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Why we should stop prying into people’s tattoo history

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Illustration by: Birmy Michelle | Staff Illustrator

Getting a tattoo is one huge adrenaline rush. The process itself is thrilling and exciting, but nothing bursts the bubble quite like one dreaded question: “What does it mean?”

While innocent, this question irks many people with tattoos purely because it drags in the stereotype every piece must carry some deep, powerful and touching story. When tattoos were taboo and largely unaccepted, especially in the workforce, the concept normalized this form of art. For example, it’s hard to judge someone for a tattoo when it commemorates the successful completion of chemotherapy.

“’I just think they’re pretty’ is apparently not an acceptable answer to these meaning-mongers, bred on reality tattoo shows in which every tattoo comes with a heart-wrenching back-story usually involving a dead family member,” Emily McCombs, executive editor of xoJane, said.

While it is true many tattoos carry a personal meaning, a vast majority do not. It is completely okay to adorn yourself in art that is purely beautiful or just silly. The umbrella of pressure, which stops many from getting a tattoo they really want, is ridiculous.

I have tattoos related to several different television shows. I don’t watch some of the programs anymore, but I know I will never regret my art because it reminds me of a certain point in my life.

Even if a tattoo does have a personal meaning, it is still important to refrain from inquiring about it. The question forces the ones adorned to either tell an incredibly personal story or find a way to weasel out of the situation and both are equally unpleasant.

“When you ask what my tattoos mean (as in, all my tattoos) you are basically asking me to take you on a guided tour of my entire body, which is kind of an imposition on anyone,” Jamie Peck of The Gloss said.

We understand you think our tattoos are cool and it’s perfectly fine to tell us you think so. After all, we spent hundreds of dollars and hours suffering under a needle for them. Just remember, there is a difference between a compliment and prying into someone’s personal life.

This is similar to why you should never ask someone about a scar. A mark might come with a fun story about skateboarding gone wrong or a silly paintballing incident, but there is a chance the back-story is tragic. If the scar came from a car accident or from a push down the stairs from a jealous ex, then inquiries are incredibly painful.

In the future, please refrain from asking someone what their tattoo means. Just appreciate tattoos for the artistic creations they are. If someone wants to tell the story, they will.