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Drink Before You Ink: Tattoos Under the Influence

The art of tattooing has been present in all cultures for centuries and tattoos have their place in ancient civilisations, from the Greeks to the Romans, marking identities for good and bad purposes. Following the proliferation of tattoos within modern society in recent years, more and more of us are getting inked as a way to personify our identities, represent of interests and passions, or simply to just to look a whole lot cooler (if not a little badass, if we’re being honest). As a permanent marker on your skin, the majority of us will think these things through seriously – with months of planning and discussion. As drinking culture continues to characterise the time and money of students and young people however, a slightly more liberal attitude towards the art of tattooing has developed rapidly.

If the E4 television show Tattoo Fixers is anything to go by, getting inked whilst inebriated on holiday with a bunch of friends is slowly becoming a societal ritual in itself. Though one can imagine getting a shit drawing on your thigh or most popularly, your arse, was not part of the original holiday itinerary. But is it all just fun and games? Is that little squiggle that cost you 40 euros in Magaluf a deeply regrettable mistake, or an amusing memento of drunken foolishness?

Alex Proud, in his article for The Telegraph, ‘We’re not going to reach peak tattoo until 2025’ , reveals some interesting tat stats. It’s estimated that approximately one in five of the UK population has a tattoo. This figure rises to one in three among young adults, which is pretty substantial. So with the heightened frequency with which people get tattoos when drunk or abroad, it makes sense that the shock factor of tattoos has decreased significantly. Yet one may ask, is the craze of ‘drunk tattoos’ essentially devaluing the art of tattooing and potentially hindering this growing acceptance within society?

Ethan, 21, boasts eleven tattoos in total, all of which he got when “probably drunk or at least hungover.” Collectively, with a group of equally intoxicated friends, he headed out to a tattoo studio to get a tattoo of a duck.

“It was kind of just for jokes, it’s harmless, you know, lads lads lads [laughs]. Most of my mates hate all that shit but in a weird way we all love it too. I don’t think I’d ever get any covered as all the dumb ones are on my chest or calf. So it’s not like anyone would see any unless I wanted them to anyway, although going to the swimming pool or beach is always fun now.”

It is no doubt that somewhat questionable tattoos can be great conversation starters, especially when trying to break the ice with a prospective lover at the union on a Saturday night. However, not all quirky tattoos are conversation starters. Some can be offensive and profane and probably don’t belong in family pools or beaches, and others, hidden from plain sight, are permanent reminders of drunken ‘bants’ and idiocy that cease to become humorous once the holiday buzz fades.

Rory, 20, reminisces of his lad’s holiday in Magaluf with some sheepishness, admitting to getting ‘Fucking run at me’ written in calligraphy, tattooed on his arse cheek in a moment of drunken spontaneity. ‘We passed a tattoo parlour and just though it would be funny. Four of us had them done, but I was so drunk I can barely remember it. I was sort of proud of it at first – it was like a little holiday souvenir of all the crazy fun we had, but now the hilarity has worn off and I do kind of regret it. My mum doesn’t know, she would kill me’. As a new generation of young people emerges with profanities inked on their arses and various other areas, without any recollection of their decisions, it’s worth questioning whether tattoo parlours should legally be allowed to ink those that can barely stand up, let alone make an informed decision.

Drunken tattoos may seem to be all fun and games, especially in the euphoria of being on holiday abroad. However, there are also the health and safety risks to consider when getting a tattoo abroad or dunk. Tattoo laws in foreign countries are nowhere near as strict as they are in the UK, often meaning the tattoo artists don’t have licences or a credible health check. The chances of your tattoo getting infected are majorly increased. This is not to say that all foreign tattoo parlours are unhygienic, but one should probably proceed with caution when getting inked on holiday regardless of your level of intoxication. Excessive consumption of alcohol is also known to thin the blood within our bodies, leading to an increased amount of bleeding. Increased bleeding when going under the needle can interfere with tattoo ink and a tattoo could turn out with a blotchy and faded – certainly not the masterpiece you were thinking of. And no matter what anyone says, no one really wants a permanent and unintelligible shitty blob inked on them.

Yet others offer a much more relaxed view, and perceive drunken tattoos as a fun and unique way to document and remember the best moments in our lives. Matthew, 25, comments that his drunken tattoo serves as a brilliant and individual memento of one of his greatest travelling experiences, involving a messy night in Australia.

“We had a bit of a mad one, and we listened to this one song about fifteen times called Reggae Shark and it became a huge thing the whole night. Fast forward to a year later, I’m in Thailand with my friend who was there that night, and we spoke about the Reggae Shark a lot. So we got smashed at a beer buffet, like a regular food buffet but just for beer.”

A beer buffet and influence from friends led Matthew to leave Thailand with a tattoo of the elusive Reggae Shark on his back. Matthew is not the only one to fall victim to the combination of alcohol and friendly influence. One questions whether Matthew and many like him would have gone through with such a mad idea had they been sober. The answer is probably not. Yet not all bad tattoo decisions have been made under the influence of alcohol. Many of us have sober tattoos that we regret later on in life, as our circumstances change with age. A majority of people who have drunk tattoos are not ashamed of their decision. And why should they be?

While this craze seems largely to be adopted by those in lad culture, it seems it isn’t just the lads enjoying a bit of post alcohol ink. Sarah, 22, embraces her drunk tattoo.

“It was a holiday to Ibiza with the girlfriends, I was going through that classic wild phase, you know, when you’re trying to prove a point to your parents. I left Ibiza with a tattoo of an egg on my rib cage. I got an eyebrow piercing too, if you can believe, but yeah anyway I got the egg as it was like a little in-joke among our friends; at the time it seemed like it would be a laugh!”

So maybe drunk tattoos aren’t so bad? Generally speaking, sober tattoos can be just as shameful and full of regret as drunk ones. With so many inked individuals, tattoos are slowly becoming acceptable within the professional workplace; not quite the rebellious marker they once were but rather new modes of self-expression and individuality. Thanks to methods of laser removal and tattoo cover ups, a drunken mistake can soon be forgotten. Alternatively, if you don’t regret it, it’s like a little souvenir to evoke a – somewhat foggy – memory.

– Abby Cotton

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