To Tattoo or Not to Tattoo

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I don’t have any tattoos. It’s not for lack of want, either. For the longest, I’ve wanted to get a sleeve. I feel like I would look cool with my entire left arm tatted up. I have ideas of tats that I want and where I’d place them. I’m a tat dreamer.

There’s the “inshallah” tat that I want to get on the inside of my left forearm. There’s the “Gemini” tattoo I want to get. My brother, who passed away, deserves some real estate, as do the names of my children. I even thought about the Outkast crown. I’ve got ideas. I’ve also got no idea where all of these things would go.


And while I do prefer to go through life in as little physical pain as possible, I feel like if my sisters—and they all have tattoos; one of my sisters has, like, 15—can handle the pain, then I can handle the pain. So, no, that’s not (entirely) what’s holding me back.

What’s holding me back is this: I feel like I’m too old to get my first tattoo. That ship has sailed, in my eyes. My second, third or 40th? Sure. No problem. If that was the case, I’d have already given in to the tat life. I’d be expanding my catalog. But my very first? The maiden voyage at age 36? That just seems wrong. Trying Too Hard called; they want their title back.

I realize this is all in my own head. It’s highly likely that not a single other soul on this planet gives a s—t if I get a tattoo at this point in my life. Nobody cares; nor should they. People have their own lives to tend to, and those lives don’t involve being up in arms because I’m trying too hard to relive some youth I forgot to live. But I do live in my own head. I pay a mortgage (You can always tell folks who own homes. They no longer talk about paying rent; they speak in terms of mortgages) and have bought some nice wicker baskets to match my fanciest IKEA decor.

You know what also makes a first-time tattoo at 36 less than enticing? It’s the fact that so many people with tattoos seem to regret them. Soulja Boy, hardly a person to model one’s life after, has even taken to getting his tats removed from his face (though to be fair, they don’t belong there in the first place). We saw this on the Love & Hip Hop: Hollywood reunion show. André 3000 has expressed regret over his tattoos. As has Pharrell. 50 Cent? Samesies.


Obviously, they feel regret for different reasons, but these are very rich men who could walk into any room no matter how tatted up they were and they’d be listened to. I have something to lose. I’m not saying getting a tattoo would cost me a job, but I’d have to be strategic about where I placed them. I’m a professional, ya know?

The point here is that many people, like those rappers, have gotten tattoos in their youth and have come to regret them later. Now, part of that is being young and reckless, and I’m old and wise, so any choice I’d be making now would be on purpose and with intention. But again, that gets back to the “too old” thing: What’s the purpose in getting something permanently etched onto your body anyway? Couldn’t I just get a nice piece of artwork to hang in my home? Or write it down somewhere?


I probably could. Nothing I want to get tattooed on my person is something that I won’t remember or that I need on my body permanently in order for it to be personal and representative of me. At this point, everything I want is just part of who I am, and a tattoo won’t make it more so.

Still, I can’t shake the feeling that this is something I’ve always wanted to do and never did. I also have no reason why I never did it. I easily could have gotten all of the tattoos that my heart desired when I was younger. Lord knows I gave a shot to some interesting fashion choices.


I’ve gone through many phases in life and have nary a regretful tattoo to show for it, despite always having wanted one. So maybe I need to do it to get it out of my system and I’ll immediately regret it, but I will have learned my lesson. Or maybe I’ll fall in love and become a fiend like others and be 42 years old still getting things I already know about myself added to my temporary soul holder.

I don’t know. But I’ve gone 36 years so far without one. There’s a really good chance I’ll go the distance.


I hope I don’t regret that.

Panama Jackson is the co-founder and senior editor of He lives in Washington, D.C., and believes the children are our future.

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