Why Do People Get Tattoos?

Clients all over the world get tattoos for tons of different reasons from self-expression to keeping a loved one’s memory with them forever. 

As a tattoo artist, it’s important to understand the different reasons why people are coming to you for tattoos. That way, you can work with them to develop a design that accomplishes all of their goals and give them a great experience. 

In this article, we’ll cover all kinds of reasons people get tattoos including:

  • Personal Expression
  • Challenging Norms
  • Personal and Sentimental Reasons
  • Enjoying the Experience  

The Psychology of Tattoos

Person getting a tattoo

Tattoos are becoming extremely popular, so popular that a recent study showed that 38% of Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 have one or more tattoos. 17% percent of Americans have multiple tattoos. 

Tattoos are becoming a very important part of Western culture and are likely to continue to gain popularity. The increasing interest in tattoos has led organizations like Psychology Today to look into why so many people are getting them. 

The current psychological theory suggests that most people who get tattoos say they did to remind themselves of a period of personal struggle or as a form of self-expression. A lot of tattooed individuals said that they get tattoos as a way to show their personal history and honor the people and things that have brought meaning to their lives.


person getting a tattoo

Self-expression is how people communicate their personal feelings, thoughts, and ideas. Some of the most common forms of self-expression are art, music, writing, dance, and now, body art. 

Tattoos are a way to show personality traits, tell a personal narrative, or simply show the world your sense of style. Using tattoos as a way to express oneself helps people improve their self-esteem and feel comfortable in their own skin. 

Dr. Joseph Pierre, a professor in health care sciences at the University of California, Los Angeles, says that tattoos have two ways of presenting something to the world that has previously been hidden. 

First, showing off tattoos, means showing off skin, which has been discouraged throughout history, especially for women.

Second, Pierre also says that tattoos are a great way for people to express something about themselves without having to talk about it. Art has been a way to make a point about something without using words for thousands of years. Tattoos are a way for people to communicate about issues and experiences that mean something to them without actually having to say it.

Body Image

Body modifications like tattoos are a very popular way for people to change their body image and present themselves in a way that feels more natural. Professor Verin Swami at Anglia Ruskin University has found that people’s feelings of anxiety and discomfort with their bodies immediately decrease after getting a tattoo and are still lower after multiple weeks. 

People who express themselves through tattoos are more likely to have positive feelings about their bodies, which suggests that tattoos are a great way to improve body image. According to Swami, people feel closer to their bodies after getting a tattoo, which helps to improve their overall mental health.

Love for Art

While tattoos often have deep and emotional meanings, they are also a way for people to show their love of art and design. Tattoos show not only personal style, but also people’s preference for types of art and the things that catch their eye. 

Some people get tattoos that may not have significant meaning to them just because they like the artist’s style and think the design looks cool. Others choose to get tattoos in the style of famous historical artists that they have always admired. 

Tattoos are a way for people to show their opinion of art as a form of communication, and people often use them as a way to make their bodies a living, moving piece of art.


Tattoos are quickly becoming a very popular type of fashion accessory. Since the 1970s, fashion designers have been looking to tattoos for inspiration for their collections. More recently, tattooed individuals are finding increased opportunities as fashion models. 

Tattoos are a way to be creative with the way you show your style. Tattoos, like makeup and hair, are ways to communicate your personality visually. Tattoos can inform someone’s sense of fashion and even be what people use to build their personal look.

Rebelling Against Social Norms

blackwork designs inked onto the back fo the neck

Body art like tattoos, piercing, and scarification are used by a lot of people as ways to challenge social norms. Tattoos can show that someone belongs to a particular group, but they can also be a symbol of wanting to be different from the current society. 

Many young people are challenging what it means to be an average person in their society with body art. Over thousands of years, people have wanted to challenge what those in power say is acceptable for the human body, and tattoos are a current way of doing that.

Stigma Against Tattoos  

Tattoos have had tons of different meanings throughout their long history, but many people have had negative attitudes toward them. Psychology Today found that most people who don’t get tattoos choose not to either because of their religion or for social reasons like not wanting to disappoint their family, having trouble finding a job, etc.

In a lot of places, tattoos have been associated with criminality and gang activity, and they are still banned in some parts of the world. Because of this, some people feel that tattoos are an act of rebellion or that a tattooed person is somehow dangerous. 

Psychologists have found that tattooed people are not significantly more likely to have personality traits like anger or impulsiveness than people who do not have tattoos. This challenges the belief that tattoos are only for social deviants. While the stigma surrounding tattoos still exists, it’s getting smaller, and more and more employers are allowing people who work for them to have visible tattoos. Some people who have at least one tattoo choose to show them off in public to fight the stigma and normalize having tattoos.

Finding Community

Tattoos are a good way to show group affiliation like cultural identity. Many people get a tattoo to show where they or their families come from, celebrate their culture, or show what kind of community they belong to. 

There is a community within the people who get a tattoo as well, and it can be a cool way to meet new people in social settings. People who have tattoos are often happy to talk about them with people, and tattoos can help people make new connections and meet new people.

