The 9 Emotional Stages Of Getting A Tattoo — Because Permanent Ink Is An Emotional Roller Coaster Ride

Last month, I put my big girl panties on, marched myself right through the doors of the New York City tattoo parlor Wooster Social Club, and got inked. While it wasn't my first tattoo job, I hadn't been tatted since college — when I sat still for all of 90 seconds for what my brother lamented was a "minuscule" tattoo that barely even counted — so I had all sorts of feels about the situation. I thought I was going to be totally cool, rolling up to the Soho shop with a little extra swag in my step. But once inside the doors, I was suddenly keenly aware of both my sweaty palms and how extremely bad ass everyone in the studio seemed to be in comparison to me. And why might that be? Because getting a tattoo is an emotional roller coaster of the thrill seeker variety.

At one time or another, whether we fought the rebellious feelings or forged ahead with great certainty, we have all experienced the urge to get a tattoo. While the interest level in the world of ink varies significantly — from those fleeting, pre-teen aspirations of a cute butterfly on the top of a foot to creatively and strategically planning that full sleeve — no one is immune to the allure of permanent body art. It is a magically rebellious world where coolness is king. Thanks to shows like Miami Ink, mainstream interest has peaked over the years and with Hollywood's hottest doing their part to fan the flames, tattoo art has essentially infiltrated pop culture — social media outlets are waiting with baited breath to report out on the latest celebrity ink, provide in depth analysis behind the meaning of all of Harry Styles tattoos and become the creative force behind inspirational slideshows of the tiny, adorable tattoo trend. Dare I say body ink is the new it accessory?

Trendy or not, getting a tattoo is not as easy as model superstar Cara Delevigne makes it look on her Instagram, where a typical day of photo documenting includes allowing someone to draw a permanent lion on her finger. I know, I know — it sounds like I road in on the lame train, but I promise, this is not a parental warning. I repeat, I am not here to harsh your buzz or crush your tattoo dreams, especially considering that, just last month, I acquired my second piece of permanent body art. In fact, I fully support anyone getting tatted up because, you know, YOLO. All I am saying is, if you decide to join the club, prepare to take a ride on an emotional roller coaster, and not the Augustus Waters kind that is only going up. 

Listen, mixed emotions are inevitable when anything permanent is involved. Unless you are Adam Levine, who has likely forgotten about more tattoos (albeit super sexy ones) than most of us will ever have, you're bound to be a little nervous. In fact, you may feel all the feels between the time you decide to go for it and the time the deed is done, because the struggle is real. As a matter of fact, there are nine known emotional stages of getting tatted up. 

1. Pure Certainty

Whether you are a painfully indecisive person who has been mulling over a tattoo for years or you have spontaneously decided ink is something you simply have to have, everyone has that moment of pure certainty in their decision, that moment when you announce with the passion of a thousands burning suns that you are getting tatted up! You are certain it is your best idea ever, you are absolutely getting inked as soon as possible and anyone who doesn't agree should immediately de-board your train because it's headed straight for tattoo town — no non-believers allowed.

I had been contemplating getting a second tattoo for a while, but my mind was made up when I came upon the Celtic word Anam Cara — meaning "soul friend" — while reading Sophia Bush's introduction to I Am That Girl. Brilliant. I would get Anam Cara tattooed in my best friend's hand writing. Boom. Mic Drop. Let's do this.

2. Slight Self Doubt

Ah, but the world works in mysterious ways, no? With any super high, there is the inevitable crash and after that untarnished moment of conviction your self doubt starts to creep in. Maybe you think your grand announcement was a little rash or you begin to wonder if you really love your chosen art enough to sport if for all of eternity. Also, are you even the type of person that can truly pull off a tattoo?

I too had my weak moments prior to taking the plunge and clearly, while taking the plunge–– I would not say that is the look of unwavering faith on my face there. In this stage, your insecurity will try to take over and rob you of your ambition to carry out your plan, but you must forge ahead. OF COURSE, you can pull off a tattoo. You are getting this tattoo. Keep your eyes on the prize. 

