I got a bad tattoo—here’s why it’s OK

Throughout my twenties, I made decisions that I thought would make me someone I wished I was: a girl who was carefree, cool, confident, and interesting. I quickly learned that trying to make decisions that way rarely works out well, but it took much longer to accept that I was never going to be that girl. Instead, I was going to be my own kind of girl, one who was not quite so cool or carefree, but instead loved making lists and doing nerdy things. In my thirties, I’ve learned to really dig that chick. But part of learning who I am and who I definitely am not was a hard lesson. And part of that hard lesson is permanently etched on my left hip in the form of of a truly hideous tattoo.

I spent the first semester of my junior year of college in Scotland. Soon after I arrived, I became close friends with another American student studying abroad, named Stacey. Stacey was a tiny blond with a pixie cut who wore thrift shop clothes like they were made just for her. Men were drawn to her, women loved her, and for some reason she liked me. It was traipsing around Scotland with Stacey that I first took some chances. It was with Stacey that I started to poke my way out of my very thick shell. It was with Stacey that I got very, very drunk. A lot.

When she first brought up getting tattoos, I resisted; I could feel my mother’s scolding from the other side of the Atlantic. But Stacey promised me it’d be fun. She reminded me that this was exactly the kind of thing I should be doing when living in another country at the age of twenty. My gut said no, but my mouth ran out of good excuses not to. So I said yes, and we took the train into Glasgow where we found our way to a shop called Terry’s Tattoos.

After taking each other’s pictures out in front of the shop, we went inside to put our names on the wait list. Stacey ended up with a long-haired, heavily tattooed young man. I was told that Terry was going to be doing my tattoo. Stacey and I squealed at my good luck.

When Terry came out to greet me, my heart sank. Terry was an older gentleman, with coke-bottle glasses and one arm in a sling. I can only guess that the injured arm was his drawing arm, because what was supposed to be a gorgeous Celtic symbol ended up as a thin, shaky mess that looked like a child tracing a picture under duress.

Not being familiar with what tattoos were supposed to look like, I tried to tell myself that this was a good one. It had to be because Terry of Terry’s Tattoos had done it himself, right? Once I saw Stacey’s tattoo, however, I knew that fate had dealt me a poor hand. Stacey’s tattoo was perfect.

For the next few weeks, while my tattoo healed, I was filled with embarrassment and regret. I scolded myself every day in the shower while I bent over at the waist to keep my hip dry, saying, “You knew better. You shouldn’t have. You shouldn’t have.”

A few weeks later, trying to find a way to make a permanent mistake slightly more bearable, I went back to Glasgow to get it re-done. I walked up to the desk at Terry’s Tattoos and said to the man there, “I need to get a tattoo fixed that I had done here last month.”

“You want it redone?” he said, offended. “Who did it?”

“Terry,” I said.

He paused.

“Come on back,” he said with a sigh.

And so I got my tattoo redone. And though it still looked like a bad drawing , it now had thicker and darker lines. Fine.

But now, when I see my horrible, blurry, ugly tattoo now, I just laugh. It’s not a great tattoo, but it is a valuable reminder of embracing the person you are, and not going against what you know. It reminds me to trust my instincts and value myself and all my boring, not-daring, and non-spontaneous ways. That’s actually not so bad.

Thanks, Terry.

[Image via iStock]

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