Personal Meaning  

body art of daughter on forearm

David Vega tattoo

People getting tattoos - especially for the first time - usually have some sort of story behind the design they want. 

Your job as an artist is to also be a storyteller. If your client has some sort of experience or meaningful story behind the tattoo they want to get, look for ways to help powerfully tell that story through your design. 

Not only will this show your client that you understand them and care about the “why” behind their tattoo, but it’ll also get you lots of repeat customers who love your work.


Many tattooed individuals get tattoos in order to memorialize someone or something that has meant a lot to them. Portraits of a beloved family member or pet are very common tattoos that help a person remember something they have lost. 

There are a lot of different tattoos that can memorialize someone besides portraits including quotes, handwriting, or images that remind someone of that person. One way that people use tattoos to memorialize someone is to get the same tattoo that a loved one used to have.

Life Lessons

People use tattoos as a way to remind themselves of life lessons they have learned over the years. Inspirational quotes or song lyrics that speak to how people want to live are common choices for tattoos with personal meaning. 

Clients often get tattoos to symbolize certain periods in their life where they learned a lot or changed as a person so they can look back on them to see how far they have come. Tattoos are also a symbol of commitment, and for some people, can be a way to show a strong interest or connection to something that is important enough to carry with them permanently.

Getting Past Traumatic Experiences

Tattoos are also a way for people to improve their mental health after going through a traumatic experience. In their studies of tattoo behavior, Professor Swami found that tattoos can be a powerful way for people to start healing from domestic abuse. Swami found that people view getting tattoos as a way to reclaim their body from the people who hurt them. 

A recent study from the University of Washington showed that tattoos can help with the mental health of people who have gone through cancer treatment. Tattoos can help with emotional recovery and regaining a sense of control over your body. 

Researchers have also found a lot of people getting what are called “pandemic tattoos,” which are tattoos people are getting as a way to celebrate making it through the coronavirus pandemic and re-entering public life.

The Experience

young adults in a tattoo parlor

One of the most common reasons that tattooed individuals want to go back for more is because they enjoy the experience that comes with getting a new tattoo. 

The experience of picking a new idea, working with an artist, and getting the actual tattoo done is appealing to a lot of people. Sometimes, people get tattoos without personal meaning, just because they like the actual process of getting a tattoo.

Getting to Know the Artist

Some people like to get tattooed because of the experience of getting to chat with their artist. Either they want to get to know the person behind the design, or they want to talk off some of the nervous energy that comes with getting tattooed. 

Building a friendship with your clients is another perfect way to get repeat business and build your reputation of great customer service. Customers will walk away feeling satisfied with their tattoo and their experience, which means they’ll come back for more and recommend you to others.

Enjoying the Pain  

Some people get body modifications because they simply like the way it feels or enjoy the experience of overcoming the pain. Historically, tattoos and scarification have been used to mark someone as a warrior, and the act of getting through the pain proves someone’s strength. 

This concept has stuck around into the current tattooing world, with things like the Brutal Black Project. The Brutal Black Project is a tattooing experience where the point is to cover the body with black ink as painfully as possible. This experience is built to allow clients to test their limits and feel what it’s like to overcome something really extreme. 

While not everyone who gets tattooed wants to do something that intense, people have reported enjoying the pain of tattoos as well as the release of adrenaline and dopamine that comes from getting a new tattoo. 

Some people like to use tattoos as a way to get over a fear, either of pain, needles, or doing something that others might see as taboo.

Prepare for a Tattoo Career with the Artist Accelerator Program

Understanding tattoo psychology is an important step in your journey towards a tattoo career, but it can also be pretty eye-opening to how difficult tattooing can be. Without the right knowledge, it’s impossible to level up your skills and become a professional tattoo artist. 

However, finding the straight-forward information you need to progress is difficult. And with so much out there online, it’s hard to avoid picking up bad habits from incorrect and outdated resources.

This is one of the biggest struggles new tattooers face, and too many talented artists have given up their goal of getting into the tattoo business because of the years it would take to unlearn their bad habits. 

That’s why aspiring artists are learning to tattoo with the Artist Accelerator Program’s structured course. As a student, you learn every step of the tattooing process from professional artists with the experience and advice you need for your tattoo career. 

With the Artist Accelerator, you can stop wasting time searching through incorrect information. You just get the clear, easy-to-understand lessons you need to start improving fast… along with support and personalized feedback from professional artists in our online Mastermind group.

Over 2500 students have already gone through the course, with many of them opening up their own studios. If you want to join them and learn the skills you need to start working full time faster…

Click here to learn more about the Artist Accelerator Program.
Nathan Molenaar

Nathan is a licensed professional tattoo artist with over 8 years’ experience working at studios across the globe, including Celebrity Ink, the world's largest tattoo studio chain.

When he's not tattooing, he spends his free time sharing his experience and knowledge with aspiring artists who dream of pursuing a career in the tattooing industry.

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