What Not to Say to a Tattooed Person (and Why)

Have a burning question about tattoos but not sure how to ask? Allow me to provide my brief guide of what not to say to a tattooed person (and why)

Recently the BBC released a new video in their ‘What not to ask…‘ series. Interestingly for me, this was the first time I was included in the subject matter as people with tattoos shared the most irritating things others say to them. However, the issue I found is that participants didn’t particularly explain why these are irritating things to say!

Tattoos are interesting and as I’m getting more visible work done, I accept that others may have questions. However, some things will always be annoying to hear. Hopefully this post will explain why there are some things not to say to a tattooed person.

Did it hurt?

The reason many people get arsey about this question is that it has an obvious answer. We all know tattoos hurt by now! It may be because you’re just trying to make conversation, but when you’ve heard the same question many times it can be irritating and our tattoos have so much more to them than pain. If you really want to know, try asking how much they hurt instead as it’s more open ended and promotes discussion or, if you haven’t got anything more interesting to say, just talk about something else entirely.

However, do not fall into the trap of asking the next question…

What do they mean?

This is my least favourite question and I am guilty of not reacting well when people ask. Heavily tattooed people will usually not have meaning behind most of their tattoos, and lightly/non tattooed people don’t necessarily understand that.

The reason I hate this question is that it usually leads to “Well I wouldn’t get a tattoo unless it really meant something”. This is really, really rude. When meeting someone actively engaged in the tattoo community, it’s not right for you to challenge their art. Without meaning offence, I do not care what a tattooless person’s opinion is about my tattoos. My tattoos are for me and me alone – they bring me confidence and are a curation of different artists work so I don’t always appreciate having to justify their existence to others!

An alternative question? Ask which one is my favourite, which is my most recent or who my favourite artists are. Those are conversations I’ll have all day long!

Oh let me see! *Grabs Arm*

This leads on from the above fairly regularly. I understand that my tattoos are eye-catching, but please respect my personal space. I have had people grab my arm to try and see them better which isn’t the best experience. If you ask a tattooed person politely if you can see, they’ll normally oblige. Just don’t accompany your looking with questions about pain and meaning!

Don’t you worry about when you’re older?

I really, really don’t. Everyone ends up looking the same when we get old – we’re grey, wrinkly and everything just kind of sags. There’s potential that my tattoos won’t look as nice when I’m 80 as they do now, but who cares? The amount of people in this generation who are tattooed, we’re clearly destined for very colourful nursing homes!

You’ll never get a good job though

have a good job. I know that I do not want to enter a profession where having tattoos is a disadvantage so I know it won’t affect my chances. To assume I haven’t thought this through is offensive as you’re questioning my ability to think decisions through. Many tattooed people have very powerful jobs now so this assumption is outdated, rude and wrong.

In a nutshell – it’s pretty simple. As you should with any human being, talk to a tattooed person in the way you’d like to be spoken to yourself. Don’t criticise our choices, don’t invade our space and don’t try and engage us in conversations where you’re putting us in the ‘wrong’. We’re generally a pretty friendly bunch… if you don’t rub us up the wrong way! 🙂

Photo credit: Allef Vinicius