Tattoos and Triathletes

This is a pretty contentious topic at times, but one that I happen to consider myself especially steeped in. There are a few general rules that ANYONE should follow when getting a tattoo, so let’s cover those first:

  1. Choose your artist wisely. We have more tools at our disposal now than ever before to check up on an artist and their work. Yelp, Instagram, Facebook, etc., are all fantastic tools to find an artist’s portfolio and reviews from others on how their experience went. This is NOT, however, a 100% replacement for going to talk to the artist in person and seeing their work in-shop that hasn’t yet made it to the internet.  You should pick an artist with whom you get along or can tolerate for the time it takes to complete your tattoo, and whose work you admire and recognize as great. Artists often tend to be better at one style than another, and you should keep this in mind when selecting an artist. Many artists can adequately tattoo in many styles, so don’t fret if your chosen artist isn’t highly specialized in the style you want.
  2. Have an idea of your design, but don’t be married to it. Tattoo artists are experts in their field, and the human body is f*cking weird. We have strange curves and angles, different skin textures in different locations, and differing amounts of “stretchiness” that depends on the body and body part. An artist has a special knowledge of what designs will fit or “flow” where on your body, and it’s in your best interest to defer to them. Some text or font may not read well as a tattoo, or may not flow well in a particular spot on your body. An artist should consider that and either confirm your idea, or suggest a modification that might work better. But, don’t get something you don’t want. While artists have this special knowledge, don’t feel obligated to get a tattoo you don’t want. It may be a result of an inexperienced artist, or it may be that the tattoo you want isn’t really all that feasible. Don’t feel like you have to get what the artist suggests; it’s ok to get nothing, too. Take your time and decide on something you definitely want, instead of settling for something that works.
  3. Be prepared to shell out some coin. Tattoos, and especially great tattoos from great artists, are not cheap. Don’t walk away from a respected artist who has a great reputation, fantastic work, and has put years of work into their business and craft because you can get it cheaper elsewhere. Especially don’t walk away from a tattoo artist to get your friend with a tattoo kit and a bottle of Jägermeister to do it in his garage on a Saturday night. This usually results in poor quality work, and could result in some serious infection. This includes leaving a tip! Just like going out to eat, using a concierge or bell boy at a hotel, tipping is part of getting a tattoo. Cash is always king, and it goes a long way in keeping your favorite artist in business.
  4. Don’t go on an empty stomach. I made this mistake once, and it’s a mistake you will only make once. Eat something before you go, otherwise you run the risk of passing out in the chair and not finishing the tattoo.
  5. Listen to and follow the aftercare instructions you are given. If your artist tells you not to swim for three weeks, then don’t! If you need to wash and lotion the tattoo twice a day, then do it! The point is this: the artist has worked with their particular machines, the particular ink, the particular needles, and their other supplies for a while, and they generally know how skin reacts to their chosen combination. If your artist doesn’t tell you what the aftercare instructions are, ask them. Don’t be afraid to ask your artist what you should or should not do with your new tattoo, they’ll be able to provide an answer.

Ok, so now that those generalities are out of the way, it’s time for a few opinions. Because this is my blog, I am entitled to my opinion. If you don’t agree, that’s cool, let me know in the comments or something. Remember, these are just opinions, not attacks. Please don’t be personally offended if I don’t really like your style of tattoo.

Tri-specific tattoos: Meh. I generally think of the image of a figure swimming, biking, and running. It seems like a cool thing at first thought, but then you tend to realize that just about every other triathlete has had this same thought, and many have followed through. I’ve seen a few that I thought were novel, but not many. It’s just not for me.

Water color: Again, meh. I find these to be a trend, one that will eventually pass, and we’ll end up with a bunch of folks who want their blurry, indistinguishable tattoos covered up with something that will look good for more than 2 years at a time. Again, I think these seem like a good idea, but generally an idea that should be avoided. Watercolors belong on paper, not skin.

70.3 tattoos: Don’t. Just don’t. This is a raging debate on Slowtwitch that surfaces every now and then. My stance is that these are dumb. If you’re planning one of these tattoos, just don’t do it, please. You could get a tattoo with the location or whatever, but don’t include the 70.3 distance, or the dreaded half-filled Ironman logo. Why? Well, to be honest, I don’t feel like a 70.3 is worth a tattoo. That’s just me. Even after I had done my first 70.3, I didn’t think a tattoo was appropriate. It’s kind of a long way, but after a couple of them, it doesn’t really feel like it. Wait until you’ve got 140.6 under your belt, then let the ink flow.

Ironman tattoos: Truthfully, these can be hit or miss. I love the ones that incorporate locations or something more personal into the tattoo. I think this takes an otherwise standard logo and adds meaning to it. Not to say I don’t like the standard M-dot, but use a little creativity and make it personal!

Tattoo location: This is important! I’ve seen so many people with the M-dot on the back of the calf, I just expect that to be the location. Placement can take an otherwise boring tattoo and make it interesting.

Here’s the takeaway: It’s your tattoo, get what you want. I have opinions, but they’re just opinions. Don’t take mine (or anyone else’s) opinion as gospel. Do, however, listen to your artist. Have thoughts? Let me know!

Later on…