What I Wish I’d Known Before I Got My First Tattoo


Allison Filice

I was 20 years old when I decided I wanted my first tattoo. I was in the shower, lathering up, and suddenly I had this vision of me with a Canadian maple leaf tattoo below my right hip. It felt so right, so normal, that I knew I had to make it a reality.

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The fact that I wanted a tattoo in the first place wasn’t at all normal. Growing up, I thought tattoos belonged on grunge singers and members of motorcycle gangs — basically, on people who had more facial hair than me. The double piercings in both of my ears were the furthest I had gone to mar my body. Tattoos seemed aggressive.

Flash forward a few years later, and tattoos had lost their edge. Not only were they sexy and accessible, but they also represented a different type of artistic expression that I’d grown to appreciate. I liked the permanency of a tattoo, and as a Canadian living in the U.S., I wanted my tat to symbolize my home and native land. Plus, I thought if I were to die somewhere, they would know where to ship my body.

These were the points I had rehearsed as I approached my mom about my decision. At 20, I didn’t technically need her permission as a parent, but as my best friend, I did.

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I’d barely said, “Mom, I want a tattoo…” when she replied, “It’s about time!” We immediately looked in the telephone book for local tattoo shops (this was back in 2002 — people didn’t Google yet). We found one in a shopping plaza we knew, and we booked an appointment for the next day.

This was mistake #1. Looking back, I should have shopped around. Or at least visited the space beforehand. When it comes to getting a tat, safety is above everything else.

It’s vital to ask about your tattoo shop’s licenses, and also check out reviews online (which, unfortunately, weren’t available in the early aughts).

Different tattoo parlors also have different prices, which is another reason to shop around and get a quote first. Minimum prices, like $50 to $100, are normal. But if someone’s offering to tat you up for $20? Run away.

When my mom and I arrived to the tattoo parlor for our appointment — yes, FOR THE BOTH OF US because my mom is literally the Lorelai to my Rory Gilmore — we were shown the shop’s licenses, basically its clean bill of health (phew!), and given a tour of the shop to see how clean and safe it was kept, including the needles (double phew!). Then I was introduced to my artist.

This was mistake #2. Tattoo artists are legit artists, and it’s super important to know who is permanently inking your body; you should choose an artist whose aesthetic fits your vision.

This can take some research. Back then there were photo albums, but now there are websites, image galleries, blogs, and Instagram accounts. Basically, there’s no excuse for not reading up on your chosen artist.

After my artist created my sketch, we chose the obvious color red for my Canadian maple leaf. Mistake #3. Not that colored tattoos aren’t beautiful, but they do require more touchups than black and grey ink because they’re more likely to fade.

There are other factors to consider when choosing your colors, including your skin tone and how you tan. My leaf tattoo has definitely faded over time, and doesn’t look as bright as it once did. Touchups require $$$, which is why mine is still looking a little dull (sorry, Canada!).

Then came the actual inking. Sticking with my original shower vision, the artist inked the maple leaf just along my right hip. Mistake #4. As much as I like where the tat is — and it didn’t hurt *that* much — it’s important to consider where you want your tattoo to be for a number of reasons.

First of all, tattoos that are not on your hands, feet, or joints will probably hurt less, so consider your pain tolerance. You should also think about whether you want to expose your tat to everyone. Is it something you want to keep private, or do you want to show it off? My leaf peeks out whenever I wear a cropped top or a bikini, and usually that’s enough for me. However, sometimes I wish it was somewhere more discreet.

Mistake #5 happened after the artist completed my first tattoo. He smiled slyly at me and said, “You’ll be back.” I was dubious. How could he be so sure? Before I could even ask, he said, “Tattoos are addicting.” I smiled and shrugged it off.

Now, almost 15 years later, I have seven tattoos. Your first one is usually just the beginning to a map of tattoos. I’m not saying you’ll end up like Bieber, but it’s something to consider before getting inked for the first time.

The best thing I did was have a clear vision for tattoo that best reflects who I am, and which I was confident I wouldn’t tire of. I’m lucky that I’ve been happy and healthy with each one I’ve gotten since, but they are permanent and can be risky. So think over the decision carefully.

As for my mom and I? We got our second tattoos… that same day.

Brianne Hogan
Brianne Hogan

Brianne Hogan is a freelance writer in Toronto who loves coffee, cats and astrology. Her byline's been featured on HelloGiggles, Elle Canada, Flare, Thrillist, among others. Keep up with her on Twitter, Facebook or her blog.