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Tattoos

Gen Z is experiencing 'tattoo regret.' Social media may be to blame.

TikTok influencer and model spent tens of thousands of dollars on tattoos in her twenties, despite being told that she would "regret them later." 

Now in her mid-thirties, she’s in the process of getting a large, full-color from her upper arm. She has another tattoo on her chest that’s been the “most limiting” in her modeling career, but the removal process on that part of her body would be “incredibly painful and time-consuming,” she says.  

After in 2023, she received backlash from tattoo fanatics. “There's definitely a stigma around being like, ‘You were right, the older people were right,’” she says. 

But she's also received hundreds of direct messages from people sharing her sentiments and seeking support for their “tattoo regret.”

While it once haunted the of the Millennial generation and the cheeky tramp stamps of the early 2000s, tattoo regret has come for most generations, with Gen Z poised to be its next victim. 

What is ‘tattoo regret’?

Brooklyn-based tattoo artist would categorize tattoo regret into “” and regret that comes later on, like “when you start to hit certain milestones in your life.”

“I've seen some people who have loved their tattoos consistently the whole time they've had them,” she says. “And then I've seen other people falter in their attraction to them soon after getting them.”

This summer, tattoo regret reentered popular conversation on TikTok after young women expressed concern over how their . These videos often spotlight , a style that’s become increasingly trendy in the past five years and consists of rather than a cohesive sleeve.

Miceli says tattoo regret has always been around, but the ability to share and document these experiences on TikTok makes it seem more prevalent. 

“(We’re) able to hear people’s experiences and opinions now more than ever,” says Brooklyn-based tattoo artist .

Shifting trends may be increasing tattoo regret 

Miceli says people may be acting “more on impulse” and basing their tattoos on “what people think is .”

For example, patchwork tattoos can rush the tattoo process, as some clients will get multiple tattoos in one session to fill a section of the body. 

“I think a lot of people don’t necessarily regret getting tattoos altogether, but regret the decision to stick to one similar style in such a high volume in such a short amount of time,” she says. 

Miceli also notices that newer clients are more likely to experience tattoo regret. 

“People see influencers being tattooed and try to adhere to those (aesthetics) rather than taking their time,” she says. 

She has intervened by suggesting design changes or offering to reschedule an appointment when clients seem unsure about their future tattoo. She hopes that influencers speaking up about their tattoo regret will encourage people to put more thought into the “implications of (getting) a permanent body modification.”

Clark also adds that your tattoos’ style are indicative of the time in which you got them, and can seem dated later on. 

“It’s a funny thing to have so much of your body covered with something that is not the trend anymore," she says.

For young people, she warns that trend cycles are moving even more rapidly: “Certainly this patchwork style isn't going to be the cool thing forever and people are gonna be like, ‘Oh, you got that in 2022.’”

"You’re not just getting an image marked in your skin," says Walla. "But a moment in time."

Perceived stigma can shape tattoo regret 

For Clark, her regret doesn’t stem from the design or appearance of her tattoos, but how she feels she is perceived because of them. 

While working in nightlife, she “never thought about a future” where her tattoos would matter in a work setting. But once she changed careers, she realized that her tattoos make it so she “can’t blend in places.”

“There’s rooms that if I walk into them, it becomes very obvious that I stand out in a way that I would prefer that I didn't,” she says, adding that none of her friends are as tattooed as she is.

Clark was later diagnosed with autism and partially attributes drastically altering her appearance to her desire to fit in. 

“Once I had my diagnosis, I did a lot of therapy around that,” she says. “It would be nice to be able to look in the mirror and see the person that I feel like I am now, which wouldn't be someone with tattoos, because I don't need that armor (anymore).”

Freckle tattoos are a thing.Read this before you try the viral trend.

How to cope with tattoo regret

Miceli says it is most important to “be gentle with yourself,” because tattoo regret is more common than you think. 

“As humans, we are constantly changing and what we like is constantly changing,” she says. “That’s who you were at the time and you should honor that person.” 

She tells her clients to get a tattoo “when you feel like you want it” because it reflects who you are in the present moment. However, she offers the reassurance that there are “avenues to help you feel comfortable in your skin again,” such as laser removal and cover-ups. 

Walla says that going to the right artist and being in a “clear headspace (during) the decision-making process” can help prevent future regret. 

And for Clark, practicing acceptance is crucial.

“For me, regret isn’t like an ever-present or overbearing feeling. I barely register my tattoos on a daily basis because they’ve been a part of me for so long,” Clark says. “It only hits me occasionally, if I’m going to a certain event or wearing a certain outfit.”

“I let the regret feeling guide my future decisions, but it does not overwhelm me,” she adds. “I accept that my tattoos are a part of me.”

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