Our Tattoos and Their Meanings

Author: Jana K. Hoffman
08.07 / Art

It’s fair to say that tattoos can be considered one of the most intimate visual forms of self-expression. Our bodies, blank canvases, serve as sacred temples where we find the courage to trust artists to place permanent ink across them and make statements that reflect our loved ones, our journeys, our favorite things, and sometimes nothing in particular.

In honor of our tattoos, tattoo culture, and the progression made toward acceptance of women with body art, the MISSBISH ladies shared the meanings behind their tattoos — or lack thereof.

Coco | @cocomarett
When I was in school, I was constantly drawing all over my arms and legs in class. I guess I always loved the idea of decorating my body with images, art, and words that I resonated with or that I felt represented me. I currently have 9 tattoos. I love all of them and while some of them don’t have any particular meaning, each one does have a memory attached to it. Whether it was something done in the spur of the moment, or better yet done by friends, which I think makes them really special. I believe that choosing the right artist is just as important as choosing the design. Don’t go to a traditional tattoo artist asking them to do a detailed mandala. Find the right artist for what you want, trust them to do what they do best, and don’t be cheap about it. It’s a lifelong investment.

Nicole | @nic0lefung
I’ve always been fascinated with tattoos, but I could never commit to one. The only “tattoo” that I have are my brows. I was contemplating getting my eyebrows micro-bladed forever and I finally pulled the trigger. Life changing.

Lindsay | @lindsayjang
I got my first tattoo when I was 15. It was obviously terrible, but I had caught the bug. The constant desire to add art to my own canvas. Twenty years later, I now have a lot more tattoos, I refuse to count them. I never know what I’m going to get, I don’t have it all planned out, I generally find an artist I trust and admire and let them do their thing. I’m a big advocate for letting the professional do their job in almost all things I deal with, not just body art. Sometimes I look at my body, covered in ink, and I imagine what it would be like to have a clean slate. And then I tell myself to STFU because I chose to do this and I am not going to live with any regrets. None. Ever. Moral of my blurb? Be sure. Be confident. Invest in good art.

Jana | @janaisajournalist
I have eight tattoos and counting. Each one has a different meaning or memory behind it, but not every meaning has a deeper story. Tattooing is a very therapeutic experience for me, and every year or so I start to crave the sensation and heat of a tattoo gun on my skin. My last tattoo depicts a red apple with the Lady Liberty crown wrapped around it to commemorate my five years in New York City before moving to Los Angeles. It felt very bittersweet to get that one. I was tattooed in Thailand on my 30th birthday, which perfectly concluded the trip.

A lot of people admire and ask about the carousel horse on my left arm. The artist, Todd Holloway, is a highly skilled traditional-style tattoo artist who I can’t recommend enough if you like the traditional style. The carousel horse is loosely based off of my love for a carousel that I used to ride as a kid on the Jersey Shore boardwalk. I just love the intricate carving details and this idea that “life goes round.” I’m incredibly picky when it comes to choosing my tattoos and the artists. I usually sit on a tattoo idea for months just to make sure that I still love it and could live with it on my body forever. Oddly, I’ve started collecting different types of flowers, and I love that they’re beautiful, feminine, and kind of represent the ways that I’ve blossomed over the years.

Marguerite | @margueritebb
Right now, I have four tattoos with plans in the works to get more. I've only got pieces on my legs, so they're hidden unless I decide to show you -- that's my favorite part about my tats. They're secrets, notes to myself, not for anyone but me. But I really do love seeing people with full sleeves or just visible tattoos in general, wearing the art proudly for the world to see; especially when the art aligns with who the person is. Regardless if the tattoo means something to the person or not, it now becomes a part of them and their identity. If they want to show you or not, well, that's up to them.

Serina | @ser1naguerrero
As a child, I always pondered the idea of getting tattoos because my dad is pretty inked up himself. But now thinking about it, I never thought that I would end up with a full black and grey arm sleeve by the age of 20. My first piece was a custom postage stamp as a tribute to the city I was born in: Long Beach, CA. My last piece was a tulip that covers my elbow. Both beautiful, but both with totally different “meanings.” When people ask me if they all have a meaning, I find myself saying “no” more often than not. Some are just fillers, and some tell a story. That’s what I love about tattoos. They’re conversation starters. They give you some insight into a person’s life, or they’re literally just tattoos with no meaning. As for getting any other tattoos, I think I’m done for now. I can’t see myself with tattoos anywhere else on my body.

Kristen | @kriscloud
I've always loved tattoos and wanted them from the moment I turned 18. I didn't end up getting any until I was 22, but it was a good thing because all of my 18-year-old tattoo ideas were SO lame and I 100% would've regretted them. I now have coordinates above my right elbow which are to a little spot I used to hang out at in Seoul with all of my friends when I studied abroad there. A lot of people ask me about it when I’m out so it’s a nice conversation starter, which I wasn’t expecting. The trip was life changing and I have so many amazing memories from that area so I wanted to get something to commemorate it. My other tattoo is two roses on my left bicep which I just got last month. They’re my favorite flower but it doesn’t necessarily have a meaning, I mainly got it for looks. I waited until I found an artist who knew exactly what style I was looking for and I'm so happy that I did -- I'm in love with it.

