Style icon. Generational talent. Makeup mogul. Badass b****. These are just some of the descriptors that come to mind when I think about Rihanna. In 2005, she released her debut studio album, Music of the Sun, and almost instantly became a household name—at least among the youth of the mid-2000s (i.e. me). In the 15 years since then, she’s won nine Grammys, acted in a handful of movies, and effectively changed the face of the beauty industry with her size-inclusive lingerie brand and her 50 shade line of foundations. Did I mention that she’s really, reallllyyyy badass? Another thing she’s done during that time is build a collection of over two dozen tattoos.
RiRi has always been very open about her ink and the meaning behind her designs. So in celebration of her birthday today (she’s 32 years old!), we’ve taken inventory of each one of those designs—and everything the singer has said about them on Instagram and in interviews—to create this comprehensive guide to Rihanna’s tattoos.
1. This misspelled Sanskrit
Over the past 15 years, Rihanna has been almost exclusively loyal to her go-to tattoo artist Keith “Bang Bang” McCurdy, owner of Bang Bang studio in New York. McCurdy did his first tattoo on RiRi back in 2006, when the singer was just 18 years old. The script along the side of her hip was meant to be part of Sanskrit prayer that read “Forgiveness, honesty, suppression and control.” Unfortunately, the tattoo was misspelled and instead reads “long suffering, truthfulness, self-restraint, inward calm, fear and fearlessness.”
2. Her BFF’s birthday
Rihanna takes her relationship with and her best friend Melissa Forde very seriously. So seriously, in fact, that she got Forde’s birthday tattooed on her shoulder in bold, black Roman numerals. Clearly they’re ride or die BFFs for life, because in a 2011 interview with Ellen DeGeneres, the singer revealed that Forde has a corresponding tattoo of Rihanna’s birthday, too.
3-4. Rebelle Fleur + a starry ear
After Rihanna got her neck tattoo (a French script piece that says “rebelle fleur”), the French-speaking community spoke up to tell her that the text is technically ungrammatical. In French, the adjective—in this case “rebelle” or “rebellious”—is supposed to follow the noun, not precede it. So it seems that Rihanna’s tattoos include more than one misspelled piece. She claims that it’s supposed to translate to “rebel flower” not “rebellious flower,” though, which would mean the wording is actually correct. Either way, the fine line cursive text has become one of the singer’s most recognizable designs.
You can see another one of her OG tattoos from this view, too. Right at the top of her inner ear is a small, minimalist outline of a star.
5. This teeny handgun
Trigger warning: Mention of physical assault
Another one of Bang Bang’s first pieces on Rihanna was this small, blackwork gun on her ribs. It’s a simple tattoo but holds a very deep meaning for the singer. She had the piece done just a few months following her 2009 assault by then-boyfriend Chris Brown. Years later, in an interview with ELLE, she explained that she got the gun tattoo as “a symbol of strength” and as a way of reminding herself that she’ll “never be a victim.”
6. A footy falcon
In an August 2012 interview with Oprah, Rihanna explained the meaning behind the illustrative falcon tattoo with white ink detailing. This piece is supposed to represent god, she said, and was inspired by the ancient Egyptians. “Back in the day, they would carve into the walls and they would carve a falcon, because they didn’t have another way of saying a king in the sky.”
This design was tattooed by Bang Bang who told US Weekly that the falcon was “the first tattoo [Rihanna] wanted as a teen. She wanted it across her back, back then.” She opted to get it on her foot instead of her back instead for a very strategic reason, though. The piece serves a dual purpose as a cover up tattoo. It’s placed on top of two small music notes the singer got several years prior (they were actually the first of Rihanna’s tattoos).
7. 1988: Her birth year
A lot of great stuff happened in 1988: Sega Genesis launched; DJ Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince released their second studio album; and the ultimate cool-kid snack, Dunk-a-Roos, hit shelves. It also happens to be the year that Rihanna was born. To commemorate her birth year, in 2015 RiRi paid yet another visit to her favorite New York tattooer and got it tattooed in a gothic-inspired font along the front of her ankle.
8-9. These inner finger tats
While finger tattoos are notoriously painful and tricky to tattoo (they tend to fade quickly and often require multiple touch ups), that hasn’t dissuaded Rihanna from getting a couple of her own. Both by Bang Bang, she has two inner finger designs—one on each hand: “Shhh…” on her right index finger and “Love” on her left middle finger.
