points going into your skin at rapid speed... Eh, I'd say it's likely. Sure. Some spots hurt way less than others. Some people have a higher pain tolerance. Totally. But they're no walk in the park. That's what makes them worth it. They're an investment in time, money, and self! The pay off is so so sweet! Asking someone else if it hurt probably won't do much but scare you. Everyone reacts to pain in a different way. Just remember this!

♥ Do NOT try and shop around for the "best price" when it comes to getting tattooed! YOU GET WHAT YOU PAY FOR! I've had one of these experiences myself. We all have things we're not 100% sold on, and one of my tattoos just happens to be that. Luckily I can look back on it, laugh, and get it covered up! ;) A cheap tattoo is rarely a good one! Good, quality work takes time and money. And patience! Don't expect to knock out a full sleeve in one sitting! Be willing to come back multiple times to finish it. The "overpriced" tattoo also exists, so just be aware! It's hard to know what is fair when you're just starting out. It's likely that you'll pay too much for something at some point or another, but the most important thing is to be sure you get a quality piece!

♥ Think about it. Long. Hard. Really mull it over before going big! I know several people who have gone for a visible tattoo only to regret it later. Sure, it happens. Doesn't give the best impression of the rest of us, as there are many of us who are heavily modified and never regretful. But still, you will be living with this for the rest of your life. Do your homework! Find an artist that specializes in the style you want done. Go in for a consultation. Ask about price and timeline. (Yes, that's okay! It's not taboo to ask for an estimate!)  Commission the artist to draw up the piece and hang it in your house where you see it constantly. Wait a few months and if you still love it, make an appointment! I've hung up so many designs I thought I wanted tattooed on me and then 3 weeks later I was over it. So glad I took the time to test it out before going permanent! Don't let any ol' dude with a machine tattoo you. Make sure you're getting a quality piece in a clean and professional environment!

♥ Please don't get a computer font as a tattoo. This is my personal preference, but go to an artist and have them draw you something custom! Even if it isn't script. THEY ARE ARTISTS! IT IS THEIR JOB! Unless you are an artist yourself or specifically want another artists' work on you, don't go in with the mindset "This is exactly what I want and I won't budge!" Sometimes the piece won't fit the area where you want it. Sometimes adjustments need to be made. Sometimes you just need to let the artist do his/her job! Don't take offense! You are paying him/her to do this, afterall!

♥ Make sure the tattooist uses a clean needle, gloves at all times, paper towels and sanitary items to work on you. Every time they touch the phone or anything other than the machine, make sure they change their gloves! In today's society it's not as likely that you're going to contract something nasty, but you still can! This is your health we're talking about it! Keep it clean! Check out the bathroom,  the common areas, etc. Don't get tattooed somewhere that is dirty!

♥ ALWAYS TIP YOUR TATTOOIST! There's no better way to build a great relationship with your artist than to tip appropriately. Some people say 10% at the very least, but I always tip 20%-30% depending on the amount of time/detail and even the quality of conversation! These are brilliant artists that are giving you a piece of work for the rest of your life. Don't jip them! Treat them right and you might even get special treatment in the future! Be sure you always budget in tips when you go to get tattooed.

♥ On the day of & before your appointment, always make sure you are wearing comfortable clothes, you've eaten, brushed your teeth (in case you've got some face to face action! Yikes!), and are relaxed. It's natural to be nervous (even after all these years, I still get nervous from time to time!). You can definitely bring someone with you if it helps. You can also bring your ipod if you choose. Or you can go the old-fashioned route and just have some awesome conversation with your artist. It's so important to choose an artist you can feel comfortable with because you'll be spending some serious, quality time together. Some artists/shops let your friends take pictures/video, some don't. Be sure to clear this with your artist before your over-eager friend starts snapping away! Obviously do not get drunk or high or take an excessive amount of pain relievers that thin your blood before going in.

♥ Start with something small/hidden if you're unsure you can tolerate the pain. I always take a deep breath and wait for the first needle every time I get tattooed. I deem that the "No going back!" zone. Once I've got a line on me, I have to suck it up and battle through it! Some people think you should dive right in and go big or go home, but that can be foolish if you find yourself passing out! (Some people do... but I'm happy to say I've never felt that way!).

♥ If you want to avoid talking to people about your tattoos at all costs, Don't get visible ones! Sad as it is... you're simply asking for it by getting something visible! It shouldn't be that way, but it is. No matter what your stance is, people WILL ask. They will stare. They will talk. They will patronize you and say rude things. Plain and simple. If you don't think you can handle them, don't put yourself in that position!

After getting tattooed:

♥ Follow your aftercare sheet which should be given to you by the shop, and apply sunscreen any time you're out and about in the sun! Fading happens! Even on the most top-quality tattoos. Fading happens. Try and prevent it as much as possible by taking the proper precautionary measures!

♥ If you have a colored tattoo, be sure to have the ink touched up when needed! Some artists/shops offer free touchups down the line during non-peak days/hours, and some offer them at a reduced rate. Be sure to ask so you'll know how to prolong the pristine state of your new piece!

♥ DO NOT PICK AT THE TATTOO WHILE IT IS HEALING! You'd think that with as many tattoos as I have this wouldn't be an issue, but it is. I'm one of the worst. I've gotten loads better about it, but I can't help but clean off the shedding skin when it's peeling. It drives me mad (I hate sunburns for this reason, too!) This is obviously not good for it. I've got a nice little spot in my girl's black hair to prove it. Just don't do it :P

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So there it is! You probably love it or hate it. You may disagree with everything I've said, and if so, that's totally cool! No matter your stance, I invite you all to leave comments with your own opinion on tattoo etiquette and the "DOs and DONTs" of the tattooed world! They can be from your perspective whether you're tattooed or not! Even if you agree with them or don't! I just ask that you keep it clean and friendly! This definitely wasn't meant to be a "You can't do that ever because it's like so rude and offensive" post, but more of a guideline to how some people may react to your questions or tattoos, no matter what side you may be on!  xo

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