Is Getting a Tattoo in College a Bad Idea?
The ankle butterfly. A Chinese symbol (which may or may not mean what you think it means). Everybody’s favorite barfly bulls-eye: the tramp stamp.
You know you’ve thought about it. You’re 18, you’re out of the house and now that a tattoo is a legal option, it seems like a good one. That’s college. The world is laid out before you, waiting to be claimed. Surrounded by optimism, idealism and freedom, it’s easy to feel invincible. It’s a time when we begin making plans for the rest of our lives to define who we are and where we want to go.
But the paradox of the college experience is that we are expected to know who we want to be before we really know. Society gives us the impression that at this age we should know, so we often convince ourselves that we do. We make choices that later on, we may regret. For the most part, these are choices we can look back on and cringe or smile wistfully about those “crazy college days.” But sometimes, those choices stay with us for the rest of our lives.
Especially if they involve a tattoo chair.
The Best Case Scenario
Maybe your interest in a tattoo is driven by someone you love. A new passion discovered through higher education or a risk-taking crowd that breaks you out of your comfort zone. The independence that comes with being a co-ed can inspire us to stretch our wings and the boundaries of who we want to be.
So what if you decide that now is the time to get a tattoo?
You may love it. You may choose an image that perfectly encapsulates how you see yourself and where you are in life. Perhaps getting a tattoo of your fraternity insignia is a decision you will look back on with happiness. Or a memorial tattoo for someone you lost.
A tattoo can become an outward snapshot of who you were in that moment, depicting a short story from your journey to who you have become. But that’s the best case scenario. The fact is, a tattoo can just as easily become a regrettable disaster.
The Worst Case Scenario
It was one night in college, maybe some tequila was involved… who knows? But now, you have a portrait of Bob Marley on your arm because somebody kept playing “Jamming” all night. Are you SURE you should have agreed to get the barcode for Chunky Monkey tattooed on the back of your neck?
Many people who get tattoos early in life run the risk of buyer’s remorse down the road. In our late teens and early twenties, something may seem risky and exciting. But in our forties, it may feel just foolish.
And if the possibility of having regrets “someday” doesn’t faze you, there is always the potential for instant backlash. For example, perhaps your family will be horrified that you’ve branded yourself. The stress of trying to hide a tattoo can be intense and rarely works.
Picture this: you’re home for summer vacation, and a family trip to the beach turns into a family fight because your bikini bottom slips low enough for your little brother to ask (loudly), “What’s that?” Okay, maybe don’t go swimming with your parents… but tattoos have a habit of being discovered.
Body Art vs. Employment
The other thing to consider about a college tattoo is related to one of the primary purposes of college in the first place: your career.
If you decide to get a tattoo, I really hope your major isn’t business. Visible tattoos violate the dress code for many occupations, from offices jobs to law enforcement. Many college grads are already facing the cold hard truths of a recessed economy. Simply put: jobs are scarce. And usually, post-college debts are high. College is as much about self-discovery as it is about planning for the future, and a big part of that plan should be making yourself as marketable as possible. It doesn’t mean you have to suppress your creative urges or “sell out to the man,” but it’s important to think about how your decisions could damage future job prospects.
Ultimately, getting a tattoo is a very personal decision. But oftentimes, it is done on an impulsive whim. It shouldn’t be. Just because tattoo removal exists, it isn’t cheap, easy or painless.
If you’re thinking that a tattoo is the perfect way to capture the way you feel right now, think really hard about how you will feel tomorrow. Carrying around an unwanted tattoo can feel like a walk of shame that lasts the rest of your life.
The author is a writer for New Look, a Houston laser tattoo removal clinic. She holds a bachelor’s degree in communications from State University of New York at Brockport and has worked as a freelance writer, blogger and marketer for the past several years. Janet has the astrological sign for Libra tattooed somewhere on her body… just don’t tell her mom.