Angela | @angf_
I have a total of four tattoos with my more recent ones being my favorites. About three years ago, I got a bumble bee and a smiley face on the back of my neck — “Be Happy.” My mother always told me this while growing up. Life’s too short to not be happy. Since it’s on the back of my neck and I wear my hair up a lot, people often point it out and compliment it. It’s a friendly reminder. My other favorite tattoo is a simple little number 7 on my left wrist. Everyone has their lucky/favorite number, and 7 happens to be mine. Both of these tats were done at West 4 Tattoo here in NYC.

Sheila | @sheeels_
I got my first and only tattoo at 18 with my best friend at the time, we both got doves. Mine is located on the left side of my upper back and hers is behind her neck. Doves are always looked at as a symbol of peace, purity, and love. It also has connections to religion, and at the time, my best friend and I went to the same church. We decided on doves to represent the purity and peace that they come with. But we also knew that getting a tattoo was contradicting to religion, as it can be looked down upon due to the belief that you should keep your body pure.

Growing up and going to the same church, we were always doing things that might have gotten us in trouble if we were ever caught, but we knew that we had pure intentions in everything that we did. We were just craving adventure and excitement in our lives contrary to our religious beliefs. Although we aren’t as close as we were before, our tattoo is a reminder of growth and life. It will forever remind me to be nothing but good and to never settle for less in life — to always look for adventures and ways to grow mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.

Zenna | @pbr.mami
I only have one tattoo so far. It’s a pretty good-sized palm tree on the inside of my left forearm and while I definitely want more, I don’t have any immediate plans. I personally don’t think tattoos need to have meaning and mine definitely doesn’t represent anything significant. I just think it’s aesthetically pleasing. People constantly ask me, “But what does it mean? Why did you get it?” I just think it looks nice! To me, tattoos are appealing because of the incredible artwork behind them, and as long as a piece is done well I wouldn’t regret getting it. In my opinion, the intrigue of tattoos comes from the visual/artistic aspect, not because there should be a “deeper” meaning.

Mia | @miagvarra
I currently have two tattoos. My first tattoo is one I got with my two sisters. We got our last name running down our spine in Baybayin (the first written language of the Philippines before the Spanish colonization). Below it is a triangle that represents the three of us as well as the sign for change. The tattoo is a symbol of our culture, how we have each other’s backs, and that even though things change (like potentially our last names?) we will always be sisters. My second tattoo is located on my left bicep and it is the N*E*R*D* brain with the words “in search of” above it. I am a huge Pharrell fan, and his band’s album In Search Of was the beginning of something great for them as artists. It’s a reminder for myself to continue to search for who I am and not to stay stagnant. After a rough end to 2016, it was a tattoo I promised myself I would get in hopes of a new beginning. I love both of my tattoos so much and would love to get more.

Jordana | @jordanasarahterk
My tattoos serve as daily reminders. That’s how I see them anyhow. I currently have two and am planning a third, although it’s been years since my last two. The first was inspired by an art history lecture. We were discussing the Greek tale of Pandora’s Box and how “hope” is simultaneously a gift and a curse. I tattooed “hope” in Greek on my upper back following that lecture. The second tattoo of mine was a dictionary.com word of the day (anyone remember those?) and it reads “sui generis” on my left wrist. The quick and fast meaning of it is “of its own kind,” but the term is used across disciplines and really it represents something that has not or cannot be categorized. It’s a daily reminder to me that people don’t belong in boxes, so don’t be quick to judge. Both were quite spontaneous, but no regrets so far!

Lindsay | @ljernigan
Currently, I have four tattoos. I’m not sure if I want to get more, but I definitely don’t regret the ones I have. It was really important to me that each tattoo has some sort of significance. I got my first tattoo after returning from living in Honduras. I had no running water for three months and had to shower by dumping a bucket of water on my head. So to remember the lessons I learned during my time living there, I got a blue bucket -- like the one I had to shower out of -- on my side. My second tattoo was impromptu, my best friends and I spontaneously decided to get inked together. We decided the only rule was that the tattoos had to mean something special. I decided to get a tattoo to commemorate all of my loved ones who are near and far from me. I got two branches intertwined on my side to represent being separated from loved ones but still connected by a greater love. In the same way, branches are all individually separated but connected by something bigger, the trunk holds them all together. My third and fourth tattoos are behind each ear. I got a “G” behind one ear in honor of my pastor’s daughter, Georgia. She was born with a rare brain disease and has managed to flourish against all odds. It’s a reminder to keeping going, even when others are telling you that you can’t. It reminds me to have unreasonable hope that I can accomplish anything. My last tattoo, behind my other ear, is for my two grandmothers. It’s two Forget Me Not flowers intertwined. These flowers bloom in May, and one of my grandmothers was named Eunia Mae, and the other loved gardening. So it’s my way of honoring them both at the same time.

Deniza | @dsvst
As of today, I have a total of five tattoos and it’s probably not stopping here. I think out of the five, my favorite one is one of the sun and moon kissing. It’s the third tattoo I ever got and it’s just chilling on my lower arm. It’s always been a tattoo that I’ve wanted, but I got it spur of the moment because the stars aligned and it was calling out to me. I got this tattoo after having Silverlake Ramen with friends. The idea behind this tattoo is from searching for different ways to represent Yin and Yang and how it can relate to the alignment of the stars. At the time, I was very lost and I couldn’t get myself to figure out how to juggle everything. I needed a constant reminder that things will get where they need to be. So, my tattoo is just a reminder to myself that differences weigh each other out and balance for good.

Photo by: Victoria Wright

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