3. Ink Indecisiveness

There is a natural progression from SSD (slight self doubt) right into questioning every aspect of your soon-to-be tat. Is this really want I want? For the rest of my life? Is this really where I want it? Should it be smaller? Should I just go all in and make it bigger? Sure, Harry Styles can pull off a realistic rendering of a heart on his very public bicep, but that gets filed under special talents. As an ordinary human, do I love my prospective art and do I want it visible on the daily?

Oh, ink indecisiveness, you are a tricky stage — one that can sneak up on us at any time between the bold announcement of tattoo intention and actually prepping the area — and you cause us to question a decision we were once so certain about. How dare you? While I was always certain about my own Anam Cara script, I was plagued with indecision on its location, which actually became a game-time decision, as noted by the tentative stare I am giving my tattoo artist, Morgan, as he readies my rib cage for placement approval. Are we really making the right decision, Morgan?

4. Extreme Levels Of Excitement

Nerves? What nerves? You're not scared. The front door of the tattoo studio is in your sights and it is giving you life. You can almost hear the buzz of the machine and the thought of how bad ass you are brings back that initial, blissful certainty from stage one. Your adrenaline starts pumping. THIS IS SO EXCITING!

5. Waves Of Anxiety

After stepping inside the studio, you take one look around and become Sweaty Palm Patty. That initial swagger you had whilst approaching the doors decided it wasn't joining you inside and, is it just you or is the buzz of that ink gun deafening? Oh god, now the painfully cool, totally tatted girl behind the desk wants you to fill out paperwork and have an actual, definitive conversation about what tattoo you are getting and where it is going and she seems so unbelievably nonchalant about the request. Hang on to that adrenaline, keep those waves of anxiety at bay, and wipe that sweat off your palms — this is happening.

6. Badass Bravery

You have reached the point of no return and, as such, you buck up. You are ready for this. You were born for this. Obviously, you are about to get the best tattoo in the history of body art and have chosen the perfect location. Sweaty Palm Patty has left the building and Brave Betty has joined the party. Also, if you are smart, you brought a friend to distract you with a long soliloquy centered on what a badass you are while your tattoo artist completes his or her final prep. Morgan — it's go time!  

7. Living In The Moment

You're so stoked this is happening. You're in an amount of pain that varies, but is definitely not comparable to kittens licking you. You are suddenly aware that your underwear is hanging out for the whole of the studio to see (no? Just me?) Every time that tiny needle buzzes your rib cage (or arm, or foot, or anywhere really) you mentally consider inflicting pain on your tattoo artist, but you don't because you're basically amazing. Pretty soon, you get the "are we there yet" feels and just want to be done so you can see the permanent proof of your awesome life choice (and so that your new friend will stop sticking you repeatedly.) 

8. Living In The Moment Of Truth

"Take a look!" can be the three most exhilarating/scariest words in the English language when coming out of the mouth of the person who just drew something on you that literally cannot be removed. For a second you are in sheer panic mode, hoping beyond reason that you love it. And, also, you have never been more excited to see anything in your entire life.

I asked Morgan if anyone had ever hated their tattoo and, looking a little bewildered/offended he said no, although I suspect he wouldn't have told me if they had. It was the moment of truth and I did not want to be the first person to tarnish Morgan's successful reputation. Time to take this party to the mirror for the big reveal. 

9. Triumphant Joy

Love at first sight! So much happy! Most likely, your new tattoo is total awesome sauce, like mine was, and you couldn't be happier that you just got inked. So worth it. Excellent choices all around. What were you ever worried about?

I mean, look at Morgan and I? That is tattoo happiness right there. Sure, getting a tattoo can be a bit of an emotional roller coaster, but you can't beat that last stage of triumphant joy. I recommend buckling up and taking the tattoo ride.

Images: smalltattoos/Instagram; Katie Patton (11); Giphy

Must Reads