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A Design for Life? What makes people regret their tattoos

  • Someone’s name is the design most men and women regret having as a tattoo.
  • People from Wales are the most likely to regret their tattoos.

Someone’s name is the design most men and women regret having as a tattoo.

Tattoos have moved into the mainstream of UK society, with an estimated 18.25 per cent of the population aged 18 years and older admitting to having body art. Unfortunately, while they may seem like a good idea at the time, for some people the love of tattoos doesn’t always last and they come to regret getting inked for life.

Dr Stephen Crabbe from the University of Portsmouth and researchers at recently commissioned OnePoll to survey 1,000 UK residents who’d confessed to regretting their tattoos. They found out what tattoos they had, why they got them in the first place, and why they changed their mind about them.

Someone’s name is the design most men and women regret having as a tattoo. Almost one third (31.34 per cent) of males regretted getting a person’s name inked on them, while 24.33 per cent of females was a lower percentage, but still the most common tattoo type they regret.

Other designs also stood out. For men, a tribal theme (12.81 per cent) and Asian characters (12.53 per cent) were the other most popular designs they held regrets about getting. Women felt star constellations (15.95 per cent) and Asian characters (12.64 per cent) were most likely designs to regret.

The reasons for regretting a tattoo are, in fact, quite varied, and both women and men give a number of causes for regretting their ink.

Over one quarter (28.44 per cent) of women simply got bored of their tattoos, with 23.85 per cent stating that the colour had faded over the years. The actual artistry was the issue for 20.38 per cent, who claimed the line work was poor. Perhaps most evocatively, 23.70 per cent of women said the tattoo no longer held the same value to them as it once did.

The men surveyed showed a slightly more significant change of heart regards their tattoos, with 28.07 per cent confirming that the tattoo no longer meant as much as it did for one reason or another. A quarter (24.52 per cent) believed that they just got bored of their tattoo.

In terms of location of tattoos, 15.17 per cent of women who regretted having a tattoo said theirs was positioned on their lower back. Out of the men surveyed, 20.98 per cent had their tattoo of regret on their forearm. Interestingly, both sexes seemed to hold equal regret over tattoos located on the shoulders, chest, and upper back.

The research also found that those who regretted having a tattoo were more likely to have spent less time thinking about it. Over a fifth (21.96 per cent of men and 21.25 per cent of women) admitted it took them “no time at all” to decide on the tattoo they now regret. On a wider scale, a total of 65.4 per cent of males took a few days or less to decide, compared to 53.95 per cent of females.

Certain areas of the UK were more spontaneous than others when it comes to getting tattoos. The Welsh lead the way for moments of madness, with 34 per cent of those who regret their tattoos taking no time at all to choose their ink. At the other end of the spectrum, the Northern Irish seem to be more sensible as not a single respondent answered “no time at all” for their decision time. Those in the East Midlands and South East were the most calculating when it came to their tattoos where 7.14 per cent in both regions took a few years before deciding to get their body art done.

The time and place can have a huge bearing on the level of regret over getting a tattoo, 55.45 per cent of women and 50.68 per cent of men claimed that they got the tattoo on just your average day.

This was not the case for everybody. In London, 25 per cent got their tattoo of regret while on a stag or hen do, while 40.91 per cent of Northern Irelanders regretted getting their tattoos on honeymoon. Men are three times more likely than women to get ink done on a night out – 12.81 per cent of males responded by saying they regretted getting a tattoo after a session on the beers, compared to just 4.74 per cent of women.

Rather than a sign of rebellion, tattoos are now seen as a symbol of conformity. Perceptions of tattoos are changing, and for some this means covering up tattoos they were once proud to have on display.

Of people that have regretted getting tattoos, 67 per cent have felt the need to cover them up at some point and 8.16 per cent more men than women have never covered up their tattoos, with women feeling more judged for having tattoos being one suggestion for these stats. A sad aspect found by the survey was that 15.64 per cent of women felt judged by their tattoo, compared to just 9.54 per cent of men. Other people believe it can have a negative impact on their job prospects if they display their tattoos.

When questioned about tattoo removal, those surveyed delivered varying responses:

  • 50 per cent said they had considered getting a tattoo removed but hadn’t yet gone through with it.
  • 50 per cent already had removed a tattoo.
  • 30 per cent answered that they would rather cover the tattoo up than have it removed.
  • Just 17.70 per cent admitted that they would leave the tattoo as it was and not cover it up.

Dr Crabbe said: “The results of this survey make for stark reading. Even today, society still seems  to judge women more for having tattoos.

“People may also just assume that people were young, naive, or victims of their own poor judgement if they regret having a tattoo. This survey actually shows us a more complex picture. There are countless reasons why people get tattoos, but there are an equal number of reasons why they get them removed. Frequently, these reasons are not necessarily associated.

“Despite living in a more tolerant society than ever before, where equal rights are correctly pushed across all groups, tattoos remain a subject that sees prejudice cast unfairly. This survey shows that, like the tattoos they wear, everyone who regrets getting a tattoo has his or her own individual story to tell.”

Read the full survey here –

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