10. Isis: the Egyptian goddess
As a tribute to her late grandmother, Rihanna got what is widely considered her most well known tattoo. The illustrative, black and grey sternum piece depicts Isis, the Egyptian goddess of healing and magic. The singer got the piece done shortly after her grandmother passed away following a long battle with cancer.
11. A matching shark design
If you’re a Rihanna fan OR a Drake fan you’ll know that the two musicians have had a rather tumultuous relationship. They’ve been friends, collaborators, and even (supposedly) romantic partners. At the height of their friendship, the pair got matching tattoos of camouflage print sharks. Here, you can see Rihanna’s piece on the front of her left ankle. She had the tattoo done while hanging out in Drake’s dressing room after the 2016 MTV Video Music Awards.
12-13. A cross + quote on her clavicle
These two designs are some of Rihanna’s oldest tattoos. The singer is known to be quite spiritual—she regularly references her faith in god during speeches and interviews—so the single needle tattoo of a cross on her clavicle is apt. Then on the other side she has a quote (although you can’t quite see the full piece in the above picture) reading “Never a failure. Always a lesson.” In an interview with Access Hollywood, the singer explained that the quote is her “motto for life” and she had it tattooed backwards “so [she] could read it to [herself in the mirror.”
14-15. Some translated text
Clearly, Rihanna is into quote tattoos. Altogether, she has seven text pieces inked across her body, written in an array of different fonts and languages. That collection includes this butt tattoo, written in Tibetan, which translates to “Lover,” as well as the above rib tattoo, written in Arabic, which translates to “Freedom in God.”
16. Stars for a (super) star
It’s fitting that someone with as much lasting star power as Rihanna would have a collection of sweet little everlasting stars tattooed up her back and neck. The design started as just a small cluster of stars on the nape of her neck, done by a tattooer in LA, but was later extended by Bang Bang to include the stars cascading down her back.
17-19. Triple hand tattoos
These hand designs are the most intricate of Rihanna’s tattoos. Finishing her hand pieces was a five year project that started in 2008 when she got the tribal tattoo below her thumb. The piece was done in New Zealand in the traditional Maori style of tattooing; a process that inserts ink into the skin by hand using chisel-like instruments rather than the usual needles. According to People, the musician revealed that the design represents strength and love.
Five years later, she got another Maori tattoo added to her hand, this one from Inia Taylor of Moko Ink studio (you can see a video of the process here). This second piece is a collection of chevrons and lines extending from her wrist all the way up her fingers. Unfortunately, it seems she didn’t love the design, because just weeks later she opted for a partial cover up. The henna-inspired cover up tattoo was designed in collaboration between Bang Bang and Australian artist Cally-Jo. Bang Bang told E! News that it took the two artists 11 hours to complete the piece and referred to it as the “most challenging design [he’s] done on Rihanna” to date.
20. A Pisces piece
Rihanna is a Pisces through and through (Pisces are known to be creative, hard-working, and intuitive). And it seems like she embraces her zodiac sign whole-heartedly, especially considering she has a Pisces-inspired tattoo. Just behind her right ear she has a small tattoo of the astrological sign’s signature glyph.
21. This bold black cross
Very on brand for RiRi, she got yet another religious tattoo from Bang Bang in 2014. The cross on her inner wrist is a lot more detailed than the tiny fine line piece on her collarbone, though. The piece was designed to blend seamlessly into the henna-inspired tattoo the singer had done on her hand and wrist during the previous year.
22. A tribute to 2Pac
Apparently, the thug life chose Rihanna! In 2012, the singer got “THUG LIFE” (only “LIFE” is shown in the above photo) tattooed across her knuckles as a tribute to Tupac Shakur. The white ink design was done by Mark Mahoney, the LA based tattooer who is often referred to as the father of black and grey single needle tattoos. It seems that this fine line tattoo either fully faded or was removed, though, since in current pictures of the musician it’s nowhere to be seen.
23. This portrait of Nefertiti
Adding to her collection of Egyptian-inspired tattoos, Rihanna got a black and grey portrait of Queen Nefertiti tattooed on her ribs in 2012, just above her existing Arabic script piece. Also done by Mark Mahoney, resident artist and owner of Shamrock Social Club (a tattoo studio frequented by many celebrities) the piece is one of the singer’s most detailed designs.
24. A skull and crossbones
Last, but certainly not least, is one of Rihanna’s oldest tattoos: The skull and crossbones (which you can just see in this photo) on the back of her left ankle is the musician’s only colorful design. Typically a skull and crossbones is meant to indicate impending doom, but this one is wearing a red bow, making it a little less frightening.