6 Popular Tattoos You Should Never Get, Experts Say
Tattoos can be literal works of art, but with so many options to choose from—and the knowledge that ink is forever—finding the right one to get can be a little overwhelming. There are sentimental tattoos, more whimsical options, or even symbols that are unique to your personal taste. At the end of the day, tattoos are a form of self-expression, and it’s up to you to make the call on what to get. But they’re also permanent, so your decision carries more weight, and there are a few popular designs and concepts that experts say you should avoid in general. Read on to find out what trendy tattoos you should never get.
The lion is the king of the jungle, signifying strength and emanating alpha energy. But when it comes to tattoos, you might want to skip permanently displaying one on your body, according to Sandy Verfaille, tattoo artist and business owner at Inksane BV.
“When my customers ask for a lion tattoo, I always recommend thinking twice,” Verfaille says. “Not because it cannot be a nice tattoo, but because it has been done so many times before.”
According to data collected by Verfaille’s studio, 63 percent of all zodiac tattoos they do feature lions. “In 2021 we made 136 lion tattoos in our studio. That’s more than one every three days,” Verfaille says. “So in our opinion, you can’t go less original than with a lion tattoo.”
Anything that’s been copyrighted
Copyrighted material is not limited to books and movies—did you know it can also apply to tattoo designs? “Plenty of popular designs used for tattoos are works of artists, and some of these artworks may have valid copyrights to keep them protected under the Intellectual Property acts and regulations,” Collen Clark, lawyer and founder of the law firm Schmidt & Clark, LLP, tells Best Life.
This can actually land your tattoo artist in hot water if they agree to tattoo a copyrighted image. “Infringement occurs when an individual uses, reproduces, or distributes the artwork without acquiring permission from the copyright owner,” Clark explains.
In fact, famous tattoo artist Kat Von D is at the center of an ongoing copyright controversy, Clark points out, as she used Jeffrey B. Sedlik’s photo of jazz trumpeter Miles Davis when tattooing a friend. Von D was hit with a copyright infringement lawsuit in June 2022—reportedly the first tattoo artist to face this kind of suit, per Bloomberg. A jury in California will have to decide whether the photo’s copyright protection also applies to tattoos.
“With that in mind, clients should be careful and aware of the designs they pick because it could put them, the tattoo artist, and the tattoo parlor (the tattoo artist especially) at risk of facing a lawsuit,” Clark says.
Runes and ancient symbols have become more popular, Tabby Farrar, former tattoo studio receptionist and editor of JustCantSettle.com, However, they can also be problematic.
“Sometimes people don’t realize that symbols or graphics that come up elsewhere in popular culture could have second meanings or be offensive in some way,” Farrar explains. “For example, Nordic runes are a popular choice now—people who are into folklore or paganism get them, as well as fans of pop culture moments like the Vikings TV show or the Northman film.”
Farrar notes that they may “seem an ideal design,” especially for those who want a “cute, esoteric, and interesting” symbol for their first tattoo. But she points directly to the Algiz rune, which has different meanings and associations for a range of cultures, but has also been “co-opted” by the Nazi party and white supremacists.
“Not every rune has an offensive modern meaning, and there are people who think it’s important to ‘reclaim’ these types of ancient, stolen symbols,” Farrar says. “When you see teenage girls walking around with runes tattooed on their necks and wrists, or sometimes behind their ears, you have to question whether they’re fully aware of what those symbols could mean to someone else who sees them.”
She recommends opting for other tattoos with “a little bit of folklore attached,” like outlines of standing stones, diving rods, and phases of the moon and sun, which “haven’t been repurposed in the way that many runes have.”
If you want to avoid falling victim to fads and trends, Farrar recommends not getting a meme tattooed on your body. Social media has helped drive the popularity of meme tattoos, especially by creators looking to build their following. This then trickled down to the younger generation, “who are getting big, joke pieces of work done,” she says.
“While I’m sure there are some that have stayed funny for more than five minutes, meme tattoos are a prime example of the type of work that makes even heavily tattooed people say, ‘Dude, I think you might regret that when you’re older,'” Farrar tells Best Life.
If it’s you first tattoo, memes will also stand out and “be the first thing someone’s eye is drawn to if your skin is mostly blank,” she says. “Memes make good t-shirts and pin badges, but if you’re thinking of getting one tattooed, I’d genuinely suggest waiting a year to see if you still want it before making that call.”
Another popular tattoo choice is a pocket watch. These old-school timekeepers are certainly cool to look at, and you can choose from different watch designs and “set it” to display a specific time forever.
According to Verfaille, customers often choose to set the hour to the birthday or time when a child was born, or to commemorate the time when a family member passed. But if you plan to have the pocket watch celebrate or mark a more romantic time, Verfaille says you should skip it.
“We would really not recommend somebody setting the time to the moment where they met their significant other,” she explains. “If the relationship breaks off, there’s really not many options to cover-up or change the pointers of a pocket watch.”
A significant other’s name
This one should go without saying, mostly because it’s such a cliché, Verfaille says—but experts still stress that you shouldn’t get your partner’s name permanently inked. When you think of a tattoo like this, odds are you picture a red arrow heart with a name in cursive. Or maybe it’s in script with surrounding hearts and your anniversary date. Either way, give it some more thought before heading to the tattoo parlor.
“That’s kind of obvious why we don’t encourage getting them,” Verfaille explains.
This choice has thankfully become less and less common, she adds, so it’s likely not at the top of your list anyway. “Almost nobody asks for those types of tattoos anymore,” Verfaille notes. “That was more in the ’90s.”
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