Getting a tattoo is a rite of passage, and for most states in the U.S., that ceremonial occurrence is allowed to start happening at age 18. With an earful of piercings and a navel piercing, I was destined for tattoo exploration. My parents probably didn’t think so, though, because they never mentioned whether they would care or not. Less than a week after my eighteenth birthday, I researched the best tattoo shop in Knoxville, Tenn., and scheduled an appointment for “something small.”
Having my first tattoo on the calendar seven days in advance gave me lots of time to talk myself out of it several times. Ultimately, I busted through the butterflies and walked into the shop for my appointment. My plan? Good question. This was years before Pinterest, and I didn’t want to yank something from Google. I decided I’d choose when I got there, because…why not? After less than five minutes of deliberation and thought, I landed on two images that I wanted to be combined in some way. My “very thoughtful” choices? A heart and a butterfly. I wanted a blue butterfly sweetly perched on a red heart with traditional, bold lines and bright hues on my right hip. My boyfriend at the time went with me to the shop and held my hand tightly as my stomach jumped with every touch of the needle. It was exhilarating to do something so “off brand” and live on what I considered The Edge for once. I still have zero regrets about that $75 purchase more than a decade later.
After years of pool and beach lounging (and a care-free attitude), the lines and colors have faded, but the images remain. I love butterflies and love love, but my tattoo design doesn’t have a particular symbolic meaning beyond celebrating what I considered the beginning of adulthood. The thoughts that went through my mind at that time have also faded, but I remember feeling transformed after the experience.
Twelve years later, I’ve gone through a collection of piercings and tattoos depending on my mood at the time. Currently, I’m sporting seven tattoos, some thoughtfully curated and some not. There are a few of my tattoos I wouldn’t get today (a spontaneous geometric diamond, for example), but they represent certain periods of my life that I hold dear and that formed today’s Kayla.
I asked a few friends in my social media circle to share their first tattoo story. I was most excited to see the meaning and significance of their experiences. What I found out: Not one single person regrets their first. Here’s what five very different women had to say about their intro to body art.
In the moment
“My boyfriend (now husband) and I got the word ‘vixi’ written on our hips. It means ‘to live’ in Latin. We wanted to remember the good times we had had, regardless of whether or not we stayed together.” – Missy W., Tennessee
The (family) tree of life
“My first tattoo is a tree on my back. It represents my two families: my birth family and the family I was adopted into. Half of the tree isn’t shaded in since I don’t know about half of where I come from, but it’s still a part of who I am.” – Maya R., New York
It’s in the Stars
“I wanted [my tattoo] to be something never-changing: my zodiac sign. But because I’m a cancer, I didn’t want a crab or ♋️, so I got my zodiac constellation in bright-colored stars in my right hip. Sixteen years later, I still love it so much.” – Laura S., Tennessee
Fly, birdie, fly
“Freshman year of college I got a sparrow on my foot. My favorite song at the time was this bluesy song ‘Dirty Bird,’ and seeing birds fly always made me smile. It seemed like a good enough reason, and I still love it! That said, I will never get a foot tattoo again. Ouch!” – Lauren S., Georgia
Gotta have faith
“My best friend since first grade and I decided we would get tattoos together in college. I got ‘faith’ on the back of my neck, and honestly, I forget it’s there.” – Kayla B., Tennessee