First tattoo at my age?

Me showing off my tattoo standing next to the artist
Ben (@Ben_bernal) the artist, was so gentle and kind. He made sure I was happy with the size, style and placement before doing any work. He treated me as if I were one of his biggest clients, even though I got probably the easiest and smallest ones he’s done in a long time.

Does age matter when it comes to getting a tattoo?  Why did I get my first tattoo at my age?  Honestly, it had nothing to do with being over 50, and more with wanting to create a visible piece of art that has meaning to me. Having an adventure attitude isn’t always about being impulsive. A top tip for getting a tattoo is to wait to make sure the art is what you want. I waited over 11 years. Having an adventure attitude means finding your fear – in this case, I used to have a fear of expressing how I feel and a fear of asking for what I want (vs. what I think other people think I “should” want) – and overcoming that fear in a fun way. My first tattoo may not be grandiose, but it’s exactly what I want and makes me smile. (Check out the video at the end of the story!)

Years shifting my perspective

Back when I was a teen, only salty sailors, gang members and other “low-lifes” had tattoos.  When I was a young mom, I met some friends who had tiny tattoos (in places where the world wouldn’t see them) that they had done as a bonding exercise.  It never occurred to me to want one, having grown up with the phrase “why would you want to mar your perfect skin?” My younger son loved drawing on his body, his arms and legs would have all sorts of fanciful drawings. I didn’t mind his using markers this way…it was easier to wash off skin than walls!  In a way, his canvas of choice as a kid prepared me for his desire to get tattoos later.

One of the examples of my younger son drawing on his arm years ago. I love his art & creative expression!

At the age of 13, my younger son was starting to ask about getting a tattoo.  The shift in culture made it acceptable for men of any sexual persuasion to have their ear pierced, no matter the side.  I allowed him to have his ear pierced, and he learned lessons in how to take care of his body – it wasn’t as simple as popping an earring in and done!  It was also around this age that I had first separated from his dad.  As an act of freedom, I was considering getting a tattoo. I discussed this with both my sons.  Their first reaction?  Ewwww, what would it look like when my skin got saggy when I grew older?  I thought of getting it on my backside, before they were called “tramp stamps.” We joked about getting a butterfly, so that if it sagged, it would become a swallowtail butterfly!  The decision of what image to have on my body- that would be there forever -felt monumental.  I wanted a dragon, drawn in the shape of an S, but any image I found the dragon went in the other direction.  I didn’t realize I could flip the image, or that a good artist could do that for me.  I put off getting a tattoo.

This was typical of what I was finding 11 years ago when I first considered a tattoo

At that time, tattoos for more types of people were getting more and more popular.  My sons asked again, and my go-to answer became “when you are old enough to die for your country, you are old enough to get a tattoo.”  By age 18, they wouldn’t need my permission anyway.  We would watch those TV shows about tattoo parlors, the one I remember most being the reality called “Miami Ink”   They taught us about choosing the right artist, not being drunk (artists hate that!) and how people chose the art that had meaning to them (or some who wanted mistakes or ex’s names covered!).  I believe this show helped educate my sons much more than anything I could have said at the time. (Want more reasons as to why chose a good artist? Check out these )

Burning Man community

Five years ago I started hanging out with a more creative crowd than I had known during most of my life.  Tattoos were broadening in their appeal and acceptance.  I started seeing more women in my corporate workplace with body art peeking out of their sleeveless shirts, under their hair, or on their ankles.  My creative friends I met through the Burning Man community had all sorts of interesting designs, some with meaning, and some just because it was fun. 

Last year I decided I wanted to join in the fun. I met up with a few friends (aka Burners), for an event in that tattoo world where they offer $13 tattoos on Friday the 13th.  I had researched what I wanted (no longer desiring the dragon), and kept it simple.  What I discovered about the Friday the 13th specials are that one does not get to have custom art, one picks from a “flash sheet” (small, pre-drawn designs).  Not one of the five places which participated in the Friday the 13th special in Manhattan offered what I wanted.  Since I had made up my mind, I called other tattoo studios.  I learned the set up for a tattoo, no matter the size, can be the most expensive part.  It makes sense to have fresh needles.  Plus, you want an artist you can trust.   But $200+ was more than I was willing to spend, having thought it would only be $13!

Friday the 13th special tattoos. None of them seemed close to the sweet, simple one I wanted…

A full sleeve

I am fortunate that both sons waited until after they turned 18 to make their personal decisions.  My older one decided not to get one (at least not yet, he is 25 now and still has time.)  My younger one, the one who drew on himself his whole life, waited until he was 20 (basically, this year).  If I actually had a tattoo done during the Friday the 13th event, I would have had one before him.  Last Fall (after he graduated), he decided on the art for his first tattoo.  He showed it to me ahead of time.  Once again, preparing his mom!  From that first one, he’s added to his collection to create a “sleeve.” I am impressed with the images he chose, the time he took to consider them, and the time he spent finding the right artist.

My son (and his armful of art) and my sweet hearts.

Recently, when I was getting stitches in my hand (an unfortunate happenstance with an avocado), I asked the nurse if getting a tattoo felt like getting stitches.  She had her tattoo peeking out from under her uniform sleeves.  She said no, it feels more like someone rubbing a sunburn hard.  My son agreed, except for around sensitive areas like near bones…his elbow was the worst ever!  When I met his tattoo artist, he gave the description of it feeling like repeated cat scratches.  If you’ve ever owned a cat, you know what that feels like.  I can handle those.

My turn

Why did I get a tattoo at my age?  It had nothing to do with my age, midlife crisis or an urgent need to be a rebel.  It just happened to be the right time.  A tattoo was how I wanted to express something very personal to me – a heart symbolizing each son.  Sure, I have stretch marks and a heart filled memories which could always remind me of them.  Getting a tattoo felt more like a bonding experience, a way to connect with them.  My son brought me to his artist and he did a brilliant job with my simple, interconnected hearts.  For me, they represent my two loves – my sons.  I have had comments made about what others think the hearts mean, or their opinion of my having one (some positive, some not so much) and I don’t care what they think.  This is the feeling I wanted when I first thought about getting a tattoo all those years ago.  A sense of freedom.  A sense of empowerment.  These senses felt within myself, and not because of the little bit of ink on my skin, rather expressed by my first tattoo.

When I shrug my shoulders, my tattoo changes angle. The tip is to remember that your muscle movement, depending on placement, can change the look of the body art.
A nice soft spot (not many nerve endings) for my tat. (Photo: Deborah J Karson)
We recorded the entire tattoo. Ben only took 3 minutes! (Compared to the hours spent on my son’s arm tattoos!) It didn’t really hurt, I believe I picked a comfy spot without many nerve endings.

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  1. Kate Connolly

    Love this. Looking forward to hearing about your travel adventures.

  2. Wendy

    Awesome post! And I love the simplicity of the tat. I got my first after Sammi was born – the dolphin on my right rear shoulder. I, too, waited years and made sure I got the right, meaningful art.

    I got my second (and so far last) one on my lower back – a turtle symbolizing my Native American heritage. After losing my mom, I’ve contemplated angel wings or a butterfly – I saw the wings in the clouds and a diving Monarch several times after she passed. Still contemplating…

    Happy Adventures my friend!

    • Stacey Newman Weldon

      I remember the dolphin & turtle tattoos – so pretty! I know a good artist that’s not far, if you decide to go for it!


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