Never does it cross my mind that I should get them removed, or feel ashamed of the choices I've made …

Four years ago, two out of every ten people responded to a Harris Poll claiming they have at least one tattoo. Today, three in ten claim the same thing. Given the growth of the $1.6 billion dollar industry, it’s likely we’ll see a time where the majority of adults have at least one image permanently scarred onto their bodies. Being completely unscathed will be the anomaly.

Already, 1 in 4 regret they ever did it.

The industry gained a massive boost after Miami Ink became a thing. Finally tattooing, and the often misunderstood culture surrounding it, was able to 'safely' invade homes, showing it wasn't that bad after all. While the reality is that the show was completely staged for higher ratings, it reassuringly delivered ‘normal’ people getting tattoos for emotional reasons every week on television. The show struck a chord with the rest of the country, and soon the industry was completely drenched trying to keep up — even through times of economic uncertainty.

It snowballed even further from there …

In the late ‘90s, when I got my first tattoo, there weren’t very many places in Denver to even get one. And even if you could track down a reputable artist, they were still mostly relegated to zapping the upper arms or chest — places that were easier to cover up. I didn’t pay much attention to any advice that was given me back then, even from so-called 'experts,' and went right for the forearms. That was an unusual place back then, my tattooer gave me a lecture about how they’d be received in the real world the entire time she was working on it.

I had no idea what I wanted, just that I wanted something. I walked in with an idea of a barbed wire monstrosity. After the initial consultation, we decided that was a really dumb idea, and that a tribal running down from my elbow to my wrist would be a better one. The irony. Yet, even while I was under the needle for the first time, I felt like this flash in the pan was probably a bad idea.

But whatever.

The notion quickly faded, and I got the same exact design on my other arm. I was all about ‘balance’ back then. Maybe it was going to help me in my hip-hop career (or whatever I was thinking about doing at 18). Who knows.

But then I began hanging out with people who legitimately did tattoos as a lifestyle. I became mesmerized by the culture, the brotherhood, the family of it. These were people living outside of constraints, literally packing up and moving to another country just because they wanted to. Most of them didn’t pay taxes, or at least as much as they should have. They didn’t put bills in their own name. They were completely untraceable.

Real life gypsies.

I learned to respect the art, along with the artists. There was pride in this industry unmatched anywhere else. To everyone involved, it was a culture. It was never a job.

Between the time I first walked into the parlor to now, I’ve amassed over a hundred hours under the needle from artists I look up to. I still laugh when I see my first two tribals. And the lips I got of a girlfriend of two weeks, too. And sometimes a few others. 

Every time I look at what I’ve done, if I even notice, I get a kick out of where I was, what was happening at the time. How the world’s changed. Never does it cross my mind that I should get them removed, or feel ashamed of the choices I made at a particular crossroad. They’re completely visible, and never has any of them interfered with work or having meaningful relationships with anyone I’ve met.

If people don’t like them, they’ll generally express it. Thankfully, too, because those aren’t people I want to be around, either.

Regret is a sad emotion. It doesn’t solve anything, it’s meaningless. It just sits there, bringing you down. Acting as if it’s possible to change the course of time. Is it worth it?

If you regret a tattoo, ask yourself why. Is it because it looks stupid? Is it because it reminds you of the past? What’s really driving this emotion? There are, I suppose, legitimate reasons to hate what you’ve done and want to erase it. Gang signs have no place for the rehabilitated, and lovers’ names are often painful. Change them; don’t regret them.

Maybe it’s for cosmetic reasons, that you think others are judging you because of it. That’s shallow. You’re worth more than the fleeting judgments they’re giving you. It isn’t any of their business what you look like, and it isn’t any of yours what they think of it.

It’s all a part of who you are right now. You’ve either changed or are willing to change. That’s a good thing. Moving forward is the only process any of us can do anymore. We can’t change the world, but we can change our world.

Regret is a powerful emotion, too. It isn’t easy to just let it go.

I assure you, living without it is empowering. Being able to control it is freedom.

I’m really starting to understand now how alive those friends of mine really feel, wherever they are.